The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lisbon–A City of Contrasts

The following takes place between Days 155-157, May 1-3, 2011

I admit that not only have I been completely neglecting updating the blog, but I’ve also been half dreading writing this post, and the others about Portugal as I have a good friend back home from Portugal. I really want to do his home country justice.

And wow. What a country. We’ll start with the capital as that’s where we are currently situated. I just fell in love with this city. Sure, my Portuguese leaves much to be desired but at least it’s close enough to Spanish that I can get by. “No fala Portuguese. Solo ingles o Español" was a phrase I said many times. I tried though! I caught onto the way they said numbers which is a pretty important skill to have.

Ah! Back to the city though! And what a city. What a city indeed.

It’s rare for a city to really be defined by a single event. You could easily argue that New York City has become defined by the events of 9/11. But beyond that I can’t really think of any other examples. Perhaps you, dear readers, can enlighten me on other examples.

IMG_5600I say this because, as I found out through numerous sources(geocaching, open top bus tour, historical signs), Lisbon is just such a city. One event in its past really changed the face of the city. How it looked. Its design. Its heart. That event was an earthquake in 1755. An earthquake so large and violent that very few buildings built before November 1, 1755 are left standing. Those that weren’t destroyed by the initial quake or the ensuing tsunami were destroyed by fires. Lisbon still stands here today because of the almost pragmatic reasoning of the king and marquis who took the approach of “Bury the dead, heal the living.” The architecture of the historic downtown where I was staying is done in a style invented in response to the Marquis de Pombel who charged architects to build structures that were earthquake proof. Scale models were tested by having the army march around them on their horses. He also sent questionnaires to Churches around the country asking questions relating to the earthquake in order to understand it better. From force felt to how long it lasted. He even had a question relating to behaviour of animals before the earthquake hit.

The huge square, the largest in Europe, was also once the sight of the Royal Palace but thatIMG_5647 too had been destroyed. Interesting tidbit I learned: It took until the King had died before a new Palace was built as he became so terrified of sleeping indoors that he refused to have a new Palace made.

The remnants of one church/convent/monastery still stand as well, housing an anthropology museum now. Walking through the open air museum, seeing the few remaining pieces from that time standing is awe-inspiring. It’s hard to imagine such a devastating event. To completely destroy a city, or as some historians say, completely razed the city to the ground.

While in Lisbon, I decided to get a ticket on one of the hop-on/hop-off sightseeing tour buses that go around the city. Say what you will, but I find that for the price you pay, it’s a great way to not only see a lot in a short time and learn some history along the way, but you also get an easy way of picking out places to go back to. This particular company had two routes. I did one on each day of the ticket.

IMG_5502The first day I took the route that took me through the Belem area. I got off near the massive Jeronimos Monastery, which was built near the water as a way for the explorers, sailors, and fishermen to worship before heading out to sea. Of course, being Sunday I couldn’t go in. I really didn’t plan the day all that well as most places and museums are closed on Sunday. Oh well.  I spent that day in Belem completely on the boardwalk. I visited the giant monument aptly named “Monument to the Discoveries.” The Portuguese take amazing pride in their achievements in navigating and exploration. And it is really cool to be in the part of the world that ushered in the Age of Exploration and re-IMG_5536discovered the Americas.

Gosh, these paragraphs are long.

I also managed to take a walk and see the Torre de Belem, a fortress that was built on the river as a means of defence for the kingdom. It’s claimed to be THE symbol of Portugal. And it is a beautiful, yet simple structure. Even if I never did get to go in because, surprise surprise, it was closed on Sunday.

IMG_5548The second day tour took me to a completely different area of the city and showed an incredibly sharp contrast between the downtowns Pombeline architecture. The northern portion of the tour route went through the area that was built to host the 1998 World Expo. The buildings were ultra modern and done in a way to represent the theme of that particular Expo – the sea. It was really cool to see as I think a lot of times, people travel to a city and get caught in one particular area, in this case the old historic district, that it’s hard to picture the city as anything but that. I’ve fallen into that trap plenty of times myself mind you. I’m not immune.

I loved that area so much that I ended up going back the next day to walk around on my own. IMG_5767There was just so much to see in this city. From Belem, to the historical center with the really old, and cool, San Justo Elevator, to the modern Expo area. Which is why I cut my stay short.

Wait. What?

Ok, I have reasons. One, I wanted to go to Porto. Two, I was also planning on going to the Algarve region in the south before heading back into Spain. To go from number 1 to number 2, I have to go through Lisbon anyways. So I just decided to stop back into Lisbon on my way through.

Logical, eh?


  1. We finally got around to read this post - on our flight to Lisbon :) We will spend three weeks in Portugal and can't wait to explore the city! Can you recommend a good hostel/hotel? Which other places in Portugal did you love?

  2. I stayed at the Kitsch Hostel. It was perfect for me as it was right in the center of the downtown area. Right by the Restoradores metro station(I'm spelling that incorrectly). Cheap, but good. Good staff and cheap Port wine.

    You MUST go to Porto. And the Algarve region in the south of Portugal is absolutely beautiful. You can get sucked in pretty easily. Though, be warned, you're getting to the major tourist season. The Algarve region is a Mecca for English tourists and prices for hostels double. Let me know if you want more help!