Sunday, December 6, 2009


Lisbon - Easily Likeable.
I immediately liked Portugal - Lisbon just felt welcoming. We were first greeted by an unbelievable sunrise (right) as we flew over Portugal in the early morning. Everyone else was sleeping, but I stared out my window into the horizon until I couldn't see anymore because of the blinding sunlight rising above it. It was a really unique moment, being 30,000ft above a foreign land, quietly watching the sun come up.  I'm no poet, but I wrote a poem about it to remind myself of that moment; perhaps if you are lucky (and I know you won't make fun of me), you can read it some day...

Once we touched down, we hopped on the bus into the city center. Situated on seven hills, Lisbon's ("Lisboa" in Portuguese) cobblestone paved narrow streets are full of character. Bright yellow trams (left) carry people up the steep inclines, the colorful buildings make the street fronts look like a rainbow and the ambiance is laid back and inviting - Lisbon is surprising slow paced for one of the largest and most important cities in the Iberian Peninsula. As I ranted in an earlier post, Tom, Zack, Isabelle, Dani and I were fortunate to stay in a great hostel in Lisbon. From our base camp in Baixa, Lisbon's downtown sector which claims to be Europe's first urban planning, we explored what Lisbon, full of mixed history and differing neighborhoods, had to offer.

We headed through the triumphal arc (aobve, right) at the end of our street to the seafront. As we strolled past the pungent seafood markets and Art Nouveau cafes, we could see the 25 de Abril Bridge which often draws comparison to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco. After taking in the sight and smell of the water (one of my favorite things in the world), we dove back into the city center - here are the highlights.

The Se
The Se, or Santa Maria Maior Cathedral, is Lisbon's oldest church. Built in 1147, this Romanesque church was built to commemorate the city's reconquest from the Moors. Like many buildings in Lisbon, it was greatly damaged in the 1755 earthquake.

Feira da Ladra & Alfama quarter

The Feira da Ladra (Thief's Market) is Lisbon's interesting flea market (see photo, right), open every Tuesday and Saturday, in the Alfama quarter. The Alfama quarter is Lisbon's oldest area. Under Arab rule, it was the city's grandest district, but after the earthquake, the Christian upper class moved out and left the area to the fishermen. Mostly untouched by commercialization, the Alfama quarter still feels very traditional. After the market, we stopped in the Pantheon, or Church of Santa Engracia. There are the tombs and monuments to many famous Portuguese people - writers, explorers, rulers. There was also a large exhibit dedicated to Amalia Rodrigues, the famous Fado singer (Fado is traditional Portuguese music - a cross between the blues and Flamenco).

Castelo Sao Jorge
Located on the highest hill in Lisbon, Castelo Sao Jorge offers splendid views over the city. The site has been occupied since 6th century BC by many different groups - Celtics, Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Roman, Suebic, Visigoths and Moors. This heavily-fortified citadel, dotted with towers and lookouts, has been in its current configuration since the Middle Ages.

Museu Arqueológico do Carmo
Occupying the Convento do Carmo, once Lisbon's largest church, it was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. Still beautiful in its current state, this museum contains artifacts from the original church, real mummies and other cool historical pieces. Located in the Chiado district, which was greatly damaged by fire in 1988, the area has been elegantly rebuilt by Alvaro Siza Viera, Portugal's premier architect and is Lisbon's most affluent district.

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