We started with a plan and ended up roaming around…
Knowing that friends and family will come to visit us eventually, Won and I figured we should get to know Lisbon better. And what better time than now before it returns to the crazy, busy place it typically is, which won’t be much longer as Portugal is opening up to tourists and its citizens are getting back to work.
The night before we drove in to the city we spent some time trying to decide how to approach the day. Lisbon is a major city. Where do we start? What do we see first? Do we begin with a significant landmark and go from there? Do we create a set route and stick to that? Do we throw a dart at the map and let fate decide? Or, do we just meander around and let it all unfold? In the end, two things became very clear, 1) there was plenty to see so we could start anywhere, and 2) we are lucky enough to go back as often as we want, so we really couldn’t go wrong.
OK. Angsting was behind us. (And, just so you know, I looked it up…angsting is in the Urban Dictionary.)
We decided to start at the Lisbon Botanical Garden and walk down to the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) at the waterfront. Lisbon is legendary for its hills so going down rather than up seemed like a good plan. Google said it was a 1/2 hour walk. That seemed doable. Unfortunately, it was hot! It was a warm day and temps reached to 32 C (89 F). We were drenched in sweat even as we walked through the garden and most of it was in the shade!
A change of plans was in order. But before I get to that, let me start with an unexpected delight, which, oddly enough, came about because of where we parked the car. It happened to be next to a beautiful community park that had a wonderful outdoor cafe on the corner with seating under large mature trees. I told Won I wanted to check it out so we took an impromptu stroll. I have since learned that it is Jardim do Príncipe Real.
The park is bordered by beautiful buildings and has a peek-a-boo view of the Tagus River below. There is an ancient Cyprus tree at its center with a metal structure beneath it’s massive limbs providing shade to the benches tucked below. There were a few monuments, a children’s playground, and a large fountain, which, sadly didn’t have any water. The city shut down many of the water features as a way to deter people from congregating at them during the stay at home order. Some have been turned back on, but not all.
Back to the Botanical Garden…it belongs to the National Museum of Natural History and Science which is right next door. When buying a ticket you can chose a combined option that allows you to take advantage of both the museum and the garden. The garden opened in 1878 and has between 1300 and 1500 species of plants. Since we had a lot to do that day, we chose to see only the garden, which had a €3 per person entrance fee. When I was in Phoenix several years ago, I remember being stunned by the beautiful and fascinating plants in their botanical garden, so I was excited to see what Lisbon had to offer. Sadly, it was a bit of a disappointment. Maybe we missed the optimal time of year to see it? Not sure, but if botanical gardens are your thing, you should go. Regardless of my opinion, here are a few photos I felt were worth sharing.
We walked back to the car, guzzled some water and blasted the air conditioning – ahhhhhh. Feeling refreshed, we headed off to the Praça do Comércio. On our way there we stopped to snap a few pictures of a popular linear park that runs down the center of Avenida da Liberdade (Liberty Avenue); a major traffic artery in the center of Lisbon. The avenue is flanked on both sides by gorgeous buildings and high end brands like Rolex and Massimo Dutti. The park has wide, ornamental walkways and outdoor cafes where you can sip an espresso and nibble on any number of tasty treats under the cool canopy of the lush trees.
One of the key monuments in Lisbon is where the Avenida da Liberdade park terminates. It is called Monumento aos Restauradores (Monument to the Restorers) and we stopped to look at it more closely and appreciate why it was constructed. Eighty-five percent of Lisbon was completely destroyed by an 8.4 magnitude earthquake on November 1, 1755 followed by a massive tsunami and deadly conflagration. The restoration of Lisbon was lead by the Marquis de Pombal who has a monument dedicated to him further up Avenida da Liberdade. The Monumento aos Restauradores (in the image below) was erected in honor of all the people who rebuilt the city. If you have a few extra minutes, I encourage you to click on the link I provided in this paragraph and read about the earthquake. It’s fascinating to learn how the Portuguese dealt with this cataclysmic event and the impact it had on everything from politics to the economy to philosophy. I was surprised to learn it was the seminal event that started the study of seismology!
