Sunday, 18 March 2012


For the benefit of a loyal reader who complained that my last two blog posts didn't have enough text (erm, that'd be you, David...), here is the promised lowdown on the Portuguese Capital!

Portugal is one of the countries most affected by the current
economic crisis, this piece of graffiti calls for a general strike.
I'd heard mixed reviews about Lisbon before I went, with some people saying it had a 'lot of character' and others describing it as a dirty, unexciting dump. I'm definitely in the former camp. I mean, it's true that Lisbon isn't exactly Paris and it isn't jam packed with tourist attractions, but that's really part of the charm. It has a slightly less-than-polished appearance in some places, many scrawlings of grafitti and yes, some parts of the city are a little dirty, but it was a refreshing change from the cities where everything is pristine but manufactured to extract as much money out of you as possible.

And some of the graffiti was cute!
There's also a lot more to see than you might imagine.  When you think of other European capitals, you conjure up images of many famous landmarks, but I didn't know what was in Lisbon until I went there.  It turns out that there's a 14th Century Monastery, a fortress built in the early 1500s, an old castle and a very beautiful main square just off the Rua Augusta.  There are also a number of miradores throughout the city which offer breathtaking views over a mish-mash of old and new architecture, often a rainbow of colour against the backdrop of the sea.

The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Me at the Torre De Belém

If that weren't enough, Lisbon has an amazing amount of museums, the vast majority of which are free!  It's perfect if, like me, you're interested in seeing a bit of everything, but admittedly, some of the collections are sparse and perhaps a bit too niche for everyone's taste.  Like my friend and I decided to have a wander round the Gallery of Modern Art, which had some really strange pieces, such as a blank canvas entitled 'Painting of A Ghost' - we didn't appreciate that very much!!  Happily though, there was also a great, free exposition on Second World War Propaganda which captured our attention a bit more.

This was my favourite!
I don't think I'd have liked the war very much...

I also highly recommend going on a daytrip to a place called Sintra, which is 40 minutes on the train from Lisbon.  A lot of hostels and tour operators offer this to tourists as a bus tour, but it's ridiculously overpriced and our friend from CouchSurfing advised us to go to the train station ourselves and buy a return ticket for 5 Euro.
All the trains are covered in graffiti too, I don't know why, but
I have a bit of a fascination with it!

Stepping off the train was like stepping into a fairytale.  Lord Byron wrote in 1809:  'I must observe that the village of Sintra is the most beautiful in the world' (and probably another 1000 lines of text if his poetry is anything to go by) and I reckon he wasn't far off the mark.  It's so quaint, beautiful, colourful and historical, I fell in love with the place after 5 minutes.  The only other time that's happened to me was in the Parc Güell in Barcelona.

The first thing we did was take a wander round the National Palace, which looks nothing from the outside, but is pretty magnificent on the inside.  It's all ornate ceiling decorations, fancy chandeliers and collections of those painted, glazed tiles that Portugal is so famous for.  Even better, you get free entry on a Sunday morning, so it's worth taking it easy on Saturday night and getting up early!

And if you think the National Palace is cool, just wait till you head up the road to the Palacio Da Pena.  It's a Moorish Castle built in 1840, which was unlike anything I'd ever seen before in my life.  The best part is that people have worked to preserve the inside just the way the former Portuguese royal family left it!  Definitely worth a visit.

Arty shot at the Pena Palace!


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