As excited I am about 2012, I am already missing 2011.Maybe it’s the onset of winter in Edinburgh that is bringing about this wave of nostalgia. I can’t argue. 2011 was an amazing year in travel for me, visiting places that I had read only in history books since I was a kid. Lisbon was one such place that loomed large in my imagination since I was 10.
My first encounter with Lisbon was via my school history text book. We learnt about a certain bold (pretty ruthless too, I later learnt) Portuguese explorer called Vasco de Gama. De Gama was the first Westerner to sail past the Cape of Good Hope ( murder, pillage towns along the east coast of Africa along the way) and make his way to India. Visiting Lisbon, one of the first places I naturally wanted to visit first was the haunting Belem Tower from where Vasco De Gama started his fateful journey all those years ago.
Belem Tower, Lisbon. Courtesy of ‘LifeinMegapixels’
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The place is very evocative and standing there you can feel the weight of history sending a chill down your spine. Looking out into the wide expanse of the Atlantic on a sunny yet tranquil spring afternoon, I feel the thrill of the unknown and can’t wait to discover the rest of Lisbon. I saunter back into Belem. Belem is home to one of Lisbon’s famous pastelarias- the Antiga Confitaria de Belem [84 Rua de Belem] where I managed to sample Lisbon’s best sugar fix- the famous Pasteis de Nata.
These flaky, silky, creamy custard tarts [ warm, straight from the oven sprinkled with some sugar and cinnamon-wow] are the best afternoon-pick-me-up tonic. Warning: It is uncommon to just have one but at least 3 or 4. Bare minimum. Otherwise locals will be offended. Cost: 90 cents each. Bargain.
I head back into town on the tram 15.
For 4 Euros invest in a 24 hour Lisbon travel pass. The pass is valid for trams, buses and the subway – represents brilliant value. Of all modes of transport, the tram is THE way to see Lisbon. I’ll expand on that a bit later 🙂
Instead of the traditional cup of tea or coffee, Lisboans at dusk congregate on the sticky cobbled doorstep of A Ginjinha in Largo de Sao Domingos to drink their favourite drink- Ginjihna. Ginjinha is basically cherry brandy. Like marmite it’s something you will either love or hate.The drink was invented by local monks who fermented the sour ginja cherries in the brandy. I wonder what is it with monks and making liqueur? Trying to drown their sorrows of their celibate lifestyle through alcohol maybe?
Whatever the reason, the result is stunning: Ginjinha is very potent and gives you a nice warm buzz. At just one euro a ‘shot’ and with it’s strong sweetness you can easily down a few before it ‘hits’ you. It’s all very civilized mind you.No drunks crawling around. They can hold their drink here. I can’t imagine a place like this existing back home.
So if you’re feeling a bit lightheaded after your Ginjinha session and need the antidote quickly: I recommend the ride of a lifetime. A trip on the iconic tram 28. Dressed in a garish, bright yellow the tram 28 is a rollercoaster ride offering a magical, mystery tour of Lisbon’s greatest landmarks.
A thrill a minute. I love seeing the whole city fly by me.The wind tousling my hair and lulling me into a peaceful slumber almost. I marvel as the rickety tram hisses, groans its way further up the Alfama and then comes into sight of the towering stone edifice of Se Cathedral. Cue everyone leans out of the window desperately to get THAT in motion shot of the place. As much as I would like to stay on the 28 , I hop off at Miradouro Portas do Sol.
At day turns to night, the terrace of Portas do Sol is the place to have a cocktail and soak in the mesmering panoramic vista of the Alfama rooftops. It’s the perfect place to lose track of time and immerse yourself amongst the locals.
In Part 2, I’ll share with you my experience of Lisbon’s nightlife with a few tasty, budget friendly treats along the way.
How to reach Lisbon
It’s cheap and easy, thanks to the steady surge of budget airlines flying to Lisbon like easyJet. For as little as £80 return, I visited Lisbon direct from Edinburgh last April with easyJet.
Plus here’s my lowdown of the best budget places to stay in Lisbon