The train from Faro to Lisbon was a whopping 5 hours. We arrived late and the apartment we were staying in had locked themselves (and us) out. So we had to stand around and wait for a locksmith to basically smash the door open while the other guests shouted for quiet above us. Yikes. Faro had been all smiles and friendliness. Lisbon was a big capital city and wasn’t afraid to show it.
In Faro everyone spoke English. But the first person we met in Lisbon was a wild taxi driver who cared more about our bastardized pronunciation of Portuguese than getting us anywhere. Poor Chris sat in the front seat asking him to go to our apartment. The driver didn’t know where that was so we asked to go to the nearest landmark Hospital St. Louis. But “hos-pet-le” was unacceptable and he wanted Chris to say “Hyosh-pyat-tahl” before we could go. No joke he sat through a green light just Portuguese-ing at us. Chris is a good sport so he tried.
Portuguese was readable to us most of the time. There are foreign letters like vowels with hats â, ê, ô or tildes not on Ns like in Spanish but over Os and ã. And of course the dreaded C with a tail ç. Which we can’t pronounce or read at all. It is a Latin based language, just like Spanish, but it sounds eerily like Russian.
Portugal was globalizing before globalization was a thing. As the world’s first explorers they brought back anything they liked. This has made them more open minded to anything new and interesting. So they liked Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer and California’s Golden Gate Bridge. So boom. They have those now.
They didn’t take the tuk tuk (a zippy 3 wheeled motorbike/car), they actually had this first. But tuk tuks are pretty synonymous with southeast Asia. So it’s silly to see them zipping around Europe.
Lisbon felt globalized. More than other places we had been to before. If they liked something they adopted it. If something was interesting they memorilized it on art – like people had never seen an elephant or giraffe so they made art and statues of it to freak people out/impress them/share the knowledge. So we enjoyed that a lot.
The two columns behind the tuk tuk in the above picture are special. These are the Cais das Colunas. These are marble columns and steps that provide a fancy entrance to royalty. When you would’ve stepped off your boat you would’ve been facing the Square of Commerce (destroyed in the earthquake and then rebuilt). So this was a show-offy place for people stepping foot in the city for the first time.
In the Square of Commerce there is this statue of Portugal’s King Jose smashing snakes with his horse. Elephants and other creatures are all over the bottom to impress/scare.
Behind the statue is the Triumphal Arc celebrating the reconstruction of the city after the big earthquake of 1775. Between the 8.5-9.0 magnitude quake, the week long fires and a huge tsunami meant up to 100,000 people died. Also all of Lisbon was destroyed. They actually started rebuilding a month after the quake with planned designs (making it a more planned city than your average European capitol).
You can see this rebuilding and wreckage at the Roman theater where you can see the modern day building built on top of the older stuff, the earthquake rubble and finally the Roman stuff.
The huge blocks in the foreground are original to the Roman theater while the plaster on the wall behind it is from before the earthquake, then the tile to the left (and plaster off camera) was part of an apartment built after the earthquake. The white walls are modern.
Something interesting about Lisbon is how hilly it is. It’s actually so steep and hilly that there is a 19th century elevator that is considered part of public transportation to get to the Baixa neighborhood. Seriously, the hills are so steep, and the temperature is so miserable in the summer (heck they’re miserable in the winter) that an elevator was created for public transportation.
You can also take these cute little trams. We waited for a tram for a while (instead of hiking up a half mile hill). But all the tourists lining up to ride it for fun means you can’t really use it for use.
They look great though.
The Tram 28 is famous, but for no real reason other than because people like it. This was a sad thing that happened a lot in Lisbon. Things were famous for just being famous. There wasn’t anything huge that happened to make it cool, people just started lining up around the block and so everyone jumped in line and there you go. Like lines out the door and around the park to get into the Belem Tower.
Yes the tower is crazy pretty. But to wait in line 3 hours to just take some pictures at the top is just silly. There isn’t even information about it once you’re in. You just look at it and leave. The city’s castle Sao Jorge Castle has been through sieges and where its built has history going back to 6th century BC. Everyone has used it, Celtics, Phonecians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visgoths, Moors… etc. But is any of this information inside the castle? No. It’s famous for going in and snapping some pictures, not learning anything. Plus the line is 2+ hours.
