The city comes alive for us when we take a stroll around historic Lisbon
A trip to Lisbon, aka Lisboa, can be an experience in time travel. As we visit the various monuments of this beautiful city, it’s easy to forget that we are walking on history even while treading its sidewalks. The Portuguese pavement art of Calçada Portuguesa has its origins in Roman times. It was developed further during the Arabic occupation. Thanks to this unique collaboration and mingling of cultures, the Portuguese today enjoy not only an aesthetically pleasing but also a practical pavement. Its varied patterns and colours make the walk around Lisbon a truly enjoyable experience.
The best way to experience the city is to get a hotel room at the city centre, close to a Metro station. We start our walk at the Marques Pombal rotunda. From here, watching the Calçada Portuguesa under our feet, we make our way down Avenida Liberdade towards the Castle of São Jorge. On the way, we pass the plaza dedicated to the restorers of Portuguese independence from Spanish dominance called Praça Dos Restauradors. Just before entering the castle, check out the small café at the top that serves Goan food! From the castle, we continue our walk down to the city’s oldest district, Alfama, the Arabic quarter. It stretches from the famous Se Castle all the way down to the Tejo River. The streets are like staircases because of the hilly nature of the area. The lanes are so narrow that it’s virtually impossible for cars to go through.
Here, we get to experience the smells and colours of Portugal first hand. Time seems to have literally stood still here. Alfama was recently renovated and a deliberate attempt made to preserve the atmosphere of yore. Fado, the traditional Portuguese music, is still seen being performed in select restaurants everywhere. We learn a great deal about how Fado, just by traversing the streets of this typical Portuguese township.
It is as though our footsteps have taken us right into the traditional tile designs that we see being sold in many a souvenir shop here. Speaking of which, Lisbon is famous for its ceramic tiles. A typical design is one that depicts the town with its narrow, staired streets and traditional living. Also popular are the Azulejos or blue-patterned tiles.
When we tire of all the climbing up and down, we take a break in one of the many restaurants, where we get decent food at budget-friendly prices. After that, we head to Belém (pronounced Belaim), a total departure from Alfama, with its wide walking promenades and spectacular views of the river Tagus.
The monuments and sights in Belém are a celebration of the maritime discoverers of yore. Jeronimos Monastery, built in the 16th century, is one such. History buffs will enjoy the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the explorer who arrived on the shores of south-western India in 1498 and brought Portuguese culture, food and language to our soil.
While in the monastery, don’t miss the cloister, which is clearly the highlight of the trip. Its decorated stone columns cast enormous shadows on the walls of the corridors in the late afternoons, making it a truly enjoyable experience.
As we head further towards the river, we encounter a giant monument celebrating the Discoveries of Portugal: Padráo Dos Descobrimentos. We end our walk at the Tower of Belém. Make sure you stay on for the sunset. We rest our weary bones at a restaurant and enjoy some scrumptious Bacalhau, the Portuguese cod, and Caldeirada, a fish and vegetable dish. We also order a glass of the world-famous Portuguese Port wine, which comes from Porto in Northern Portugal.
As we finally end our day with the famous desserts — Pasteis de Belém (custard tart) and Arroz Doce (sweet rice) — we realise that we are not that different from these explorers after all. We have the same curiosity to see for ourselves what’s out there, the hunger to know and learn more about cultures that are so foreign to us, and the urge to share with others a piece of ourselves. That is why we travel till our feet tire.