Part Two of our European Trip began with a early morning flight from Madrid, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal. We were pretty excited to visit this city after researching what to do and see in this part of the world. And one of the best parts was that Lisbon sits on the Tagus River which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. There is something so beautiful about any city with views of the ocean.
We stayed at the Hotel Agenda Palace, a charming and classic hotel, located in the center of Lisbon. This hotel was more old style, far different from our European style hotel in Madrid.
We loved that we could open up the window to the street below. The strange part was that there was no screen on the window, something that would never happen in the U.S.
We found Lisbon to be a fascinating city, our favorite one out of the three cities we explored. We began the first day walking towards the Praca do Comercio (Commerce Square), located on the Tagus River. We decided to hop aboard a Tuk Tuk – a three wheeled motorized scooter operated by one of many tourist companies.
We stopped at Se Cathedral (or Lisbon Cathedral) which is a Roman Catholic Cathedral and is the oldest church in the city, built in 1147, and was modified several times after surviving many earthquakes.
Our Tuk Tuk driver took us to some stunning lookout points of the city and I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
Graffiti in interesting art form was very common along the streets but made it all the more unique to us.
We wanted to end our Tuk Tuk tour at the Castelo de Sao George but were stupid tourists without enough euros, so we followed Plan B. More about that later!
After our excursion, we stopped at a rooftop bar for canas and tapas (beer and small bites). I remember sitting outside listening to people speaking several different languages – French, Spanish, Portuguese – all in the same space.
Our hotel concierge recommended a local seafood restaurant, Cervajaria Pinoquio, for dinner that evening. It was close by our hotel which was a very good thing, because it was raining pretty hard. Pinoquio was one of our favorite dining experiences in Lisbon – seafood rice for me and seafood paella for Mike.
Day Two in Lisbon was a memorable one filled with many many steps – almost 20,000! After breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the Elevador de Santa Justa, an elevator/lift situated at the end of Rua de Santa Justa. The lift connects the lower streets of the Baixa with the higher Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square), and hosts beautiful views of the city.
Next on our list was jumping on Tram 28 to visit Castelo de Jorge, the castle we wanted to visit on Day One in Lisbon. We had read about the pick-pocketing problem on the Tram so it was no surprise to witness another tourist get her wallet stolen by a pick pocketer while aboard the Tram. We weren’t sure who stole it but we noticed a couple of people get on the tram dressed as tourists and then depart after only one or two stops. I kept my cross-body purse close to me at all times.
Tram 28 took us to the foot of the hills prior to the castle, so we definitely got our exercise climbing the many many staircases through the streets and up to the castle. It was such an interesting walk and once again, we saw many buildings filled with grafitti.
The Castelo de Jorge was the ancient seat of power for Portugal for over 400 years and provides fantastic views of the city and of the River Tagus.
On our way down from the castle, we walked through the lovely Alfama District and shopped at the Cork Store – where we bought a cork purse, a cork iPad cover, and other cork trinkets for souvenirs for the boys. Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world so we saw cork products everywhere.
After our long walk back to our hotel, we cleaned up and headed to the Chiado District for dinner that night. The restaurant was perhaps a little too up-scale for us because the portions were small – and if you know Mike, you know he can eat. So gelato afterwards at Amerino’s was necessary!
We also checked out Fado – a traditional folk music popular in this part of the world. Fado is melancholy music by nature, concentrating on darker elements of love, death, and sadness. To put it bluntly, we hated it and made a quick exit from the Fado Establishment after only 20 minutes of listening. Just not our thing!
Day Three was another very full day. We hired Paulo, a Portuguese driver, to take us up the coast toward the town of Sintra. We considered taking the train but decided that there were so many areas that we wanted to stop and see along the way.
The trip started with a visit to the Pasteis de Belem for their world famous custard tarts. We were lucky that we chose an off day to visit (The Belem Tower was closed) because we had read that the line to this cafe is usually down the street. The custard tarts were warm and delicious and a great start to our day.
Even though the Belem Tower was closed on the day we toured, we enjoyed the breathtaking views from the outside. The tower was commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus River and a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. Paulo explained that the sand on the far end of the river required ships to sail close to Belem Tower on their way into Lisbon, which helped monitor who entered the area.
From the Belem Tower, we headed north to the Beaches of Cascais. February is off-season at the beaches, so there were very few people around, and it made it easy for us to explore the area. We decided that we must come back someday when the weather is warmer.
Paulo took us further up the coast to even more beautiful points of interest. We watched the waves crash into the rocky shoreline.
The best moment of the day was on our way to Cabo da Roca. It was even more beautiful in person to hear the sounds of the water rushing in this cave type of formation. We stood and watched for a very long time appreciating God’s works of art.
Our next stop was Cabo da Roca, the cape which forms the westernmost point of mainland Portugal and continental Europe. The views of the Atlantic Ocean were breathtaking and the sound of the waves of the sea crashing into the cliffs was an amazing experience. We saw several tourists crossing the fence by the cliffs to get a better picture. Paulo told us NOT to do that because one slip meant death – and we wisely listened.
We ate a late lunch of fresh seabass, veggies, and beer at Meste Ze, a restaurant along the sea. The waiter showed us our fish before cooking it so we could see that it was fresh. They cooked it using a salt-encrusted technique and then filleted it at our table. Such a cool and unexpected experience – and delicious.
We continued our drive through the mountains and then finally arrived at the quaint little town of Sintra. We shopped the unique streets, stopping for a coffee at a cute little shop.
After a very full day of exploring the coast of Portugal with Paulo, we decided to take the most direct route back to Lisbon, and avoid the winding roads by the sea and mountains.
Paulo taught us so much about the culture and history of Portugal. He was a bit hard to understand at times and we laughed about it WITH him throughout the day as it was mutual. We left with a great appreciation and awe of this part of the world.
Next stop…Barcelona – Part Three.