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Published November 2nd 2016
Experience Old Customs and New Ideas
I have to admit that Lisbon had never featured on my travel list. This is mainly because I don't actually have one. Still, the point I'm making is that I hadn't seriously considered it as an option until a late night discussion with LT. We each had a week to take off work; wanted to get away, and decided our destination had to fulfil the following criteria:
Somewhere with direct flights from Edinburgh or Glasgow (we lived in Stirling at the time)
Somewhere within a 2-3 hour flight time
Somewhere with even the slightest chance of sun (again, we used to live in Scotland…)
Somewhere I could aimlessly wander around, smiling to myself and generally looking a bit odd.
Clearly, I can wander around anywhere looking a bit odd (and often do), but the other criteria were equally important. And so The Lisbon Plan was hatched. As my regular job involves me sleeping in serviced accommodation, I'm always keen NOT to do that when I'm on holiday. I like the freedom of self catering and I think staying in a rented apartment adds to the whole experience. Plus, staying in a flat means I wouldn't be tempted to give some poor hotel owner 3 stars and a chat about the provenance of his bacon when I checked out.
After searching through Way to Stay's website, we found a lovely little apartment in the Historic Alfama neighbourhood, had a quick look at local transport options, attractions, airport links, etc., and booked ourselves in for a week of relaxation. Yay!
As with any city, it goes without saying that there's tons to do in Lisbon. It all depends on what your interests are, really. These are a few of the highlights we experienced during our visit:
Beautiful views from the Miradoura Graca
Lisbon Cathedral: A quite stunning Roman Catholic Cathedral which we stumbled upon, by chance, on our first full day in the city. The Cathedral just happened to be a short wander from our apartment, so it was a very pleasant surprise to turn a corner round a wonderfully cobbled street and be faced with the back end of, what appeared to be, a big ol' impressive pile of bricks. And It was.
The Cathedral's history dates back to the 4th century (although I have found a few differing opinions on this), and is free to enter. Also, going at particular times of year (February for us), the façade was fabulously enhanced by the large orange trees growing in the grounds outside. The interior is very impressive and I even managed to pick up a new set of decorative Rosary beads from the small Cathedral shop. Score!
the city's trams
The Tram and Funicular: Lisbon trams are fabulous. Not like the trams we have up in Edinburgh; all sleek, shiny and prone to electrical faults. Oh no, these trams are old. Like, very old. However, also very awesome, if you try your hardest to ignore the 'beware of pickpockets' signage within, which makes you immediately pat down all your pockets and begin eyeing up other passengers with some suspicion. I guessed they were all desperate to get their hands on my dog-eared city centre map and Dorothy Perkins account card. They're only human, after all.
The trams are an excellent way to see parts of the city at a relaxed pace and the funicular trams, of which there are three, are ideal for reaching the peak of some of Lisbon's hilliest climbs. Seriously: steep hills, people. However, without the steep inclines, there would be no fabulous overlooks, known as miradouros.
We hopped on the Gloria funicular from the bottom of Avenida de Liberdade. I say hopped on, but the reality was that we did a fair bit of loitering around outside the car wondering if a) it was operational and b) where in the world the driver had sloped off to. After hanging around for 15 minutes with the knowledge that we could've just, you know, walked up the hill and been there already, the driver appeared. And besides, it's all about the experience, right? Indeed. In the end, the journey only lasted a few minutes and was inexpensive.
At the start, I thought we might need to get out and push as it really was that steep, but my lack of engineering knowledge is shining through here. Once at the top of the hill, we all filed out to Miradouro de Sāo Pedro de Alcântara to gaze out at the spectacular views across the city and Castle.
The overlook was quite busy late afternoon, with a mixture of selfie enthusiasts (one of them being my other half), 'normal' tourists, and locals. It's a beautiful spot for chilling out and taking in the sights before you consider trying to navigate your way back down the hill.
While I'm talking about scenic views, back at the ranch in Alfama, we found another glorious miradouro while making the daily pilgrimage to the local supermarket to stock up on wine. And food, obviously. But mostly wine. Miradouro de Graça is located, interestingly, next to Graça Church, which is one of the oldest in the city. It also boasts a rooftop café, where you can relax with a glass of wine and bask in the panoramic views. This is a particularly well located pit stop when you're struggling down the hill with all the bottles you just purchased at the store…