Earlier this year, Zoe Zheng made the most of the new direct flight link between Qingdao and Germany, and here she shares part two of her trip to Europe: Lisbon, Portugal.
Landing in Lisbon airport, I quickly sensed a totally different atmosphere to that of Frankfurt. If Frankfurt is a strict father, then Lisbon is a gentle mother. The blue sky, warm sunshine, and constant cool breeze make this city an idyllic travel spot. Although the buildings of Lisbon may not be as modern as other European cities, this does not take away from it’s charm, and I immediately felt it was a shame to only have two days here. But all buildings except the arch itself were destroyed in the earthquake. Six 11-metre high pillars hold up the arch, intricately carved and holding Portugal’s national emblem in the middle, as well as the Latin words “virtutibus majorum” meaning ‘the virtue of our ancestors’. The Age of Exploration began in this city, and energy an vigour still pulse through it today, with interesting stores, cafés, restaurants and street artists everywhere in the streets.
I went straight to the Rua Augusta, and as soon as I got off the bus, I found myself facing the Arco da Rua Augusta, rebuilt to memorialise a catastrophic earthquake that struck in 1755. It was actually intended to be a bell tower, but its construction went on for over a century and finally it was left as an arch. Grand buildings painted in a classical European yellow extend around it on three sides, with the mouth of the Tejo River at its front. The king used to live here.
For dinner, I went to a famous Fado (Portuguese Blues) restaurant in Bairro Alto, where you can eat fine food, sip elegant wine, and listen to the guitar and soulful vocals of Fado music. Although I did not understand the words, the emotion in the singer’s voice was moving. There is a Fado Museum in Alfama which shows you the whole history of Fado, from its root in Latin culture (‘fado’ comes from the Latin word fatum, ‘fate’) up to it’s addition to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2011. Bairro Alto is a nightlife hotspot in Lisbon, and during the day there are also many interesting bookstores, boutique stores, and cafes etc. I wished that I could spend all day there; but I had planned to discover more of Portugal’s history in Sintra. Sintra is a region in Portugal that has long been the chosen residence of the country’s monarchs. Today UNESCO names it a Culture and Landscape heritage site, and scenic sights are spread across the hills of the region. In the historic center there are pretty cobbled streets lined with traditional shops and cafes, all centered around the Gothic styled Palácio Nacional de Sintra. The Palácio Nacional was extensively used by the nobility of Portugal between the 15th and 19th centuries and bore witness to the incredible growth of the country in the Age of Exploration. The Palace’s most distinctive exterior feature is its two 33-meter high chimneys that extend from the kitchens, while inside, the state rooms and extensive collections of antiques and decorations reflect the impressive history and artistic mastery of the palace. Other sights include Castelo dos Mouros. The castle is an ancient ruin, perched on steep slopes on the outskirts of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, and dates from the Moorish era (8-12th century). From the castle walls there are amazing panoramic views over Sintra and the surrounding region. The colourful Romanticist Pena Palace is the standout monument of Sintra. The vividly painted palace stands at one of the highest points of Sintra and is surrounded by the pine forests of the region. The interiors were adapted to serve as the Summer residence of the royal family. It has amazing stuccos, painted walls in trompe-l’oeil and various revetments in tile from the 19th century, forming part of the numerous royal collections. The intentional mixture of eclectic architectural styles includes the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance. It is now used for state occasions by the President of Portugal and other government officials. You also shouldn’t miss the former fishing village of Cascais, which gained fame as a resort for Portugal’s royal family in the late 19th and early 20th century. Nowadays, it is a popular vacation spot for both Portuguese and foreign tourists. Cascais is surrounded by the popular Guincho Beach to the west, and the lush Sintra mountains to the north.
Some of its shoreline has cliffs, attracting tourists who come for the panoramic views of the sea and other natural sights such as the Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth). The seawater here has access to the deep bottom of an ocean chasm and strikes its rocky walls with fearsome force.
After lengthy sightseeing, I came with joy to my favourite part: the food. As Lisbon is a coastal city, there is bountiful seafood,but they also specialise in amazingly tender beef, and a gorgeous dessert called Pastel de Nata. Pasteis de Belem makes a fabulous version of this sweet dessert, known as “the taste of heaven”; the store is easy to find due to its striking blue and white decor.
Eating a hot Nata with ground cinnamon along with a hot black coffee, I savoured the sweetness of life itself. After the small dessert, I decided to treat myself to a big dinner at the restaurant on the first floor of Lisbon’s Beer Museum. The food was fantastic, as of course were the beverages. I couldn’t stop eating the mussels and beef that I ordered, and I highly recommend the codfish cakes with Serra cheese, a traditional Lisbon dish. If you have the energy after dinner, or are smart enough to go before you eat, the museum upstairs has an mind-boggling collection of historical documentation, from the 1st century BCE to the 19th century CE. After a much too short 2-day journey, I was reluctant to say goodbye to this beautiful city. Before I even left, I already missed the food.