Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lisbon - Day 1

It was a bright and sunny day to start with. After having a good night's sleep, I was refreshed and high on energy to see Lisbon. My hotel was bang, right in the city center so I planned to take a walk from my hotel and go straight till the port crossing the main part of the city till the place where Tagus river opens up to the Ocean. 

I don't know how many people know this fact but it was definitely new for me to know that this city of Lisbon had been a victim to an earthquake followed by a tsunami in 1755. The whole city was almost completely destroyed and then later rebuilt. I had read somewhere that that earthquake was of magnitude 9 on the Ritcher scale. I felt quite a pinch knowing all that.

So, while through the city center, first place which caught my attention was the Igreja de Sao Domingos or otherwise called St. Dominic's church (Baroque architecture). It was first built in the 13th Century, destroyed by earthquake in the18th Century and then by fire in the 20th Century. Even after all these calamities, it still stands tall welcoming everyone.There must be something special about this place of worship that it is still standing.

I quite liked how the sun played its trick on the photo above. That was the main entry to the church. Once you go inside, the building tells you its story by itself. You can make out the new ceiling on the top. The pillars on the sides below in the photo can be seen still bearing the burnt of the fire which once engulfed it. It was pretty well preserved though.

So, after starting the antakshri of sightseeing with leke prabhu ka naam, I moved ahead. Next up was this massive building (Manueline architecture) with a clock at its top and the entry was through two huge horse shoe gates. Nobody could guess looking at it from the outside that it was not a palace or church but a train station. Yes, its called Rossio and it is the main train station of Lisbon. I have seen many train stations but the grandeur of Rossio was incomparable to any I have seen so far. I went in to check out the train timings for Sintra and Fatima which I was planning to visit in the coming days.

On the way, after crossing two main squares of the city center, I accidentally saw the famous Tram 28.  I don't think there is any travel book on Lisbon which misses to mention this tram. The special thing about it is that it starts from almost the sea level in the city and travel through the main streets of Lisbon and ends up at the top of a small hill. Lisbon still proudly operates its vintage trams throughout the city. Tram 28, an excellent place to get pick-pocketed since almost every tourist travel on it once on their Lisbon visit.

After crossing the tracks of the trams, I landed at one end of a huge square facing the open waters. This was the Praca do Comercio or Commerce Square or otherwise called the Palace Square. The photo below speaks for itself. On the other side of the arc was the main city and towards my back was the Tagus river.

The main city center of Lisbon was not too big. So, I saw the main streets quite early. So, I decided to check out the area called Alfama. It seemed like the old part of town which for me is always the true city. I started by climbing to the most famous top most view point of Lisbon called the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. The view from there was breathtaking as in the photo below. One could see almost the complete part of main city. The castle on the left side, the big city square in the middle where my hotel was, and the ocean like Tagus river in the background.

After catching my breath and resting on a bench and absorbing and memorizing the complete view from here, I headed towards the Graca area to finally reach the Church and Monastery of Sao Vincente da Fora. The photo below is from a garden next to the church. It was a peaceful place to take some rest and have some water.

An important part of Portuguese culture is the use of glazed tiles on their buildings called Azulejo. You will find it everywhere in Lisbon. On bank buildings, on shops, on poor man's house, on rich man's house. You can't help but notice it everywhere. One such example of a more beautiful version I saw when leaving the church was this below in the photo on a residential building.

While reading about Lisbon, I learned about a new genre of music called Fado. It is the local music of Portugal which usually portrays sad, mournful stories. But it can also be about other subjects. In olden days, Lisbon being a port city, the sailors and fishermen used to sing their stories using this genre of music. This form of music was made famous by Amalia Rodrigues in the past and in recent times by Cristina Branco. While checking out a museum dedicated to Fado, I got this t-shirt for myself as a souvenir.

From the Fado Museum, I almost lost myself in the zig zag lanes of Alfama. I don't think there is any way to actually make a map of this area. It is like a labyrinth of cobbled lanes which go up and down through narrow passages and suddenly open up in a small square with kiosks. One such experience I tried to capture in the photo below.

Finally, I reached the most talked about viewpoint of Lisbon overlooking the Tagus river covering Alfama called Largo das Portas do Sol (Gateway to the sun). The view from there was spectacular. There was a cafeteria at this place with sofas and chairs where I grabbed a bite and got some drinks.

Just next to Portas do Sol was another famous viewpoint called  Miradouro de Santa Luzia. It was a small garden with bougainvilleas all around offering another refreshing view to the tired tourists.

Next stop for me was the neo-gothic styled Se Cathedral. It is one of the main cathedrals of Lisbon and a visit to Lisbon is incomplete without it. It has quite a violent history since it belongs to the time of the crusades. It was actually more like a fort primarily and later a place of worship. It is actually made on top of a mosque and one can visit it through its back gates. The Tram 28 runs right in front of it.

Finally, after checking out the Se Cathedral, I headed to my last sight of the day i.e. St George's Castle which was mere ruins of the fort to me with a fancy hotel in the center. But once again the view from the walls of the Castle was breathtaking. I had an interesting experience here. Maybe I will tell about it in a later post. After the castle I headed back to the main city.

In the evening after dinner, I went out for a walk and found this balcony pretty amusing. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was not an actual woman. I think the photo is not doing justice to that moment.

Another trademark of Lisbon is its local drink called Ginjinha. A liqueur made from cherries and comes in the form of shots. Somebody told me it is one of the favorite Portuguese drinks. In the evenings you can easily see local people standing outside such shops stopping for a small chit chat and relaxing themselves with Ginjinha shots. I found the name quite funny. Below is a scene of Lisbon version of desi sharaab ka theka.

A drink at a local bar playing live Fado was the perfect way to end the first day for me.

P.S: There was much more that I saw on the first day. These were just the highlights.


Megha Sarin said...

Wow Lisbon looks good. I would love to travel around.


the.orchestra.of.life said...

Best of luck !! Lisbon is definitely recommendable :)