Queluz

Plan to stop at nearby Queluz on your way back to Lisbon from Sintra.

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The national palace is worth the detour.  Be sure though to buy a ticket to Queluz, or you won’t be able to get off at your end destination. That was what happened to us when we decided mid-way to get off at Queluz instead of heading straight back. When we arrived at the Rossio station, the tickets we had were void, and we couldn’t get out. Apparently, the time started ticking once we got on the train and what should have taken 45 minutes took us 2 hours. We should have bought another ticket back to Rossio when we got off at Queluz — explained Mr. Operator. With many apologies, we asked to be freed with the promise of paying what was due. Kind Mr. Operator let us out, even waved our arrears. Smiling and shaking his head, I wonder how many mindless tourists did the same thing?

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It was, however, worth the hassle. Queluz is a rather unremarkable suburb but its National Palace, in its pink Rococo glory, is a remarkable example of Portuguese Romantic architecture. Although smaller, it shares much of Versailles’ sense of grandeur in its ornate decorations and exquisite gardens.

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It is because Portuguese architect, Mateus Vicente Oliveira designed it in homage to the famous palace outside Paris France. Built as a summer retreat for Dom Pedro, the famous Duke of Braganza, who later married his niece, Queen Maria I.

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Famed for the glory of its gardens, which include a large topiary parterre, formal terraces and fountains at the rear of the palace. The interior’s attention to detail is no less than that of the exterior.

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The palace is a 10-minute walk from the Sintra train line, turning left out of the Queluz-Belas Station. Signs will lead you to a cobbled square with a statue of Queen Maria I. Facing directly into the plaza is the façade of the palace.

Belem: The Glory days of Portugal’s Explorers

Wealth, fame, and fortune, along with spreading Christianity, were reasons why daring sailors like Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco de Gama, and the likes set sail in uncharted waters. This was from a period known as the Age of Discovery. From 1400 to 300 years later, European explorers, many of which are from the seafaring country of Portugal and Spain, visited and mapped most of the world. Portugal discovered the sea route to India while the Spaniards discovered America.

Portugal, a small kingdom whose economy relied on seafaring in the 15th century, had a visionary ruler in Henry the Navigator. He encouraged and paid many to explore the world. And so this nation once ruled the waves.

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Belem is where the Tagus River meets the sea. From its waterfront, many of the great Portuguese explorers embarked on their voyage to discover the world. During this time, Lisbon flourished and many great monuments were constructed.

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Belem Tower was one of those. A magnificent fortress also named Tower of St. Vincent, as it was built to honor Lisbon’s patron saint. The tower situated at the mouth of the Tagus River was initially built to defend the city. The 4-storey tower was originally constructed on an island in the Tagus River near the shore. It stands on land today because the riverbank’s location shifted through the years.

Belem’s main street and historical avenues are a strip of 160-year-old buildings that have survived changes and modernization. These include the famous pastry shop, Antiga Confeteria de Belem, known for a particular Portuguese confectionery, an egg tart called

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Pasteis de Belem—the flakiest pastry filled with creamy custard. Just across from Jeronimos Monastery, the shop is easily spotted because of the long line spilling over to the sidewalk. Many of which are visitors from the stunning monastery.

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The Jeronimos Monastery is a classic example of a Portuguese late Gothic Manueline architecture. Along with the nearby Tower of Belem, it was classified in 1983 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the significant emblems of the Age of Discovery and the distinct maritime motif, which includes corals, sea monsters, and coiled rope, reflects that golden era.

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The monastery was built in honor of the successful voyage to India of celebrated Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama. This is also where De Gama, King Manuel, and other prominent figures were laid to rest.

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Sitting opposite the monastery, on the banks of the Tagus River, is another stunning iconic monument, the Discoveries Monument. Dedicated to the adventurers and explorers who helped established Portugal as a 14th-century superpower. Unveiled in 1960, on the 500th death anniversary of Prince Henry the Navigator. The massive monument had Prince Henry at the prow of a caravel, backed by figures from Portuguese history that participated in the golden age of discovery.

I have to admit, Belem caught my attention because of one thing only—Pasteis de Belem. If this is the only thing you do, that tram ride to Belem will be worth it already. But it would be a waste to miss its historical sights, which are all within walking distance anyway.

Lisbon’s gateway to the Atlantic, Belem, is where the Tagus meets the sea and where the naval explorer of yore started their journey to the unknown. Take the effort to visit it when in Lisbon.

Useful Info:

Jeronimos Monastery: Praca do Imperio

Opening Hours: Oct-Apr: Tues-Sun 10AM-5:30PM May-Sep: Tues-Sun 10AM-6:30PM Admission: €7

Antiga Confiteria de Belem: 84/92 Rua de Belem

Baixa: An Architectural Delight

I walked around the part of Baixa closest to our hostel, bewitched. Lisbon, you are a surprise.

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Elegant squares, streets filled with cafes and shops, old tramcars, street performers, Neo-classic and Art deco buildings, street vendors selling everything… All this adds to the charm of downtown Lisbon.

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Baixa borders the river in the bottom of the valley and nestled among the hills of Alfama, Chiado, and Bairro Alto. It’s grid like area stands in contrast to the winding and complicated alleyways of neighboring Alfama.   A central location extending to the Tagus River and Avenida da Liberdade (the Liberty Avenue) and is considered the most elegant of all districts in Lisbon.

Rossio-Square

Rossio. Where the main central square is found. Officially named Praca Don Pedro IV, the square is also called Rossio Square because it revolves around Rossio. It is the heart of the city and surrounding it is nothing but a bundle of architectural delights and here’s sharing with you a bit of Baixa.

