Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Portugal: Day 2

by Kathy 23. March 2011 21:08

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Day 1: Arrival in Lisbon | Day 3: Lisbon: Parque das Nações >>


Lisbon: Alfama, Castelo de São Jorge, & Fado

Near our Lisbon apartment were two small shops offering espresso drinks and pastries. Donuts are generally not on our list of breakfast options for the kids at home. However, we don’t carry too many “lists” with us when we travel, especially on our shorter journeys. Genevieve, Sebastian and Ben each selected a hefty chocolate donut this morning:

As for me, I’m a sucker for egg custard pie. Portugal has a reputation for creating out-of-this-world custard tarts. So today I began my quest to discover the “best custard tart in all of Portugal.”  (This one wasn't the winner, but it was still good.)

After breakfast, we hopped on a trolley car to reach the Alfama district, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon.

Sebastian and Genevieve in the trolley:

During the ride, we passed many ornate buildings painted in pastel colors:

The trolley dropped us off in the heart of the Alfama, at a spot with a view of red-tiled rooftops and the River Tejo:

The wall that Ben and the kids were sitting on above was covered in ceramic tiles, as were the facades of many homes in this area:

The Alfama district spreads down the front of a hill that is crowned with Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle). Here is a photo from the Internet:

(Photo credit here.)

In 1755, the Alfama was one of the few areas of Lisbon left standing after a 9.0 earthquake demolished most of the city. Many of the buildings still retain their original character, oozing with Old World charm.

After a brief pause to pop open our umbrellas against the drizzling rain, we set off uphill to find the castle. The narrow streets twisted around and didn’t always lead where we thought they might. This confusing design was deliberate, as the original road builders wanted to thwart invaders from reaching the castle. Lucky for us, an occasional sign pointed the way:

The castle sits on top of the tallest of Lisbon’s seven hills. Evidence suggests that people started building fortifications here as early as the 2nd century BC. The oldest parts of the existing castle date back to the 6th century AD. The castle changed over the years, as it was occupied by different groups, including the Moors, who were finally driven out by the first king of Portugal in the 12 century AD. Much of the current design dates from medieval times, although only the walls and towers remain.

The exterior castle walls were beautifully restored in the 20th century:

Here I am with Sebastian and Genevieve, on the bridge over the dry moat:

Ben, standing by one of the arrow slits that allowed archers to protect the castle from invasion:

The interior of the castle basically consisted of two large open spaces.

Genevieve, inside:

Looking up at one of the castle towers:

Against one of the side walls, we found stairs that allowed us to climb up and walk around the top, like a castle sentry would have done:

Looking down at the front castle grounds:

The views from the top of the walls were magnificent!

Sebastian, taking a rest:

Back on solid ground, the kids had a blast roaming around the castle grounds, playing and making discoveries.

Sebastian, the cannon master:

Here’s one just the right size!

Riding the “wild” animals:

Finding a dry fountain:

Scoping out walls to climb:

Genevieve and Ben, along the outer wall:

In the distance, crossing over the River Tejo was the 25 de Abril Bridge, built by the same company that constructed the San Francisco Bay Bridge:

Sebastian was intrigued with the scenic telescope:

Ben hoisted him up to get a better view of the bridge:

We found this wonderful hollow tree:

The leaves sprouting off of the top branches indicated that the tree was still thriving:

Sebastian found it to be the perfect hiding spot:

One final rest to soak in the view:

Leaving the castle, we headed down into the lower Alfama area:

I loved the old buildings and the peeling paint:

Within a few minutes, we reached the Lisbon Cathedral, which was built by Portugal’s first king in 1150. With its twin towers and thick stone walls, it had the appearance of a religious fortress:

(Genevieve, Ben and Sebastian are in the doorway above.)

Here are two stained glass windows from the rather austere interior:

And the same two windows, from the outside:

The time was now late afternoon, and our stomachs were rumbling. Our guidebook recommended an Alfama restaurant that was supposed to be superb. There was even a sketched map (which proved to be missing some important details!).  We wandered through the twisty streets, turning here and there. Just when I thought that we were completely lost and would never find our way to the restaurant, we made one last turn, and there it was!  We let out some whoops of excitement.

Here are Genevieve, Sebastian and Ben under the restaurant sign (that read “Santo António de Alfama”):

The food lived up to our high expectations—everything was excellent, especially the fried calimari:

Sebastian and Genevieve were happy:

After lunch, we wanted to catch a trolley back to our apartment. We weren’t quite sure where the trolley stop was, but we knew that we needed to go up the hill to find it. 

A small traffic circle:

We passed by this old fountain that might once have been the water source for local residents:

We had read that some of the homes in the Alfama still don’t have their own plumbing.

Our climb took us to a place near the end of the trolley line. We found the right boarding spot, and waited for a car to arrive:

Back at Praça de Camões, next to our apartment, Sebastian and Genevieve posed at the base of the memorial to Luis de Camões in the middle of the plaza. He was an esteemed 16th century Portuguese poet, and his statue was accompanied by the figures of eight other scientists and authors.

Tonight we wanted to experience some Fado, the main traditional music in Portugal. It generally involves melancholy songs sung with great passion and longing, and deals with sad topics, such as waiting for one’s love to return, unrequited love, or death. The singing is accompanied by guitar music.

We walked through the Bairro Alto neighborhood and found a small, cramped place with a woman belting out music with great gusto:

Fado is taken quite seriously in Portugal, and the audience is expected to be quiet and listen. Unfortunately, in our restaurant tonight, the Fado singer was forced to compete with a large group of German tourists who insisted on talking loudly and laughing among themselves throughout the performance, even after the singer asked them to please show some consideration and be quiet. (I think that she’s giving them the evil eye in the above photo.)

During dinner, I discovered that those scrumptious looking grilled sardines that I had been dying to try were full of tiny bones—lots and lots of them. Moreover, unlike the softer bones found in the smaller, canned sardines, these were too hard to chew and swallow. I did my best, but I definitely did not master the fine art of bone-picking.

We also were learning that in Portuguese restaurants, the bread and other items that the server placed in front of you—things that were normally complimentary in the U.S.—were not free here. For example, four small rolls could show up on your bill as an additional 4 Euros, or a small bowl of olives could be 5 Euros. By the end of this trip, we were experts at just saying “No” and shaking our heads as soon as a server began placing plates of unordered items on our table. Tonight, however, we were novices. And we paid a small price for our inexperience.

All in all, however, it was a fine evening. And by the expression on Sebastian’s face at dinner, I could tell that he was in his groove.


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Day 1: Arrival in Lisbon | Day 3: Lisbon: Parque das Nações >>


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Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

   Bumthang Valley
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   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
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   Janko Marca
   La Paz
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   Laguna Verde
   Salar de Coipasa
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   San Pablo
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   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
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   Jasper National Park
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Costa Rica
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   Manuel Antonio
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   Venado Caves


   Amazon Rainforest
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   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Yasuní National Park


   Baja California
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   Hierve el Agua
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   Mexico City
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   San Agustin
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   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
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   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
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   Moose McGregor's Bakery
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   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
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   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
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   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
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   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
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   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
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   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
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   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
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   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
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   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
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   Route 66
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   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.

Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin