Having arrived in Lisbon after 3 sleepless nights and 4 frenetic days in Barcelona, and a nearly missed flight, Lisbon Destinations Hostel was an oasis of welcome peace and tranquility. Such a nice hostel after the disjointed set up in Barcelona. The welcome from the staff was warm, friendly and informative. The decor and vibe of the place was that of a well kept share house, where everyone and their friends were welcome to crash as they passed through town.
I’m always taken by accommodations that run an honour system for the communal drinks fridge! This always feels like it’s the sort of joint that hasn’t been left traumatised by a group of drunk Aussie yobbos, and so sees drinking culture through a completely different lens to the one we view it through back home. Combine this with a free breaky, an AUD$15 cooked dinner accompanied with carafes of Portuguese wine (a classic line I heard from one of the Portuguese I met was that “there is no bad Portuguese wine, it’s all good no matter what vessel it comes from!”) and laundry done for you on request I’d be hard pressed to think why anyone would leave!
I loved Lisbon. The streets are alive with entertainment day and night. This guy was my introduction to Lisbon’s street art community as I walked from the metro to the hostel.
The Lisboners all seem relaxed and friendly. The city is easy to navigate your way around on foot or tram. And the pastel de nata are mouth wateringly scrumptious! My local for the duration was a little cafe I discovered as I emerged from the metro station on arrival in the Praça da Figueira. An espresso and pastel de nata for AUD$3, with the bonus of the opportunity to practice my Portuguese (albeit limited to phrases related to a morning greeting, coffee and food, and a farewell salutation).
I took a day tour to Sintra & Cascais with Lisbon Riders. Nuno, our guide, was great; informative, humorous, patient, inclusive. Sintra is an interesting spot, I’d love to spend some more time there. Pena Palace is a collection of diverse architectural styles representing each new era in its purpose and occupation.
The historic precinct of Belém to the southwest of Lisbon is birthplace of the pastel de nata/pastel de Belém and home to beautiful Jerónimos Monastery. The monastery is an exquisite example of Manueline architecture, a style that developed during the reign of King Manuel I at zenith of Portugal’s maritime power. So, unsurprisingly, the motives of this style represent all things oceanic. The Maritime Museum, right next door, chronicles the rise (and not so much the fall) of Portugal’s international power and influence during this period. I was fascinated to learn more of Portugal’s heyday when its vast empire stretched across the globe, the first in world history to reach such magnitude. The Monastery is the burial place of Vasco da Gama, explorer and inspiration of one of Michael Leunig’s great characters.
As Martin Buber has suggested, it’s the secret/unknown destinations that make travelling interesting. The LX Factory was one of the many of these that I arrived at in Lisbon. Getting lost whilst trying to find the transport museum led me into this creative ghetto between the city and Belém. This felt like the hipster-ish place in this very funky city. The streets are filled with art and artists, cafes, adult size cubbies in orange groves, tree houses in tank stands, … a bohemian vibe that encourages visitors to linger and enjoy…
The day was capped with another of the unexpected destinations. A small cafe, I had walked past thought it looked inviting, but felt too self-conscious to enter. A few steps on I went back and tentatively entered Arco da Velha. I ordered a drink and and sank into one of the comfy antique armchairs. There was only three of us in the cafe. A lady, who seemed to have family connections with the proprietor, talking loudly on her mobile from what appeared to be a temporary workspace set up at one end of the only substantial table in the place. The other patron was a well groomed older guy, who seemed so comfortable in his chair with a view of the street and entranced by the jazz & blues playing through some antiquated speakers, that I wondered if he may have been a family member as well. Over time he went from making eye contact with me, to raising his eyebrows in the direction of the noisy phone user, waving frustrated hand gestures in her direction, to trying to have a conversation with me across the small but noise filled gap between our two positions against opposite walls (the place was only about 4 metres wide!).
I moved over to a chair next to him and he introduced himself as Rui Vargas. We chatted for ages about world politics, religion, his family turmoil, his career as an artist and musician (turned out he was a big name DJ in the late ‘80s European House/Techno scene & friend to Christo and other avant-garde artists). I was enthralled by his stories and grateful of his generosity in buying me a drink. Eventually he said he had to leave, asking me if I might be back tomorrow. I would have loved to spend another evening or more in his company, hearing his stories, and sharing thoughts; and felt chuffed that he might have felt the same, but perhaps he was just hoping that I’d be there to buy him a round of drinks in return…..
It turned out that my subconscious desire to stay in Lisbon appeared to be stronger than I had realised. It was either this, the fascinating Street Art tour I had dragged myself away from (lead by a young belgian academic who had moved to Lisbon to complete a PhD in its street art culture), a case of sudden onset dyscalculia, or just plain stupidity that led me to arrive at the wrong terminal to catch a flight 10 minutes after the boarding gate had closed. The Marathon to Marrakech was about to begin.
Portugal in a Nutshell
What I came for
- People said I’d love it; and they were right!
What I loved
- Pastel de nata
- Great public transport system – easy to buy cheap day passes
- St Jeromes Monastery Cloister and Cathedral
- LX Factory
- Chatting to Rui Vargas over a drink at Arco da Velha
- Destinations Hostel
What I’d go back for
Great characters from History | Portugal
(a.k.a Peter I of Portugal)
King of Portugal and of the Algarves 1357 – 1367
This was Constanza’s second marriage. Her first had ended up with her being kept hostage for two years as a result of a feud between her dad and her hubby, that kicked off when her hubby decided to bring the marriage to an end so that he could marry another for convenience and keep a relationship going with his sweetheart on the side. Anyway…. Costanza was freed as a result of a peace deal and was sent off to Portugal to marry Pedro as part of another deal between her folks and his. She died soon after giving birth to their first child (a blessed relief possibly!)
With Constanza gone Pedro wanted to legitimise his relationship with Inês but his dad had other ideas. A revolt and standoff ensued during which time Pedro’s dad had Inês murdered by three henchmen. Pedro became King upon his father’s death two years after the murder of Inês. One of his first act as king was to posthumously declare his dead mistress (who he now claimed to have married in secret before her death) queen. There is a (likely unfounded) rumour that he had her body exhumed, dressed in royal regalia and sat on the throne for the adulation of her subjects. The next priority was to track down the henchman who’d murder her and dispense some justice. Pedro-the-Cruel-style justice! A kangaroo court was convened which culminated in Pedro finding them guilty of Inês’ murder then proceeding to rip their hearts out with his bare hands. The ultimate revenge for their crushing of his by taking the life of his beloved.
Pedro’s son John the Good become King of Portugal following a period of civil war. He would become the founder of the Avis dynasty (as cited in Pedro’s Wikipedia entry) thereby getting in on the ground floor of the car rental industry.