As we progressed further, we came to the Praça Dom Pedro IV, more popularly known as Rossio Square because it has been one of the city’s main squares since the Middle Ages. My patient and kind husband circled the oval park repeatedly while I jumped out and snapped pictures. The park is fully paved in waving patterns of black and white stones. It has two matching fountains at either end and a monument to Dom Pedro IV in the center. At one end of the park is the Teatro Nacional D. Maria II (Queen Maria II National Theater). The park is surrounded by Jacaranda trees which were in full bloom that day (and they smelled heavenly too). The theater is currently closed, but I found an image online that shows the interior which is spectacular.
There are also two beautiful hotels flanking the park opposite the theater.
We moved on and found a spot to park just a block or two up and over from Praça do Comércio. We hopped out and marveled at how few people were around. Won and I had been in this same area last July and more recently in February. Since there were so few crowding the area now, we decided to try Ginjinha (or Ginja for short). Ginja is a Portuguese liqueur made by infusing ginja berries (sour cherries) in alcohol and adding sugar together with other ingredients. Ginjinha is traditionally served in a shot form with a piece of the fruit in the bottom of the cup. It is a favorite liqueur of many Portuguese, especially in Lisbon and Óbidos. This particular vendor did not put a cherry in the bottom, but did serve it in a “cup” made of chocolate. The cups come in dark, milk, or white chocolate. I asked which was best and the woman behind the counter said dark so that’s what we went with. She told us to drink half the liqueur then put the whole thing in our mouths and enjoy. It was good! So good, in fact, I forgot to take pictures. Whoops. Won offered to have another for posterity’s sake.
Feeling pleasantly relaxed we walked toward the Praça do Comércio and saw some beautiful buildings and fun sculptures along the way. We found Lisbon City Hall right next door to the Museu do Dinheiro (Money Museum). The museum was closed, but we’re definitely going back! Who wouldn’t want to see a museum dedicated to money?
Praça do Comércio is a waterside public plaza surrounded on three sides by colonnaded buildings holding shops and outdoor cafes. Originally it was the location of the Paços da Ribeira (Royal Ribeira Palace) until it was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. The plaza is home to the oldest café in the city, Martinho da Arcada which was established in 1782. The statue in the center of the square is of King José I. The king on his horse is symbolically crushing snakes on his path. The square is so massive there was no way I could capture its size, so I grabbed an image off the Internet to show you its full glory. The rest are mine.
The spectacular triumphal arch which leads into the city was completed in 1875. The arch has a clock and statues of Glory, Ingenuity and Valor and those of Viriatus, Nuno Álvares Pereira, Vasco da Gama and, of course, the Marquis de Pombal.
Passing under the arch we strolled the pedestrian-only street lined with stores and restaurants. Some were open, others weren’t.
As we made our way back to the car we enjoyed marveling at the beauty of the architecture, iron work and colorful tiles, the wild and funky aspects of some areas, the cozy feeling of local cafes and intimate neighborhood squares, and the invisibility of the street signs. We found unusual, fun shops nestled here and there like a vegan restaurant called Ao 26, an old fashioned record store called Louie Louie, and a cheese concept store called Queijaria Merchado. Wait. A what?? You read that right. A cheese concept store. Coincidentally, an article was published on the store the next day! So, for all you cheese lovers, put this on your list of places to visit when you come.
After huffing and puffing our way up and down multiple outdoor staircases and hilly streets, we realized too late that we could have jumped on one of the iconic yellow trams!
Oh well. Live and learn. In hindsight, I suppose it was for the best because we might have missed this final place where we got two perfectly cool and delicious acai berry bowls with strawberries, granola and organic honey. Mmm, mmm, good!! Just what we needed after a long, hot day of exploration and discovery.
When we got home we reflected on our day. As we roamed the boulevards, squares, parks, pedestrian ways, small streets and large streets, it was an odd feeling because it felt as if we were the only tourists out among all the Portuguese people. Even though we live here we are just at the beginning of our adventure and with so much to learn and see and do and experience, I guess I’m OK with that for now.
Next week we go to Mafra. (A note to all my brothers and sisters, and any Godzilla fans out there; I’m way ahead of you. I’ve been singing the Mothra siren song for days…groan.) Mafra is a pretty little town that contains one of Europe’s largest and most extravagant palaces. Wait til you see that!!
Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,