[Citeste acest articol in Limba Romana AICI]
Lisbon, an unpolished diamond at a finished price. The first vacation in 2019 found us in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I have wanted for a long time to reach the Western End of mainland Europe and now I am glad to have had this opportunity together with my friends from Romania.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ryanair has daily flights from Manchester to Lisbon, and the UK’s logistics, organization, prepaid airport parking, transfer to the terminal is simply impeccable. The first thing we had to do when we landed was to search for a means of transport to the city. Against my reason and judgement, we proceeded in to being stupid tourists and we went to the airport information desk to ask how we can get to Lisbon city center. They sent us to the Aerobus 1 service, which costs 4 EUR per person. Later I found out that there is a subway station inside the airport and also other normal regular buses where you pay € 1.5 per person ticket. That’s it, what to do now, so my first tip for everyone who wants to get to Lisbon, take the metro from the airport!
We found a cute apartment on Booking.com next to Rossio Square, which looked very nice in the pictures, but it proved to be lacking when we got there. The first thing we were asked by our host there was to pay the Lisbon tourist tax of 2 EUR per person per night, which must be paid separately on arrival. We knew about the tax from the site, but an extra cost of 48 EUR besides the already paid accommodation seems a bit expensive. I know all cities have a similar charge, but everywhere I have been, I didn’t pay more than 10-15 EUR, which were already included in the accommodation price. I have figured that it is for a good cause and at least something good is done with that money. I can not say that at the end of the holiday that I saw any great work done for tourists, but rather more for the locals.
After spending a year living in Marseille, I can say that the area where I stayed was very similar to the old Panier district there, but much less renovated and in need of landscaping works. Unfortunately this is the story of the whole city. This non-polished diamond is a partially successful project. You can’t really say that there are beautiful areas in the city, but only some beautiful streets. You often find yourself in a situation where you walk on a gorgeous old street or one with luxury shops, and as you turn left on a side street you wake up in a ghetto atmosphere. Historic districts such as Alfama or Barrio Alto are beautiful, but they can be gorgeous if the facades of the buildings are redone. Some say this is part of the charm of the city, but when you see a run down street followed by another run down street, followed by another one full of graffiti and buildings on the brink of collapse, it just doesn’t look good.
We left our luggage at the accommodation and we went for a walk through Rossio Square where we stopped for coffee to wait for for our friends whose flight was delayed. Within 20 minutes, we received dozens of deals and offers from walking vendors, asking if we want to buy Marijuana, Hashish, Cocaine, sun glasses, head caps. Everyone does their job unhindered even though the police are just a few yards away. I have seen such phenomena in other cities like Barcelona, but not at this scale. At least I have to admit that people here are trying and doing something for a living, not just sitting on the floor begging for money like in central area of Marseille.
We continued our journey on the main pedestrian road Rua Augusta, an artery full of shops and terraces, ending in a beautiful Arc de Triomphe and the main square of the city, Praca do Comercio. In this central area we find the famous historical tram and we find many of the city’s attractions, including the Santa Justa lift. I recommend a ride to the top, the view is superb!
The first evening we stopped at the restaurant recommended by our host. In the central area, all restaurants offer traditional fish and seafood menus and have multilingual menus. What you will probably notice is that in the evening, besides your regular narcotics vendors, there is a new specimen roaming the streets: the waiter that you that strongly pushes you off the street in to his restaurant. He knows how to greet you in any language and he assures you that he has the best food in town. If you’ve made the mistake of talking to him, he’s going to keep up with you for a long time. We arrived at the place we were looking for. After we were sited at the table, the friendly waiter brought us on the table without saying anything, bread, traditional cheese and small canned traditional sardine pate. We are accustomed to such free treats service in France and in Spain, so we dig in. At the end when the bill arrived, I found out with stupor that those small snacks and bread were 18 EUR! So we arrive to the second tip in Portugal: ALWAYS ASK HOW MUCH IT COSTS BEFORE you start eating anything that is brought unsolicited to the table! The final bill was generally between 80-110 Euros for 4 people, an average price for Western European tourist cities, but far too high for the standard of living in Portugal and for what this city has to offer in comparison to others.
Next day, we went to the river Tagus waterfront where we stopped for a Sangria at a gorgeous terrace looking towards the Golden Gate Bridge of Portugal. This reddish suspended bridge is called “April 25” (an uninspired name in my opinion). Then we continued along the promenade to the Alfama historical district where is located the Old Cathedral and Sao Jorge Castle. As you move away from the refurbished area of the city center, the landscape becomes more “rustic”. If the main street where the tram travels is still relatively OK, any other street in the historic Alfama district will welcome you with both old charm as well as graffiti and shabby buildings with laundry hanging, missing windows, fallen plaster. Sao Jorge Castle welcomes you with many pushy taxi and tuk tuk drivers, eager to take you on a city tour, but once you pass them, you are delighted with a tall gorgeous garden that offer some really beautiful views of the city from the top of the castle walls. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much everything left of the castle, the interior of the castle is reduced to just a few walls and a nice peacock garden. We continued our journey through the back of the castle on some rather dubious but picturesque alleyways. We were looking for a specific restaurant that proved to be just a pastry shop, so we ended up by sheer luck in to a gorgeous local, located in a closed residential courtyard, reached through a narrow hallway decorated with a canopy and low dimmed lights. The restaurant is called Lautasco, and it does not have the lowest prices, but it has among the best fish dishes we ate in Portugal.
