25 October 2014 - Lisbon - Day Two

Today was a full day starting with an early morning breakfast and then it was off to explore. I was anxious to take the Tram Hills tour which takes you to the most picturesque parts of old Lisbon with incredible views from the comfort of a quaint antique tram. You wind your way through the hills of Lisbon discovering the most historical sections of the city where people chat from their window ledges while clothes hang out to dry.

The departure point was from the Praca Do Comercio. This vast waterfront square also known as Terreiro do Paço or "the palace's square," is where the royal palace stood for over two centuries until 1755, when its was destroyed by the Great Earthquake. 

The royal family moved to another residence in the district of Belem, and the new arcaded buildings acted as the port of entry to the city. On the north side is a triumphal arch.

I was happy to see many artisans selling their hand made creations there so I had to support the local economy and indulge in a few trinkets.

In the center of the square is a statue of King Jose I showing him on horseback, wearing his emperor's mantle, and measuring 14 meters in height counting from the pedestal. 

On 1 February 1908, the square was the scene of the assassination of Carlos I, the King of Portugal. On their way back from the palace of Vila Viçosa to the royal palace in Lisbon, the carriage with Carlos I and his family passed through the Terreiro do Paço. While crossing the square, shots were fired from the crowd. The king died immediately, his heir Luís Filipe was mortally wounded, and Prince Manuel was hit in the arm. The assassins were shot on the spot by members of the bodyguard.

When the tram finally arrived I was happy I was one of the first to get on and I chose a window seat where I could open the old wooden window to allow me to take better pictures. The interior of the tram was fabulous with old gleaming wood, copper light fixture, leather hand straps and that wonderful bell. You felt like you were back in the day when these romantic modes of transportation were the norm.

The audio guide allows you to hear commentary about places of interest on the way. One of he historical places we saw was the great Castle of São Jorge. Parts of the structure date back to the 6th century and it was a Moorish royal residence until the king of Portugal captured it in 1147.

We also passed Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa, the cathedral of Lisbon and the oldest church in the city. Construction began in 1147 and the building has undergone many changes over the years. It is now a mix of several architectural styles.

As you rattle along, you can see the city’s inhabitants chatting in doorways or going about their daily business. I just loved the cozy village atmosphere of medieval Alfama with its maze of alleys, white-washed houses, lines of washing and balconies with potted plants. During the times of Moorish domination, Alfama constituted the whole of the city, which later spread to the West (Baixa neighbourhood).

Alfama became inhabited by the fishermen and the poor, and its condition as the neighbourhood of the poor continues to this day. It was settled by the Romans and Visigoths, but it was the Moors who gave the district its atmosphere and name (alhama means springs or bath, a reference to the hot springs found in the area). 

They were also responsible for its web of streets created as a defense system, while at the same time enabling their homes to remain cool in the summer.

Because its foundation is dense bedrock, it survived the 1755 earthquake, and a walk through this old-fashioned residential neighborhood is now a step back in time. 

It is a village within a city still made 
up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses with tile panels and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers, drying laundry, and caged birds.  Most of the older residents have lived here all their lives and retain a strong sense of community, although their rent-controlled homes are now dilapidated, and an increasing number of wealthier people are investing in their properties and moving in. 

Lately the neighbourhood has
been invigorated with the renovation of the old houses and new restaurants where Fado, Portuguese typical melancholy music, can be enjoyed.

Once the tour was over I walked over to the waterfront and enjoyed watching all the activity there, boats and families and people walking their dogs as well as tons of seagulls having fun diving for fish and munching on small crabs.


I had loved the Fado singing and music which played on the tram in between the commentary so after asking our driver who the best Fado singer was in Portugal I was off to buy the CD of Mariska....she is amazing. Afterwards I had a quick bite to eat before making my way back to the square to take my next tour to Sintra. 

Sintra and its mystical hills dotted with fairytale palaces and extravagant villas have bewitched visitors for centuries. The Romans made it a place of cult moon worshiping and named it "Cynthia" after the goddess of the moon. They were followed by the Moors who also fell in love with the lush vegetation and built a hilltop castle, a palace, and several fountains around the town. Later it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and attracted a number of wealthy aristocrats who built huge mansions and villas. 

