Every year around 13th June, we make it a point to set voyage to a new destination in the world. What best to gift to a human life on a birthday but the gift of experience, that of travel, the joy to discover a new country, new culture and new culinary delights. In 2015, we went for road-tripping around beautiful Norway. In 2016, around the same time we were driving around Iceland and this year in 2017, we set our eyes on Portugal as Shehzaad flipped one more page of the life-years.
Portugal Please! Day 1: St. Antonio’s Day Festival in Lisbon
Our plan was to start with the capital Lisbon, then drive north to Porto and finally drive down south in the Algarve region and return to Lisbon – all in 8 days time. Early morning flight from London to Lisbon meant that we were there in the first half of the day. Hot and bright, Lisbon made a first impression immediately with its uneven landscape, steep and sometimes narrow roads especially in the older and more attractive part of the town.
Top tips for day 1:
· Alfama neighbourhood
· Praça da Figueira
· Belem Tower & Monument of Discovery
· Azulejos tiles on walls pretty much everywhere
Eat & drink –
· Pastel de Nata from Pasteis de Belem or Confeitaria Nacional
· Sangria and (if you are visiting during Summer) lots of water
· English is widely spoken everywhere, but make sure to say ‘obrigado’ or ‘obrigada’ (Thank you in Portuguese) which will go down very well with locals.
Without wasting any time, we went straight to the Alfama district which happens to be the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon. Made of a maze of narrow alleys and stair-ways, some centuries ago this neighbourhood used to be the residence of dock workers and sailors. Still clinging on to its old school charm, with the traditional Azulejos tiles on the exterior of the houses, the vibrant community was center of a lot of merry making and festivities on the day we arrived because it turned out that 13th June was the day of St. Antonio – Portugal’s patron saint.
Naturally the whole neighbourhood was decorated with festoons and residents in Alfama were seen busy preparing their food, barbecue and drinks stall to take part in the street parties and celebrations. Obviously if you really want to arrive in Portugal at the right time, sometime around 10-12 June would be ideal to witness all the fun surrounding the St. Antonio’s day.
From Alfama we headed towards Praça da Figueira where a massive statue of King John was seen on horseback. Located in central Lisbon, the square was abuzz with restaurants, tourists, locals and makeshift stalls. This is where we settled for lunch at a by-lane near the square. We also waited for more than 30 minutes to get onto tram#28, supposedly the best tram-ride through the most iconic spots in Lisbon. Strangely enough, it never arrived leaving many enthusiasts like us rather confused and disappointed in that scorching heat. It is worth noting that trams are widespread around Lisbon and the city has an underground subway system as well. Incase you are short of time, you can always take a taxi for short distances and the cost will not be more than around 6-9 euros. Also, driving inside Lisbon is not really recommended ’cause parking is a nightmare within the city and rental car should be considered only for a roadtrip around the country.
As an alternative plan to our tram ride on day one, we decided to hire a tuk-tuk and head towards Belem Tower – The fortified tower located in the south-west part of the capital. On our way there, we took a break to taste some delicious “Pastel de Nata” from the famous and historic Pasteis de Belem. Since 1837, this bakery/confectionery had been preparing these famous Portuguese custard tart pastries following a secret recipe and your trip to Lisbon will be incomplete if you haven’t devoured a few of these on the first day of your arrival in Lisbon and you certainly have to do that at Pasteis de Belem or Confeitaria Nacional.
The Belem Tower is a UNESCO Heritage Site because of the significant role it played during the Portuguese maritime discoveries. Later this tower was commissioned by King John II at the mouth of the river Tagus as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. From the same site, we could see the gorgeous 25 de Abril bridge – also compared to the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco.
On the northern bank of the Tagus river, the gigantic Padrão dos Descobrimentos stood proudly to commemorate the age of discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries when ships set sails from that point to discover new territories around the world – most notably India. In addition to the main statue of Henry the Navigator holding the model of a carrack, the monument also features total of 33 explorers of Portugal including Vasco Da Gama on both sides. Visiting this monument on the day 1 of arriving at the Portuguese capital felt like a pilgrimage for any voyager lost in the wanderlust.
In love with Lisbon the very first day, we signed off with some fine fish for dinner and taking preparations for day 2.