We took a break from the chaos that has defined our lives this past month and spent four days in Portugal's capital: Lisbon. It was a location that we have had on our list from the beginning, but it's not one you hear of often as a destination sought after by many of our friends here. We've had the plane tickets for months as Big R found them for a steal of a price, making this one of the more affordable getaways we've had yet.
So, what did we think of the oldest city in Western Europe? Our best description of Lisbon is "shabby chic". It's a charming city that is both serene and melancholic with beautiful architecture and incredible food. It is also known for its moderate climate and warm winters (well, warm for Europe, that is), which is one of the reasons we decided a trip in January would be an excellent idea. We didn't count on our fantastic travel karma to rear its ugly head though. What was initially forecast to be a calm weekend with highs around 60 degrees quickly turned into a cold and wet mess. I'm not talking about umbrella rain where you can stroll sights in a warm rain under an umbrella, I'm talking hurricane force winds (I'm exaggerating, but only slightly), sideways torrential downpours, and temperatures in the 40s. But alas, we were there to discover the heart of Portugal's charm, and that's exactly what we did...even if we were just a tad bit wet.
|Colorful sidestreet in the Alfama neighborhood|
|Beautiful tiled buildings were characteristic of Lisbon|
|Street cars were a common sight throughout the city|
|Old architectural structures marked the popular sights|
|View of the "Golden Gate" bridge|
We stayed at Residencial Flourescente, which was in a perfect location in the Baixa neighborhood - central to just about everything we needed. (It's off-season prices were also crazy cheap.) Although we had reserved (and had already paid for) a double room, they provided us with a triple, so little r even got his own room. Yes, he was one very happy little man. After getting checked in and settled, we ventured off to check out the Alfama neighborhood and Lisbon's castle: Castelo de Sao Jorge. It was one of those destinations where you could see it sitting on top of the hill, but directions on how to get to it were not exactly clear. The route we chose was rather circuitous, but we found it after an unexpected visit and delicious stop at a local cafe for lunch. The castle, if you can believe it, was rediscovered not even 100 years ago, when archaeologists found evidence of this 6th Century structure. It's more of a ruin at this point, but offers incredible views of the city. Unfortunately, our views were obscured by rain and fog, but we made the best of it and you know Big R did all he could to capture the experience with his camera.
|Taking a stroll around the castle|
|little r guarding Castelo de Sao Jorge|
|Pretending we lived in the Castelo|
|This baby has been quite the world traveler already|
|Enjoying the spectacular views from the castle|
|Each tower of the castle was still structurally intact|
|Stunning view from Castelo de Sao Jorge|
This trip was blessed with the company of our good friends, Amy and Phil, who are currently stationed in Italy. We had just enough time to sneak into the old Cathedral, or Se, before we needed to meet them back at the hotel for dinner. This cathedral was built over an old mosque and because of all the cultural influences left you feeling all of the Moorish, Romanesque, and Gothic styles. In fact, it felt more like a castle than a cathedral.
The weather went from bad to ugly, so we met our friends for dinner and decided to keep close to our hotel hoping to do some exploring without the wet weather the following day. We were so glad to have had the company of friends on this trip because the torrential rains continued. Somehow we turned an otherwise miserably wet weekend into one of exploring sights and enjoying the deep cultures of Lisbon including the amazing Lisboa food and wine.
We knew it was a bad sign when we started our day of exploring by stepping around parts of the roofs that had blown off in the night due to the terrible storm that was still ongoing. We found our way to the old Belem district, which is known as the historical district of the Age of Discovery. Viewing the sights and the old waterfront port was made challenging by the weather. We found ourselves ducking into museums we otherwise would not have seen and discovering cafes and other Lisboa food just to escape the downpour. Despite the crazy weather, we still managed to have a truly fantastic day. We stopped looking for places on purpose and resorted to falling into some of the most incredible sights and restaurants on accident. It was fantastic. Not only that, but little r was a trooper and so well-behaved. He walked his little heart out and enjoyed sausages, cheeses, and crackers at the wine bar with no complaints.