Famous British poet and traveler Lord Byron stopped by in the 18th century, writing that the town is "perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe," and calling it a "glorious Eden" in his epic poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. His fellow countryman Robert Southey followed him and saw it as "the most blessed spot on the whole inhabitable globe." Others made it their own private retreat, such as William Beckford (one of 18th century England's wealthiest men), who lived in the splendid Monserrate Palace, later bought by Francis Coothe 

The most famous building in Sintra is Pena Palace. Built in the 1840s, it is one of Europe's most fantastic palaces, often compared to Neuschwanstein and the other mock-medieval castles of Ludwig of Bavaria in Germany, although it was actually built more than two decades before those. It includes a drawbridge, a conglomeration of turrets, ramparts, and domes, and a gargoyle above a Neo-Manueline arch, all washed in an array of pastel shades.  Pena Palace The extravagant interior is decorated in late Victorian and Edwardian furnishings, rich ornaments, paintings, and priceless porcelain preserved just as the royal family left them. Other highlights include the spacious ballroom, the marvelous "Arab Room", and an impressive 16th-century chapel altarpiece, part of an original convent founded to celebrate the first sight of Vasco da Gama's returning fleet.

Surrounding the palace is the mystical Pena Park, filled with a variety of trees and exotic plants from the former colonies of the Portuguese empire, ponds, fountains, and black swans. There is also a charming lodge hidden among the trees that can be visited. At the highest point is a statue of King Ferdinand looking towards his palace, and a viewpoint called "Cruz Alta" overlooking Pena Palace and surroundings.

Once we finished the palace visit we were off to our next stop...Cabo Da Rocha. This is the cape which forms the westernmost extent of mainland Portugal and continental Europe. The 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões described Cabo da Roca as the place "where the land ends and the sea begins". You can buy a personalized certificate authenticating that you have traveled to the most Western point of Continental Europe....did I buy one? Is the Pope Catholic?

After a short visit here we were off once again towards Cascais on the coast of Estoril, viewing some wonderful beaches on the way as the sun was setting.

We arrived in Cascais as the evening was beginning. This is a beautiful resort town on the ocean with a fabulous casino, luxury hotels and cafes. Cascais has rocketed from sleepy fishing village to much-loved summertime playground of wave-frolicking Lisbonites ever since King Luís I went for a dip in 1870. Its trio of golden bays attracts sun-worshipping holidaymakers, who come to splash in the ice-cold Atlantic. 

Don’t expect to get much sand to yourself at the weekend, though. There’s plenty of post-beach life, with winding lanes leading to small museums, cool gardens, a shiny marina and a pedestrianized old town dotted with designer boutiques and alfresco fish restaurants. After dark, lively bars fuel the party.

There were large majestic royal palms dotting the boardwalk and as the city was wrapped in the hues of upcoming night it was magnificent to see this lovely town get bathed in soft light

When we left Cascais we were a short distance from Lisbon and entering the city we encountered some traffice which made me late for my dinner reservation. When I finally arrived back at my hotel I was already 30 minutes late and had not changed yet. The concierge at the hotel was fabulous and he called the restaurant and changed my 8pm reservation to a 9:30 one so that way I had time to get ready without rushing.

My choice for dinner was a Fado restaurant, the "Casa De Linhares" which is very famous in Portugal. This is where the Rolling Stones first experienced Fado.

Fado music is the heart of the Portuguese soul. It is arguably the oldest urban folk music in the world. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs coaxed from the rolling waves by homesick sailors and fishermen.

Whatever its origins its themes have remained constant: destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. It’s a sad music and a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.

By the early twentieth century, fado had become a fixture in the everyday life of Lisbon’s working class. It was played for pleasure but also to relieve the pain of life. Skilled singers known as fadistas performed at the end of the day and long into the night. Fado was the earthy music of taverns and brothels and street corners in Alfama and Mouraria, the old poor sections of Lisbon. 

The fado is normally sung by men or women and accompanied by one Portuguese guitar and one classic guitar, which in Portugal is called viola. 

The essential element of fado music is “saudade,” a Portuguese word that translates roughly as longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. Fado flowers from this fatalistic world-view. It speaks of an undefined yearning that can’t be satisfied. For Portuguese emigrants fado is an expression of homesickness for the place they left behind. 

Like other forms of folk music such as American blues, Argentine tango or Greek rebitika, fado cannot be explained; it must be felt and experienced. One must have the soul to transmit that feeling; a fadista who does not possess saudade is thought of as inauthentic. Audiences are very knowledgeable and very demanding. If they do not feel the fadista is up to form they will stop a performance. 

Fado can be performed by men or women, although many aficionados prefer the raw emotion of the female fadista. Dressed in black with a shawl draped over her shoulders, a fadista stands in front of the musicians and communicates through gesture and facial expressions. The hands move, the body is stationary. When it’s done correctly, it’s a solemn and majestic performance.

Besides the moving performance the food was amazing! I had a smoked salmon crepe, veal medaillons with some wonderful red wine and a cheesecake for dessert. The fado singer will perform for 15 minutes and during this time there is no food service, when the performance is over the food is served again. After 20 minutes there is another performance and thw format repeats. Because of this it took 2 1/2 hours to hqve dinner but it was well worth it.

At midnight I was in a cab going back to my hotel where a hot bath was a relaxing end to a busy and tiring day but well worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment