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Still being all about working and saving, we weren’t going to be having a ‘holiday’ as such, but we thought we could stretch to a weekend away to get a bit of a travel kick and hopefully some better weather.
Neither of us had ever been to Portugal so we thought it would be nice to try somewhere totally new to us. Other things going for it was that it was a short flight and compared to other European cities, constantly popped up as one of the cheapest to visit. I’d also been curious since going to Macau, the Portuguese’s version of Hong Kong.
The look and feel of the city really does live up to the romantic Pinterest style images. Great architecture, tiles, the old trams, fountains and great people watching. I hadn’t expected so much colour. Mix in the sunshine and this is a really cheerful city to explore.
There are some nice touches of deco and retro stylings in many of the buildings. You really get the feeling that places are as they were and have been looked after just the same, with care for years.
A birthday treat for me from the lovely Mark was a segwaying tour. We adore segwaying but haven’t had a chance to do it for a while as it’s usually quite pricey and so when we were on the road it wasn’t something we could really justify the cost of. So this was such a treat. And unlike other trips we’d done in Copenhagen, Bahamas, San Diego Zoo and in the English woods, this was a self-guided tour. They let you go off with these expensive pieces of equipment. I know there’s a GPS tracker on them and you pay a deposit, but that would never, ever happen in London.
We used Red Tours and can highly recommend them. They were super friendly, helpful and the whole setup worked really well. You follow the route as per the GPS all the way from the city out to the famous Belem and back. Following the river the whole journey, because you’re under your own steam, you can stop, take a seat and admire the scenery whenever you want. And the start point, as well as Belem, are great for scooting around and having some segway fun.
Among the things Lisbon is famous for are cork and tinned fish. The latter is something that makes for great shop window displays.
Although a modern city, with great eating and drinking, there is something very old skool about Lisbon. There are quite a few shops which have some very interesting attire, which you would have expected to see in the 80s.
We found some really interesting bars, some we sought out, others we stumbled upon. A mixture of modern, arty, interesting and un-pretentious.
One of the bars that is a great visit, is the brothel bar. This is set in a former brothel and has very interesting decor and ambience over several floors. You can access this from the side which is a main street, but it’s more fun to access it from the lower alley where it’s unmarked and you walk up the ‘interestingly’ illustrated back stairs, wondering what on earth it is you are walking into. The building breathes history and not in the usual style. I could lose many happy hours in this place.
I don’t really know why this is called the Chinese Pavilion, I sought this bar out but even upon locating it we weren’t sure from the outside if it was actually a bar. But somewhere worth seeking out it is. There are 3 huge rooms full of class cabinets full of collections of weird and most definitely wonderful things. Outside the cabinets, things hang from ceilings, chandeliers. There’s an area just for old action man figures. There are pottery collections. figurines, knick-knacks. It really could be a museum without the bar, but with a warm, luxurious feel, it’s a great place to have sit and have a drink. Not so great for conversation though as you’ll be staring over your companion’s shoulder the whole time. A real mixture of clientele from families, tourists, locals, even a well-behaved stag do – just to add to the atmosphere. The only downside is that it’s table service and it’s friendly but really slow.
Pastel de nata
I don’t much like pastry, I don’t like custard, but I LOVE Portuguese custard tarts. They are amazing.
They are a simple thing of joy and I can’t believe I waited so long in my life to try them. Don’t make the same mistake that I did. Book a flight to Lisbon now. Go sit in a cafe. Order a tart. You won’t regret it.
Another thing that I will always think of when I think of Lisbon is the smoke from hot chestnut carts. We tried them. They are ok. Probably won’t try them again.
Portugal is, of course, famous for tiles. I was surprised though quite how ever-present they are. A plethora of designs, styles, colours and ages. I never got sick of seeing them, be they new and shiny or crumbling and chipped.
The other thing, I now realise is quintessentially Lisbonese, are the mosaic tiles on the ground. They are all over the city and are obviously a nightmare to maintain, judging by the many piles of dislodged ones we found.
A very odd tourist attraction, if you can call it that, is off the main square, where you can spend a few pennies to spend a penny. It is an amazingly designed public toilet, I believe, created by a toilet paper manufacturer. They have a display of their unique coloured toilet paper, like art on the walls. It’s not going to be the most amazing experience of your life, but if you need to use the facilities, why not cough up a little bit of money to enjoy it in comfort 😉
Despite it being so close, I’d never gone to Portugal before and now that I have, in just those few days, I have been charmed. There’s a slightly more reserved, less latin, feel to the Portuguese. It’s historic, yet modern. Laid back, but has a buzz. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve already planned a trip back and a very interesting to see if come up in the lists of the cheapest places to live in Europe which is something to think about for future roaming.