Figueira Square (Square of the Fig Tree)

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Neighboring the imposing Rossio Square is one of the city’s important transport hub. The metro, the buses, and the charming trams stop here and many shops, cafes, and guesthouses surround the square because of it.

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The bronze equestrian statue of King João I stand on a pedestal in the middle of the plaza, the beautifully designed grounds covered with pigeons.

Teatro Nacional Doña Maria II

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This beautiful neo-classical building survived the earthquake but was destroyed by fire in 1964. It was rebuilt in the 70’s and with it founded Lisbon’s municipal orchestra. Named after Dom Pedro IV, the theater’s façade dominate the northern side of Rossio Square and now hosts some of the most spectacular performances of Lisbon.

Rua Das Portas de Santo Antão

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Just behind the National Theater Doña Maria II and a stone’s throw away from Pensao Residencial Portuense (our hostel) is a lively pedestrian street buzzing with outdoor cafes and restaurants.

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It is a mecca for seafood lovers but ironically, we found Locanda Italiana where we were served a superb steak dinner.

Elevador de Santa Justa

elevador-de-santa-justaThis beautifully crafted lift southeast of Rossio Square is the area’s highlight. Raoul Meisner du Ponsard, an engineer, born in Porto to French parents and a Gustave Eiffel student, built this alternative transport to climb up the many steep hills of the city.

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A challenge to Lisbon citizens for centuries. And until the underground Baixa-Chiado metro station opened in 1998, the Santa Justa Elevator was the easiest way to get to the Bairro Alto and Chiado district from Baixa.

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Rossio Station

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One of the most beautiful train stations I’ve ever seen. Looking more like a temple, the façade is decked with horseshoe doorways and the roof is topped with small turrets and a clock tower.

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Influenced by the 16th century Portuguese Manueline style, the façade dominates the northeast side of the Rossio Square. Here, the trains depart for Sintra.

Restauradores Square

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Surrounded by beautiful 19th and early 20th century buildings, an obelisk standing in the middle of the rectangular square. It has names and dates of battles fought during the Portuguese Restoration War and this entire square is dedicated to the country’s liberation from Spanish rule.

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Nearby is the former Condes Cinema, a Modernist building built in the 1950s that reopened in 2003 as Hard Rock Café.

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The square is also a few steps away from the Elevador da Gloria, a funicular linking downtown with the Bairro Alto district.

And this is just downtown Lisbon.

Alfama: The Home of Lisbon Blues Music

“Alfama” recommends Hossein. For an authentic fado vadio, our “unofficial” guide guaranteed that this place is it, writes down the name and address of the bar, then points it out on our map.

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On Rua Dos Remedios, we found A Tasca do Chico. It was Fado Vadio (amateur fado singers) night.

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The small joint only had a few tables, perfect for intimate and informal performances.

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Dinner was simple but we were there for Fado anyway. It was an absolutely enjoyable evening of soulful music. A must in Lisbon.  Really.  Don’t leave Lisbon without a live experience of Fado music.

Fado

So what is Fado? I too, have  never heard of it until I read up on Lisbon. It is a music genre traced back to the 1820s and 1830s at best. Although difficult to trace, it seems to have its roots in the merging of Portuguese, Moorish and African culture. Fado songs can be about anything but it is a traditional form of urban folk music. The Portuguese language has a word, saudade, which roughly means nostalgia or homesickness with a bittersweet longing. Fado music is exactly that. It often conveys a yearning for what could have been or what cannot be. Most of its lyrics are about lost or unrequited love, jealousy and passion, death, and the lives of the Fadistas (fatalists).

There is no better place to experience the nostalgia of Fado than in Lisbon’s oldest district, Alfama. But it is not only famous for its Fado music as to visit Alfama is to visit the architecture, sound and smell of old Lisbon.

And so we went back the following day. Alfama is Lisbon’s most symbolic quarter. The oldest district of Lisbon spreads down the southern slope from Castelo de Sâo Jorge to the River Tagus. The Mouraria and Alfama (both old districts) were relatively spared during the Great Earthquake,

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thus remains the charm of winding narrow streets and crumbling walls.

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A walk through the old-fashioned residential neighborhood is like stepping back in time.

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It’s a village still made up of tiny spaces, whitewashed houses with iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers and drying laundry.

The best way to get to know Alfama is to wander around.

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The outstanding views, the churches, and the breathtaking panorama of the city from the castle were worth another trip back the next day. Some scenes from our wanderings:

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Although we didn’t have time to explore, Castelo de Sâo Jorge is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic center of Lisbon and Tagus River.

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It can be seen from almost everywhere on the city.

Miradouro-de-Santa-Luzia

Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a romantic terrace by the church of Santa Luzia with a view of the river and Alfama. On the outside wall of the church are 2 tiled panels, one of Gomercio Square before the quake and another showing Christians attacking the castle.

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A few steps away from Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a balcony that opens to the river offering spectacular views over Alfama.  A statue of St. Vincent holding a boat and 2 ravens also stands proud watching over the district. Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol.

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From the balcony, one can spot Sâo Vicente de Fora Monastery, an exceptional 16th-century monument located outside the city walls. “De Fora” means on the outside.

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Church of Santa Engracia or Portugal’s National Pantheon. This 17th-century monument was converted in the 20th century into the National Pantheon. It is now the burial-place for a number of Portuguese personalities.

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Useful Info:

Getting There: 

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Walk from Rossio or take tram no. 28

A Tasca do Chico (Alfama)
Rua Dos Remedios, 83
+351 965 059 670
 
 
References:
Portuguese Fado Music 101 – About. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://worldmusic.about.com/od/europeanjudaica/p/PortugueseFado.htm