A Day trip to Lisbon
We spent a week in the Algarve in June 2009 and during this week we chose to book a trip with ‘Follow Me’ tours to Lisbon for the day. The trip was 34 Euros per person which we thought was good value as the toll on the A2 is 18 Euros each way for a car and then we would have had to pay to park the car and of course petrol as well as the fact that we were not sure where all the sites were.
We had to meet by the Dolphin roundabout in Albufiera for 6.55 and the coach was only 5 minutes late but we were virtually the last people to be picked up before heading for Lisbon. We made a stop about an hour away for coffee and the toilet. This was at a motorway service station so functional rather than interesting. We stopped at the same place on the return journey too. Initially our guide introduced herself and explained what we would see on the way going across the Serra do Caldeirao and which regions we would pass through and then as it was early she said she would be quiet until nearer Lisbon.
As we approached Lisbon she told us about the toll on the A22 and the various industries approaching Lisbon and the fact that we would go into Lisbon over the April 25th Bridge and see the huge statue of Christo Rei which is a bit like the Corcovado in Rio and overlooks the city of Lisbon from a great height. This bridge was the first to cross the Tejo and was originally called Saladar Bridge until the coup overthrew the Fascist dictator Saladar in 1974 and Portugal became a democratic Republic. The Portuguese are justifiably proud of this bridge and liken it to the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco which is does resemble to be fair.
We drove over the bridge and then under it to the area of Belem which is along the river bank and harbour area of Lisbon. We made our way along to our first stop which was the Belem Tower. The is a very ornate tower built in the Manueline style of Architecture – so called after Manuel II as this was the style of design during his reign. The tower is not large and sits in the water and served to guard the entrance to the port of Lisbon. It is marble coloured and ornately carved rather similar to the carved architecture seen in India so may have been inspired by Indian influences. The tower and dates back to the early 16th Century.
Just close to the tower is a replica of a seaplane flown by Portuguese aviators Sacadura Cabral, as pilot, and Gago Coutinho, as navigator, across the Atlantic from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1922. This is a tiny aircraft and I know I wouldn’t want to fly across the Atlantic in it today with all our satellite navigation and rescue facilities, never mind in 1922 when they did it.
After the Belem tower we visited the Monastery of Jeronimos which is built in the same style as the Belem Tower and is very picturesque. We went into the church of Jeronimos or Our Lady or Belem which was quite plain inside compared to a lot of the South American and Spanish catholic churches but architecturally very beautiful. The ceilings were very high with tall carved pillars for support. The ceilings were decorated with carvings but not coloured at all. The altar area was not original as the original was destroyed in the earthquake 1755 and it was more decorated than the rest of the church.
There were five main stained glass windows which had all been restored after either the earth quake or other damage. One was of Our Lady of Belem (The Virgin Mary) is also the guardian of sailors. The window shows her with two caravels guiding them on their way. The other windows all depict St Jeronimo who is apparently the Patron Saint of navigation. Another item of interest in the church was Vasco da Gama’s tomb (the famous Portuguese explorer who discovered the route round the Cape of Good Hope to the East), although as he died overseas no-one is quite sure how much of his remains are buried within.
Just on the River front in this same area as Jeronimo’s Monastery there is the Monument of the Discoveries built to honour Portuguese heroes of discovery in the past; these include, Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus. It is a very impressive monument built in the shape of a stylised caravel with the heroes in relief on either side. In front of the monument is a huge marble wind rose donated to Portugal by the South African Republic and the map of the world depicted is of the era of Portuguese navigational prime showing their colonies such as Goa, Malacca, the Moluccas ( Indonesia) and others in Africa and South America. Australia was only mapped roughly in shape with the bottom very indistinct.
We moved into the city after this and we dropped off outside the Swiss cafe on Rossio Square. We had three hours of free time to wander around as we wished. We were starving having left Albufiera at 7am and it was now 12.45 so we went straight to a cafe in the pedestrianised road to eat.
We ordered Bacalhau (My husband) and hake (for me) with iced tea. I am sorry to say that service was extremely slow but the food was okay. Not sure that salt fish is really that great, we have both had it before (salt fish and ackee is the Jamaican National dish) but my husband always likes to try whatever is the dish of the area and he hadn’t tried salt fish in Portugal. It is quite strong and very bony so I didn’t bother. My hake was very nice and the atmosphere in the area was lovely unfortunately our waiter was rather slack and we had to ask for everything twice and then wait some considerable time – he didn’t get a tip!
Feeling much better now our blood sugar levels were up we decided to go and investigate to Lisbon Elevator. This antiquated lift takes you from the level of the river up to the old quarter of Alfama. It costs 2.80 Euros a person for the ride up and the return down and the ticket is purchased in the lift on the way up. The lift takes 20 people going up but only 15 coming down. It is an unusual looking piece of architecture, quite ornate and the lift itself is polished wood with two bench seats.
Once you get to the top you have an excellent view up to the Castel de Sao Jorge and fortified walls, down to the river Tagus and also over Rossio square. You then walk out over a metal walkway under a church buttress into the area of Alfama with its old fashioned narrow tram lines, hilly cobbled narrow streets and balconied houses. In the square there was a wonderful display of blooming Jacarandas set against a pink building in the sunshine – a real photo opportunity.
We were then driven through to the area of a former Expo now called the Park of Nations and we left Lisbon by the other famous bridge across the Tagus, the Vasco de Gama Bridge which was completed in 1998 and is the second longest bridge in Europe at 17,185 metres long.
We spent only one day in Lisbon but I felt we got a good idea of the city and we were able to explore a little by ourselves. Obviously if you spend more time you will have the opportunity to see more but this trip was excellent. The guide was very knowledgeable, her English was perfect and the trip covered most of the sights of Lisbon and gave a good idea of what Lisbon offers the tourist.
On the way back our guide put a DVD of 'Fado' music which is quintessentially Lisbon's own music. It is extremely melancholy urban folk a sort of singing poetry accompanied by a classic guitar and a 12s string Portuguese guitar. It was very strange and definitely an acquired taste and I have not acquired it!
I would thoroughly recommend this day trip if you are staying in the Algarve. You get to visit the capital city and learn a little about the history and culture of the country.