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On the third day, we had in schedule to reach to the other bank of the river in the Almada district. You can reach the other river shore by train or bus viat the bridge or by the most beautiful transport option, the ferry. In the center of the city there are 2 maritime stations. To reach the statue of Jesus (here we have the smaller sister of the one located in Rio de Janeiro), you need to get to Cais do Sodre hub station. A crossing with the Ferry cost only 1.25 EUR per person, but the ferries are not exactly the best example to be used in public transport. However, I have seen in the city on other routes more modern and fast ferries.
Oce we arrived on the other bank at the Cacilhas station, I discovered with pleasure a neat little side attraction that is not publicized at all, namely a sail frigate. This wonderful ship was built in 1843, fully restored and transformed into a museum, whose interior can be visited. Unfortunately, this was the only attraction in the city that reminds you of Portugal’s vast trade empire and of former maritime glory. I do not understand why the government of this country ignores and does not promote its own history, achievements and discoveries such as those of Vasco da Gamma. Instead, in the city you see as a tourist only stuff with sardines, stuff made out of cork and colored tiles stuff. You are left with the impression that this is a nation of tile workers and fishermen, not that it was ever the richest city in Europe and that it had an empire with colonies on all the continents.
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From the frigate we decided not to take the route through the neighborhood, and instead we chose to take the route on the waterfront, thinking is a nicer view. We were clearly mistaken, the waterfront route takes you along the former docks and warehouses of the long extinct fishing fleet and offers a rather desolate landscape. But luckily there is light at the end of the tunnel, and in this case at the end of the waterfront we discovered a small fishing restaurant offering the best view of the bridge and Lisbon in the background. (it’s called Ponto Final). Right next it begins the path leading to the statue of Jesus.
The tourist complex around the statue on the hill we found to be under construction, but in principle the main attractions are the statue and the small garden around the statue. Although the view from the base of the statue is great, I still recommend a ride up to the feet of the statue for a 360 degree view from the elevated height. It is simply fantastic! Here you feel a bit like in Rio de Janeiro and San Francisco. Definitely one of the most beautiful days from this vacation.
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The next day was dedicated to visiting Sintra town near Lisbon. This lovely mountain town filled with castles is very accessible, being at the end of the suburban train line leaving from Rossio Central Station. Suburban trains run often, the system being similar to the Paris RER, or Cercanias in Madrid. Unfortunately, the condition of the trains and stations is very undesirable, there is no station spared of graffiti, and I did not think I would still see information panels on the cathode ray tube at any railway station in Western Europe. In comparison to France or Spain, where these train systems are impeccable. In Sintra as you get out of the station you are simply assaulted by taxi drivers and tourist guides who insist in a very rude way to go with them and insistently try to convince you to go with them because you have to walk one hour to the castle and it is not worth it . Because after 45 minutes sitting in a train, the next thing you want to do is transfer straight to another car to sit down and see everything on the run, right? Where is the logic in this?
The hiking route from the village of Sintra goes through the National Park da Pena to the remains of the Moorish castle and further to Palácio da Pena. It involves some climbing and it is a little tiring if you are not fit but it is well worth it. Hiking through the woods and mountains offers views of the beautiful landscapes surrounding the region. The Moorish Castle comprises of a few remnants of the walls of the Muslim fortress, the main attraction being the Palace da Pena next to it.
This very colorful palace is the masterpiece of the Artist King Ferdinand and combines several architectural styles. The colors and architecture of a sand castle have been the inspiration for many other castles, including more recent ones such as the one in Walt Disney Park.
The area is very beautiful and offers a little nature and space in comparison to the crowded metropolitan area of Lisbon. Unfortunately once the sun sets, the whole village is dead and the only thing to do here is to go back to the railway station.
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In the second to last day of our vacation, we stayed in the city and headed for the famous funiculars of Lisbon. We started near Rossio station with Ascensor da Gloria, walked through the tall streets of Barrio Alto and descended with Ascensor da Bica funicular. Gloria funicular will immediately catch your eye, not by its beauty, but rather by the dilapidated and graffiti state it is in. For a main attraction of the city, it is quite run down. I do not know what the money from the tourist tax is used for, but it is not showing. Shame on Lisbon authorities on this matter. At the top of the Gloria funicular at least you are welcomed with a very beautiful view from the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint. The Barrio Alta neighborhood is beautiful during the day, but it really stands out at night, being the main area of bars and clubs of the city. It’s worth visiting at night, especially on weekends!
We saved one day to visit the new part of the city. Using the metro we reach Oriente station where we find a beautiful aquarium (Oceanario), a cable car and a tower called Vasco da Gama, which is actually a luxury hotel. A big plus addition to the city for it’s metro system. Although it does not stand out in design, it is very efficient, clean and modern.
In conclusion, I could say that Lisbon deserves to be visited, but it is, as I said before, a non-polished diamond, an ongoing project that needs improvements. Many areas need to be properly set up before being recommended and recognized worldwide as a top tourist city. Although I did not think I would ever say it, in Marseille and the Provence area is more beautiful and is much organised by any means, especially as prices and expenses are pretty much the same in the these cities.
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