The Hills are Alive in Lisbon
Portugal is easy to explore by public transport and April is a wonderful time to visit this gentle country. Prices are still low and the fresh Spring sunshine is as yellow as the Pastel de Nata. These little pastry cases filled with a sticky eggy custard are in every bakery and the first thing we did on arrival in the capital of Lisbon was eat one, sitting in the sun with a cup of mellow coffee.
Everything seems straightforward in Portugal. We flew from Naples, as part of a mini trundle from Valencia to Naples to Lisbon then back to Valencia from Porto. The total price for this journey was around 100 euros. Flights were with Ryanair and apart from that annoying trumpeting noise which they play when the plane lands on time, everything went smoothly.
Take the metro from the airport to the centre Lisbon. It’s simple to buy a ticket, which lasts 24 hours and costs around £1.50. If you get stuck there’s an information desk with charming English speaking tourism assistants in the station. Most people we encountered spoke good English and were happy to use it. In fact they were happy to help in every way possible.
Lisbon – City of Hills and Tiles
This glorious city is such a pretty place, mostly because so many of the houses are covered in the most beautiful, colourful tiles, in delicate patterns. Apart from the metro, you can get around by bus or tram. You can also walk around the main districts but be prepared for many hills and cobbles. Some of the streets are so steep that taking the old wooden trolley cars up and down is the best option, particularly with luggage.
I took one of these 19th century magic buses to reach the Pensao Londres at Dom Pedro V, in the Barrio Alto, where small, clean double rooms cost £40 a night. There were stupendous views from its windows across the city, the staff were courteous and the breakfast room had a old-fashioned charm, filled with quiet Europeans eating flavourless croissants. Better, however, to head straight to the marvellous Patriarcal Cafe, situated on a corner beneath the hotel, to admire the stunning tiles, eat your first Pastel de Nata of the day or for lunch, a big bowl of Caldo Verde, cabbage and potato soup.
Soup is big news on the Lisbon food front. It costs a few euros for a filling bowl and feels fortifying, which helps tackle the hills. Up and down, up and down we walked, rising to new heights and then plunging down again.
Alfama is particularly hilly, but you’re distracted by its wonderful tiled houses and the way that the local people walk up and down the steepest of slopes with such ease. It’s important to keep walking, so not to lose face.
After a dawdle around the Feira Da Ladra flea market in Campo de Santa Clara(Tuesdays and Saturdays) we walked along the waterfront past a few basic cafes where office workers congregated to each their lunch. The Restaurant O Freixo served such huge helpings, it was hard to imagine going back to work afterwards. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary to eat Feijoda(a big meaty stew) as well as the salted cod dish of Bacalhoa followed by a massive slice of Pudim – the Portuguese version of Creme Caramel. But somehow we felt we must, especially as the prices were so low, we wondered if we had walked back into 1975.
The national tile museum, the Museu do Azulejo – at Rua Madre de Deus 4(price 5 euros) is excellent, telling the history of tiles from the 16th century within an atmospheric former monastery.
Admiring all this ceramic beauty is a good way to spend the afternoon, but after such a huge lunch, you really need to head for the hills again. The tiles on the houses are their own museum in this city of democratic beauty, where great food and visual splendour is available for all.