Lisbon: In the Steps of the Great Portuguese Explorers

April 10th, 2015

After our memorable introduction to Lisbon cuisine, culture, and landmarks with We Hate Tourism Tours the night before, Dan and I awoke ready to explore more of this lively city that had stolen our hearts and our taste buds. The skies were a bit overcast but that didn’t deter us from walking down along Rua Pedro de Alcantara in the Baixa Chiado district to take in the views from the popular Pedro de Alcantara miradouro or viewpoint, dotted with park benches and a few outdoor kiosk cafes. From the gardens, one can see Avenida da Liberdade to the north and the Castelo Sao Jorge to the east. Being the city of seven hills, Lisbon boasts many killer scenic viewpoints.

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We continued our downward hike to the Cais do Sodre train station not far from the Praca do Comercio along the riverfront to board the quick train to Belem to climb the stairs up to the viewing platform of the Monument to the Discoveries. The monument was built in honor of Henry the Navigator, a key figure in the period of Portuguese explorations in the 15th century, now known as the Age of the Discoveries. The view from the top left us a bit underwhelmed however. Though you could make out landmarks such as the 25 April suspension bridge (a doppelgänger for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco) and the Cristo Rei statue as well as Jeronimos Monastery across the street, the views didn’t command picture worthiness or they were just too far away to adequately capture.

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After clambering back down the stairs from the Monument of the Discoveries we walked over to Jeronimos Monastery, whose construction started in the early 1500s and was occupied by the religious order of Hieronymite monks until 1834. The monastery is another prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style of architecture that can be found in Lisbon, and along with the Torre de Belem they were classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983. The ornate style of the architecture was quite breathtaking and the tomb of the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, credited as the first European to reach India by sea, can be found in the Church of Santa Maria.

In the afternoon, we continued our rail journey out toward the Atlantic running along the Tagus River past the famous Estoril Casino to the seaside resort of Cascais. The weather had warmed up nicely and the sun was shining down on those gathered under umbrellas at waterside cafes looking out at the boats in the harbor as they bobbed along with the waves. Dan and I joined the them, enjoying an afternoon cappuccino before setting off on a walk along the coves around the Fort of Nossa Senhora da Luz before meandering the downtown streets lined with restaurants, ice cream shops and various sundry stores.

As the sun began to set, we returned back to Lisbon proper and enjoyed a ginjinha night cap and dessert after dinner at one of the many outdoor kiosk cafes located in the city squares. Ginjinha is a sweet Portuguese liqueur made with infused sour cherries known as ginja berries and served in a shot glass. It is a popular drink in Lisbon and in the town of Obidos you can typically find it served in a small edible chocolate cup which is how every sweet liquor should be served am I right? Also don’t be surprised if you see some older gentlemen imbibing in a shot or two of the stuff in the morning. For dessert Dan and I grabbed a few of what I could best describe as mini orange glazed cronuts that we had been admiring in patisserie windows all over the city. They were as amazing as they sound! Between the pasteis de Belem and these incredible bites of heaven Lisbon had no doubt won over my sweet tooth.

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Our first two days in Lisbon revealed an old city with a vibrant, gritty, and welcoming feel that we fell in love with. Tomorrow we take the train west to the natural park of Sintra, only 25km away in Lisbon’s western suburbs, but feels like you are a world away in a fairytale land.

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