If you have so much as glanced, at any sort of travel writing recently, you will have noticed that Lisbon is pretty near the top of most of the “must visit” destination lists. You know those lists, the ones that come around quicker than you can calculate how much money you have lost by not converting your pounds to Euros, a month ago. Very much flavour of the month, or should that be year, is the capital city of Portugal. A place that had been on our mind for a couple of years.
Had we left it too late, would the lustre of the city have been lost underneath the soles of a million tourist sandals? We consulted with friends who had recently visited, people that knew the place from many years ago. They were firm in their advice, “Go”, they said, “you will love the place”. So, we did and fortunately they were right.
We decided to stay in a flat in a residential part of town, within a 10 minute walk of the Santa Apolónia station. The journey from the airport was straightforward, Lisbon has a nicely integrated transport system and very sensibly the Metro system takes you directly from the airport into town.
Talking about the airport for a while, it feels like it’s situated unusually close to the centre of the city. This means that it’s well worth keeping your eyes open as you fly into Lisbon, the centre of the town opens up unusually closely beneath you, as you swoop towards the airport. It also means that when you are out and about during your holiday the planes can appear uncomfortably low in the sky, particularly if you are in the north of the city.
Having made your way into town, you will quickly realise that your stay in Lisbon will lead to some pretty testing hill walking. The city rises ever upwards from the expansive River Tagus, particularly challenging if you are pulling a large suitcase over the beautiful but bumpy pavements. Hopefully your destination won’t be too far! It is though a city which rewards walking, beautiful buildings and stunning views appear when you least expect them. Each day will probably lead to tired calf muscles but the sights that you discover will make the workout worthwhile.
We were fortunate to have twelve nights in Lisbon, so no need to rush off immediately to the main tourist attractions. Odd then, that within a few hours we found ourselves standing on a packed Tram 28, the famous old tram that rattles through the narrowest streets of Alfama and features in almost every guide to the city that you will read or see. It was, to be honest, a pretty hellish experience. In our defence, we hadn’t planned to jump so quickly into full-on tourist mode.
Having dropped our bags in our temporary home, we wandered up the hill (of course!) whilst the place was made ready for us. Soon the combination of the heat and the hill hinted that we should rest for a while. We stopped in a wonderfully simple restaurant for the first of many dishes of grilled sardines. As often appeared to be the way in Lisbon, these were grilled on a barbecue that was set up on the narrow pavement in front of the restaurant, why bother with a kitchen? The food was simple, plentiful and most importantly fantastically tasty. The elderly couple who appeared to run the place were delightfully friendly, though neither they, nor us, had more than a passing understanding of what the other was saying. It didn’t appear to mater though.
Suitably fortified we continued our slow walk towards the top of the hill, reaching the welcoming plateau that was the Rua Dos Sapadores. We headed west, revelling in the genius of the virtually level road before us. On reaching the Rua Da Graça, we noticed a tram stop and the magic number 28 upon the sign, the travel card that we purchased at the airport in order to get the metro covered the bus and tram network as well, so we didn’t have to worry about working out how much the fare would be. An app on our phone told us that a southbound tram would soon be with us, surely an omen that we had to take this opportunity to jump aboard.
One of the points, if not the main point, of taking this particular tram journey is to enjoy the close-up view of properties that are almost within touching distance of you as edge past them. However, if you and many others are standing and packed as tightly as the sardines that Lisbon is famous for, then the only view that you have is of the roof of the tram, a very nice roof it is, but well, you probably get my point.
As the tram approached the river, we decided to jump off, in order to be able to actually see some of our surroundings. Quite quickly we could escape the large numbers of weekend tourists in Alfama and could start to enjoy the feel of the place as we headed back towards our flat to unpack. Our first day drew towards a close whilst enjoying a drink and some food at DeliDelux, an upmarket deli with a terrace at the rear overlooking the serene River Tagus, just ten minutes walk away from our accommodation. Having been up in the early hours to catch our 7am flight from Bristol, it wasn’t the time for a late night. Tomorrow the holiday would start in earnest and there were lots of things to see and do.