We went to Lisbon for four nights, five days. These are therefore very fleeting impressions. Stick with it, I get the moans over at the start.
To start with, it’s hilly. It’s not good for anybody with mobility difficulties. That said, the youngest Miss O. coped well and we all quickly got more stamina. Last thing in the day returning to our apartment was a slog, though.
We rented a flat using Airbnb; we have also done this in Malta and Croatia, and have very good experiences. It was a lovely little apartment, but our first impression was that Lisbon is scruffy and dirty. This of course varies from area to area, but that first impression lingers. Some street washing, washing of shop fronts and repairs would help, though no doubt the economic circumstances would be a factor. Captain Blamey, in the Poldark novels by W.S. Graham, comments on the filthy streets in the 1790s. No change there then.
Oh yes, the economic circumstances. Expensive. We always seemed to be paying out and there always seem to be new costs to visit different locations. Yes, it’s a holiday; but 5 euros for a milk shake is ridiculous. And now we come to the food… again, it’s a brief impression, but we found little that was good. I tried a dried salted cod dish, meant to be a speciality; it tasted as you would expect a piece of cod that had been dried, salted, soaked and fried to taste. Boring. Nasty. I did finish it.
End of moans. The good bits. The trams are tremendous. The old (crowded) ones on the tourist routes rattle up and down precipitous hills, just clearing buildings, cars and people. The new ones are efficient and comfortable. Public transport is cheap and reliable, unless you buy the wrong tickets (like we did).
We visited Sintra by rail. It has an amazing Moorish castle and the spectacular Pena Palace, built for King Consort Ferdinand, a cousin of Queen Victoria, on the remains of an old monastery. It is coloured red and yellow, clings to the hillside and gives amazing views. A tuk-tuk ride up to it was the best money we spent all holiday, as it would otherwise have taken two hours.
The buildings in Lisbon are varied and picturesque, if sometimes tatty. We did not expect the astonishing ceramic tiles which cover so many of them. Others are coloured. There was a horrendous earthquake in 1755, which flattened a large part of the city, and much of the architecture therefore dates from after that, very attractively. Wrought iron balconies are common, sadly sometimes in various states of decay. Wandering round is a real pleasure. There is an opulent range of building materials, including extensive use of marble. The pavements are everywhere covered with mosaics of stone tiles; sadly, they are often stained and in need of a wash.
A real attraction of the city (especially for Miss O.) are the funiculars and elevators. The Elevador de Santa Justa, in particular, is a beautiful iron structure, leading to spectacular views of the city, especially at night.
The city is on the Tagus; there is a wonderful square which must have once upon a time made a beautiful entrance to Portugal. We wish we had discovered this at the start of the week. The cruise ship passengers seem to start here on their brief forays into Lisbon.
On our final day we took a boat tour across the Tagus and then up it to Belem, in the North of Lisbon. This was a lovely end to our week and well worth it. The views of the bridge (based on the Golden Gate in San Francisco), the statue of Christ (based on that in Rio de Janeiro) and the city were beautiful. As always, pictures don’t do them justice.
Finally, I should add that the citizens of Lisbon are polite, and helpful if asked. The police were lovely to Miss O, who wanted her picture taken with them all. It is an extraordinarily racially mixed city, yet feels harmonious and unthreatening at all hours. It was beautifully warm, going up to 30 degrees C. on our last day, and 26 degrees at 9.30 at night. Our impressions are based on a brief visit; others may have a very different experience, especially of the food.
(My thanks to Mrs Oblique for her contributions to this.)