Sometimes running takes you places you didn’t know you wanted to go. Kate, Julie and I decided we wanted to run a few half marathons together after running the 10K Turkey Trot over Thanksgiving last year. Julie suggested the Lisbon half marathon and we loved Portugal the first time around (and with that I remembered that I didn’t write about the first trip so that is coming!) so we were in!
A couple of days before we left for Lisbon, I came down with the probably the worst cold I’ve ever had. I tried EVERYTHING to clear my sinuses just to breath a little. I tried American cold meds, home remedies, German sinus meds. Nothing worked. The night before we left Ryan convinced me to try a Hot Toddie. They always work but I’m always reluctant. There is just something about drinking whiskey when you’re sick that doesn’t seem right. It worked and I was able to sleep for a few hours. That was not the end of this miserable cold or the end of the Hot Toddies!
We arrived in Portugal on the day of one of Europe’s never ending transportation strikes so we took a taxi to our hotel instead of hopping on a train. That may have been for the best. Lisbon isn’t the cleanest city in Europe and the World’s Worst Cold was kicking my butt. The next day, we spotted the strike posters everywhere. They get right to the point.
It seems I have a thing for modes of transportation. For example, train station platforms have a vintage romantic feeling even if the train your waiting for is the newest, fastest bullet train. The platforms are invariably smoke-filled and dirty but there is something about the way the light shines in through the windows of the high ceilings. And if there is no sunlight, if it happens to be raining, well then you find yourself living in an old black and white movie. Nothing really beats train travel. In London it was the cabs but I digress. In Lisbon, I fell in love with the trolly. I took at least 50 pictures of the bright yellow vintage trolly. I think I could write an entire post dedicated to this trolly but here are just a couple of my favorite pictures.
Lisbon, as I mentioned is a bit dirty but it certainly has a charm about it. There are fantastic, elaborate fountains in every square and many of the buildings, even random, unimportant building have tiled facades. Sometimes they have elaborate mosaics with intricate details. I found it sad how so many of the tiles were grungy or damaged. Once upon a time, a craftsman took great care to design that wall and place those tiles. It makes you wonder how colorful and vibrant the city must have been then, before it was covered in soot and pollution.
The sidewalks, pedestrian areas and sometimes the streets were also covered in mosaics. The stones glistened when wet, glinting with the reflections of the streetlights (you can see the shine of the stone behind us in the picture below on the left). This made up for the dirt in many cases but made walking in heels a treacherous endeavor.
The architecture in Lisbon is also incredible. There are several must-see landmarks. The picture on the left below shows the detail in the ironwork of the Santa Justa elevator, which connects the downtown area to Bairro Alto, (the lowest and highest points of the city). It is an exceptional elevator and was built at the turn of the century by the Portugal-born architect Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard. He was an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, who, of course, built Paris’ Eiffel Tower.
There are lots of things to see in Lisbon so I’ll just hit our favorites. One of our favorites was the Tower of Belem, a UNESCO World Heritage site constructed in 1514. It reminded me of a drip castle, the sort of sand castle you make as a child (or as an adult. don’t judge.) at the water’s edge by dripping piles of wet sand to form the walls and towers of the castle. There are several levels, which can be reached by walking up a narrow spiral staircase. It’s Europe, they are all spiral and narrow and since my mother’s visit, I think of her whenever we walk up stairs like this. She was dumfounded by dangerous, unevenness of the stairs all over Paris and here in Germany. Now stairs make me smile and yes, I know that’s weird.
After the tower, we sat in a cafe sipping tea, coffee and a Hot Toddie for me. Asking for a double shot of whiskey with your lemon tea at noon garners a little judgement from the waiter even in Portugal. When the rain stopped and we were sufficiently warmed, we headed to one of the most impressive sites in Lisbon, the Jeronimos Monastery. I wish we had captured a better picture of the exterior of this magnificent example of European Gothic architecture. It is also a World Heritage site built in the early 1500’s.
Below is Ryan with Kate next to him checking out the cathedral below. That’s me on the right hiding my sickly, slightly tipsy face from the camera.
The Castelo De Sao Jorge is also well worth a visit. They call it the crown of Lisbon because like all great castles, it sits atop a hill overlooking the city. It is an example of 14th century architecture and has the best views of the city. We entered over the stone bridge that once traversed a moat and wandered around the castle walls exploring for a while before relaxing with some sangria at a cafe with the best view of the city .
The ruins of Convento do Carmo, a convent built in the 1300’s and subsequently destroyed by an earthquake was my personal favorite. The 1755 earthquake and the ensuing tsunami destroyed much of the city and killed thousands of people. Perhaps it was even more moving because we visited on a dreary day. The remaining arches stretched into the sky making it feel peaceful and somewhat somber. I think the experience may be different when the walls are drenched in sunlight. This is a must see site and if you are there in the summer, I imagine this to be a fantastic Fado concert venue.
Attached to the convent is an interesting museum filled with ancient mosaics and artifacts from the convent and other religious sites in Portugal. The most disturbing display, the two mummified bodies of what must have been children in a library of antique books. Ryan spent more than a little time evaluating the mummies. ………………………………………………..
We decided we needed to experience Fado music so we found a great little place with good food and wine and enjoyed a couple of hours of Fado. Fado is considered urban folk music and is know for being sorrowful. It was interesting music but it was more mournful and sad than we expected for “folk” music. There were several different singers each with their own style and even though it wasn’t uplifting music, we were happy for the experience.
After trying different Port wines and lots of other Portuguese wines, we ended the trip with a carafe of white sangria at a place near the pier.
Although, for me it was viewed through a cold medicine/Hot Toddie haze, Lisbon was definitely worth the trip. The seafood was excellent. The sangria and Port are fantastic. It is a city greatly affected by the down economy and pollution but if you can look past the grime, it really is a beautiful city underneath.