Thursday 5th May: Our first full day in Lisbon.
As suspected, we woke to an overcast morning. The rain held off enough to allow us to get a morning walk in along the Harbour front though and we also went back to the Ribeira markets so that Mark could get his coffee fix for the day; They’re called a Bica here and not Espresso.
Unfortunately, the rain started by the time we headed out at 9.30 am to meet up with our group for our 10 am Lisbon walking tour. It wasn’t too heavy but just enough to be annoying and require an umbrella.
Our guide for the 3 hour walking tour was a lively young English girl called Ronnie Smith. She led our small group of four tourists through the city and gave us a great potted history of Lisbon. Mark and I had no idea of the impact of Lisbon’s history on the rest of the world and as the tour went on I felt increasingly ignorant of much of the world’s important history. One point of note was fascinating for us though and it was about the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and how the impact of this event went on to shape world religion and fostered the start of of scientific enlightenment. The earthquake struck on the morning of All Saints Day when most Catholics were in Church and, thus, ended up killing a significant proportion of them. However many non-Christians, living up on the hills in the Moorish section, were spared and so using the sole justification that every event in life was ‘an act of God’ came into great question whereas previously you would have been labelled a heretic and burnt at the stake. This earthquake phenomenon challenged this Church authority though and eventually enabled the sourcing of other reasons for ’cause and effect’ relationships, ie the birth of Science!
The tour finished off at what tourist know as ‘Commerce Square’, near where we had walked earlier in the morning, and so we said farewell to our new friends and headed back to our flat to dry off, rest a bit and have some lunch.
The Gulbenkian Museum had been recommended to us by Shaun Edwards and so, given it was still a bit damp, the indoor nature of this attraction already had appeal. The Museum houses the vast art collection of Armenian, Calouste Gulbenkian, who made his fortune from charging 5% commissions brokering Oil transactions. It was a vast and amazing collection and quite incomprehensible that one man could acquire such wealth. His philanthropic goal was to promote art, science, charity and investigation and this Museum goes a long way towards that goal. The Islamic Art room was my favorite however I did find some Louis XV and XVI marble-top sideboards that might suit our daughter’s hallway. What do you think Ali?
The rain had eased by the time we left the Museum but we hedged our bets and opted for another indoor activity that was on our ‘to do’ list and that was the Lisbon Cathedral or ‘Se Catedral’ as it is referred to here. This is the oldest Church in Lisbon, dating back to the 1150 period, and stands on the site of a former Mosque. Sound familiar! The most interesting part of this visit was the archaeological dig going on in the Cloisters section. The artifacts found in this section date back to the 8th Century BC and include items of Roman and Islamic Origin. The history continues to be mind-boggling.
Mark had noted a cafe nearby the Cathedral that came recommended in TripAdvisor, Cafe Pois, and so we checked this out after our Cathedral visit but Mark opted for a beer and not a coffee. How surprising! I tried the 2.50 euro lentil soup which was delicious. We’ve only been here just over 24 hours but we are fast finding Lisbon to be a kind of food and wine heaven!
From Cafe Poise we walked the 15 min journey back to the apartment and discovered a few hidden shopping gems. Such as the shop that just sold salted Cod and wine and one that only sold tinned sardines! What a joy this city is to wander around. I cannot urge highly enough the need for folk to try and get over to visit this charming place.
We made it home just after 6pm and planned to rest up before our 8pm dinner & Fado booking.
Our evening activity was dinner at a nearby Fado restaurant called Pavo. ‘Fado’ translates as ‘Fate’ or ‘Destiny’ and is a traditional form of music in Portugal that is rather melancholy but soulful music focused on the struggles of the poor and life in general. In fact, Fado has been included on the UNESCO ‘Intangible’ Cultural Heritage list! The restaurant, Povo, had come recommended by our host, Susana, as a great Fado venue favored by the locals that support up and coming Fado artists and it was a great suggestion our meal of two share plates and a salad followed by a pear crumble dessert was delicious. All for just 44 € or $66. The accompanying Fado performance with a female singer and two males, one on a guitar and the other on a Portuguese mandolin, was great too and so I would highly recommend this venue for a Fado experience if you are ever in Lisbon.
One point to note before I sign off. On arriving at Pavo there was a mix up with our booking and the computer thought we were coming on Friday and not tonight. We expressed our preference to attend tonight though and so they busily set about trying to fit in another small table for the two of us in what was, already, a fairly tight space. This is just typical of how we are finding the people of Lisbon though; friendly, cheerful and accommodating. From taxi drivers, to our host, to the people in cafes, restaurants and on the street in general and is another strong reason to visit Lisbon. This experience is in such stark contrast to what we had just north and across the border though!
Tomorrow, Friday, we are off to the Alfama district, the part not destroyed in the great 1755 earthquake.