This was a big bummer to us. A lot of the museums and things seemed focus on seeing. Not learning anything about.
With a history like Portugal’s it would be nice to have a little more information.
Like here is this amazing monument to discovery:
But who are these people. What are they doing?
It’s not just art. This is a representation of a lot of famous events. But you would never know it unless you looked it up online. So Lisbon is either way ahead of it’s time and knows people are just going to look it up, or Lisbon is just incapable of providing information to people.
Fortunately we can give you a little information about Portugal’s fantastic adventuring culture. … Information here Chris –
Portugal really starts to shine when the age of discovery starts, so I’ll skip a TON of early stuff, and focus on the important bits. Don’t like it? Read a book.
Until the Romans came, Portugal was inhabited mainly by roving bands of Celts with the occasional Greek port city there to keep things civilized. Then the Romans came and did what they did best, improve things. They built roads, baths, theaters, aqueducts, and all that.
Let’s skip a bit, all the way to Christopher Columbus when he tried to get the Portuguese to fund his trip west. They refused. Why? They were pretty sure India could be found in the west (the only idiots who thought the earth was flat at the time were idiots who had never sailed anywhere) but they were also pretty sure that it would be too far west to make such a voyage worth it.
Well, Columbus got funding from Spain, “found” Cuba, got rich, and the Portuguese decided they wanted in on the discovery game. To avoid fighting with Spain, they signed a paper saying everything to the east of a certain line is Portuguese, and everything west is Spanish. A small bit, Brazil, was east of the line (which is why they speak Portuguese and not Spanish).
Vasco De Gama was the first European guy to Sail to India, and trade DIRECTLY with the Indians. I emphasize “directly”, because up to this point if a European guy wanted a bit of pepper on his food, that pepper had to first have been grown in India, sold to a middle eastern trader, shipped via camel across the entirety of the middle east, sold to the Ottomans, who would then sell it to the Venetians, who would then ship it to Portugal. Or sometimes the Ottomans would stop selling spices to Europe, just to prove a point or something.
All that for tasty food? Yes. Try eating a single meal without any kind of spices, it sucks. “Sounds easy! Ill just add some salt!” Guess again! Salt was also a pain in the ass to get a hold of, but for different reasons. And also, spices preserved meat and made medicines.
The Portuguese domination of the spice trade came to an end when the British, French, and Dutch started playing the discovery game. And whereas the Portuguese were content to trade with India from the island of Sri Lanka, the British just straight up conquered India. Also, the Spanish kept dragging the Portuguese into different fights, which they typically lost. Sick of Spain, they fought for, and won, their independence in 1640.
Then in 1775, when things might have been looking up, blam, a massive earth quake, estimated to be a 9 on the Richter scale, took out Lisbon and in that one day, Portugal lost up to 48% of it’s GDP. Later Napoleon shows up, and takes them over for a but.
So, Portugal, a country that was once the “Jewel of Christendom”, the country that discovered most everyplace, slowly lost it’s global empire.
Like Seville, Lisbon is famous for its tile. There is a Tile Museum but it’s far out of town and a pain to get to on public transportation. We stumbled into a church that had some fantastic tile on display.
And of course our personal favorite this horse? Camel? Beast.
I like to think someone came back from seeing amazing things abroad and described it “yeah a camel is like a long horse with a lump on the back and longer face.” Boom. Done. He’s not wrong.
Lisbon is still all about art. Besides all the museums there is a lot of street art. There are purposefully abandoned areas that are just there for “street art” (grafitti). We walked through this area that had a man sitting playing fado (traditional music) on his guitar.
There were, amazingly, signs here telling people in many languages that this area was for street art.
Just down the road we saw this, which was some of the most tasteful graffiti we had ever seen.
In short we found Lisbon a little pushy and disorganized. We’ll make another post detailing what we did (museums: lots and lots of museums). For now this was our perception of the place.