|Unexpected stop at the Maritime Museum to escape the weather|
|little r loved all of the ships|
|tiled buildings were at every turn|
|Making a mad dash for the monument - I was afraid little r would blow away!|
|The Age of Discovery|
|Discoveries Monument - weather closed access to the tower|
|Tower of Belem - very cool|
|my little man peeking through one of the windows in the Tower|
|View from the top of the Tower of Belem - Hello Sun!|
|The three of us trying not to blow away in the wind|
| Mosteiro dos Jerónimos - Jeronimos Monestary|
|Me and Amy in front of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos|
|Sun peeking through a window inside the Monastery|
|The interior of the Monastery was equally as gorgeous as the outer structure|
|The downpour that ensued just as we entered the Monastery|
|Beautiful chapel inside the Monastery - it literally took my breath away|
|Structure inside the Monastery chapel|
|View from inside the Monastery|
| Antiga Confeitaria de Belém - Belem Cafe known for its famous Belem Patries|
|Furnicular rising the most photographed street in Lisbon - |
note why the term "shabby chic" comes to mind
|Rainbows are becoming a common scene for our adventures|
|The Old Pharmacy Wine Bar - it was a wonderful find|
(little r was sad there was no hot chocolate on the menu but he loved the cheese!)
|Chapel de Sao Roque - plain exterior leads to a jewel box interior |
(most expensive chapel in the world)
|For dinner we found Wine Lovers Restaurant - the name says it all|
|Wine Lovers was a Tapas bar and the food was incredible!|
|The service was also second to none - a little Port for desert|
|The best part was having this guy as my date...|
|...and a sleeping bear letting us enjoy a nice long dinner with friends|
|The rain broke just long enough to let us |
find our way back to the hotel
Our final day in Lisbon was marked with more rain. So, we spent the first half of it indoors at the Oceanarium. It is located in Lisbon's Parque Das Nocoes, which is the site of the 1998 Expo. It's a large district of glass and modern architecture. When we surfaced out of the popular Oriente Station, it felt like we were in a completely different city. The aquarium is the second largest in the world, and the exhibits were incredible. We loved our visit there, and little r is still talking about how much fun he had.
|The sea turtle exhibit was incredible!|
|Look at all those jellies!|
|little r was memorized by the sharks |
|Sea otters - my absolute favorite. |
I could seriously watch these cuties for hours
|Easily the scariest shark in the tank|
|Taking a break with Daddy while watching the reef tank|
|just love my boys :) |
Our final excursion was a day trip to Sintra. We took a quick 30 minute train, and we were so excited to see the fairy tale village. We should have known better. As the train took us up into the Portuguese mountains, the rains fell harder and the winds grew stronger. By the time we made it from the train station to the center of Sintra, we were soaked. So we found shelter in the Palace and looked in awe at the intricate decor and tiled walls inside the 14th Century structure. We had no original intention of visiting the Palace, but afterwards we were happy not to miss it. The rains still hadn't let up, so instead of discovering the village, we ran to shelter inside a little wine bar where we enjoyed more amazing Portuguese cheese and sausages, and little r had the richest hot chocolate I've ever seen.
|This is all we saw of rain-soaked Sintra|
|All smiles despite being soaked to the bone - |
thank goodness for charming Portuguese wine cafe
|This weather can be exhausting - |
my boys napped on the train ride back to Lisbon
We found our way back to Lisbon just in time to enjoy dinner at an authentic "whole in the wall" off the side streets in the Chiado District. I don't even remember the name of the restaurant, but the food was incredible!
|My dinner - super yum!|
|I have no idea how to even pronounce the name of this place , |
but it was a fantastic ending to our trip!
We, of course, woke up the next morning as we packed for the airport with beautiful sunshine. We watched longingly out of the airport windows at the sunlit city scape and dreamed about taking a trip back to rediscover this romantic city.
My overall impression of Lisbon is that it's a city to "feel". Although the sites were amazing and historic, typical of many of the European places we have been fortunate to visit, but they were not overwhelming in an "Eifel Tower" or "Colosseum" type of way. Instead, Lisbon is great because of its people, its food, and its atmosphere. I kept saying that the town felt very schizophrenic because of the shabby chic character of its neighborhoods. It was common to see a well-kept beautifully tiled building adjacent to a run down shack. We would wonder through upscale neighborhoods donned with graffiti and rundown buildings. That said, the people were incredible, and I truly believe that with the typical Portuguese weather of endless sunshine and warm evenings, you would leave dreaming of coming back. It reminded me in so many ways of San Francisco from the Golden Gate bridge to the trolleys and the amazing food. I do say visit Lisbon, but it's worth it to wait to see the city in weather that will let you truly enjoy its magnificence.
|Enjoying the sunshine while we wait to board our plane|