“I don’t want to not live because of my fear of what could happen.”- Laird Hamilton
Lisbon, Portugal, was a surprise for me. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t to fall in love with Portugal. So why did I choose it? I was just coming out of Morocco, where I had done a 15-day tour. Since I had already been to Spain, it seemed reasonable to visit Portugal as the second leg of my adventure.
I flew from Marrakesh to Lisbon. Lisbon has a different feel from other European cities. It has a cosmopolitan feel combined with old city charm.
One of the first things I did was take a 3-hour tuk-tuk tour. My guide took me to places that would have taken me hours to get to by walking on my own. She showed me beautiful little streets with quaint shops and historical sites. The best for me was when she took me to a tiny bar with a fado singer. I was hooked instantly! Fado is the heart and soul of Portugal. It certainly set the tone for the rest of the trip. The only problem with the tuk-tuk tour is that you do not get to go into all the sites you are shown, but at least you will get a good overview of what to visit.
Just down the street from my Airbnb in Belem, a district in Lisbon, I came across the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. It was not in any of the guide books I perused. I love horses, and I was lucky to come across it. A guide explained that Lusitano horses from the Alter Real Stud Farm, which was established in 1748 by King Joao V to supply the Royal household and its riding school, are still used today. They also explain the riding styles, which include “airs above the ground” and the saddles and costumes. When the guided tour is finished, you can go across the street where, if you are fortunate, you might see one of the galas or failing that, a weekly presentation. They have daily morning working presentations that are for teaching and preparing the horses for performances. You are not allowed to take pictures. There is also a gift shop where you can buy some beautiful souvenirs like mugs, bags etc. relating to the school. There are refreshments as well.
Further down the street, there is a museum of coaches, the Museu Nacional dos Coches. It is a large exhibition of all ages of coaches, including Pope Clement XI’s gorgeous coach. Across the street is Antigo Picadeiro Real, where only 7 of the majestic coaches are housed. The former royal riding stables are better suited to the coaches than the ultra-modern Museu Nacional dos Coches.
One site not to be missed is Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. There are always lines for the tickets. But, if you go to the left entrance a little further down, you will get to the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia and can purchase tickets for both. There was hardly anyone at that entrance. The monastery was built with the profits from the spices that were brought back from the subcontinent. The monks of the Order of St. Jerome inhabited the monastery where their spiritual job was to comfort sailors and pray for the king’s soul. Later it was used as an orphanage and school until 1940.
A bit further is the Torre de Belem. The fortress was designed in 1515 to defend Lisbon’s harbour. The building juts out onto the Rio Tejo, and if you are ambitious, you can climb the spiral stairs for a breathtaking view of the river and Belem. I decided not to take the stairs as I am a little out of shape! It is not for the faint-hearted. And, it is not suitable for someone with claustrophobia.
Also in Belem is the pastry store in Portugal that makes the famous Pastel de Nata. It is said that the owners received or paid the monks for the recipe. The lineups can be a bit daunting, but time goes quickly. The staff are very efficient at getting the customers through. There is a vast area in the back with tables and chairs. Through Airbnb experiences, I was able to book a cooking class to learn how to make these delicious pastries. The class was in a private home. There were just two of us in the class, and the teacher explained everything so well that I was able to make them once home. We sat at her table and had snacks, including our creations. It was like sitting at a friend’s table. It was an interesting and informative evening.
Oceanario is absolutely mind-blowing. I spent 3 hours there and probably could have spent more time. There are 8000 marine creatures in 7 million litres of seawater in huge wraparound tanks. There are benches in and around the tanks. You can sit for as long as you like to watch the water life. There are no entertainment shows, and it reproduces rather than capturing whenever possible. Oceanario runs the most extensive environmental program in Portugal.
There is so much to see and do in Lisbon, and I will cover more in the next blog. I still did not see everything, so I will have to return to this beautiful city.