The Portuguese Camino 2014
Sightseeing in Portugal
Lisbon Sintra Coimbra Porto
We arrived in Lisbon in the afternoon and took the metro into town, finding the Poet's Hostel without too much fuss. We were in a 4-bed dorm (two bunk beds). We only spent two-and-a-half days in Lisbon, but it was enough time to see al of the central area. As it happens, we were there on May Day, when everything was closed, but people were out celebrating rather noisily. Lisbon is a city of highs and lows; lots of hills, little trams that move people up and down the steeper ones, and elevadors that lift you high up onto the next level of the city.
I had the opportunity to take a number of solitary walks exploring quite a large area. I loved the architecture, particularly the tiled buildings, although there is little that is very old, Lisbon having had a severe earthquake in 1755. We did get to hear live Fado, with a woman singing in a cafe near the cathedral.
We were in a fairly touristy part of town, so the cafés were great for drinks and snacks, but the food wasn't wonderful for dinner. It also made the streets fairly noisy at night, making it difficult to sleep.
We couldn't really visit Lisbon without a side trip to Sintra, so we took the train from Rossio station out to Sintra, and after a brief walk around the town admiring the public art and buildings we caught a bus up to Pena Castle. It is a monstrosity - you can see the Bavarian influence, and the whole edifice was built with an over-the-top effort to impress. We went through the castle, but it was a relief to get out into the surrounding park. There are wonderful trees there that lay their lower branches on the ground. We walked over to the chalet, but it was even uglier than the castle, and we couldn't bring ourselves to go inside. The estate makes extensive use of cork - there were cork gates, and the chalet and other buildings were trimmed with cork - it sounds interesting, but proved to be somewhat grotesque. The most charming feature of the park were the ducks and the duck houses, built as miniature castles.
We left Ulla in Lisbon - she wanted to start walking from there, doing a 600km pilgrimage. Helen and I decided to spend two nights in Coimbra, the old capital of Portugal. Because there was a big walk to Fatima on just at that time we had some difficulty finding a hotel, but the Pensão Flor de Coimbra had a room for two nights and a very friendly host who gave us a map and drew out a walking trail that covered all of the places we might like to visit in the brief time that we had. We had a little time on the first afternoon to look around the town, and found a café that advertised Fado at 6pm, so we ended up there, drinking a beer and waiting for the music.
We should have read the fine print on the notice - there was no Fado that night. Instead we were the Australian contingent of a combined Communist/Greens rally; something to do with the impending EU elections. Very stirring, and everyone was very friendly, although they were a big bemused to find us joining in.
We spent the next day following our hand-drawn tourist guide, up to the Basilica Museum, with its crypts and interesting sculptures, then along to the aquaduct, and the old university. Words fail me - the University Library is an astonishing building with elaborate painted ceilings and gilt work glinting from every side. The tables are covered in leather mats every night to protect them from bat droppings, because bats live in this astonishing place, and they eat the insect that would otherwise harm the books. We went down two levels to the scholars' prison - not a nice place to be locked up. The university also had a chapel and a number of other rooms open for visitors - all very elaborate. The trail took up back down along the river, where we stopped to dine on antipasto and beer. We then took a quick diversion over to the other side of the river and back to the Flor. In the evening we went back to the Fado café, where we listened to a man singing in quite a different style from the girl in Lisbon - his were much softer songs, with traditional instrumental accompaniment.
Our stay in Porto started at the Sé; it seemed to dominate the city. We navigated our way to the Poets Inn, where we had booked accommodation in an apartment. A very friendly girl booked us in, then walked with us down to the apartment, which was near the Plaça de Liberdade. There had been some sort of celebration up at the Paços do Concelho, and students were milling around in cloaks and ribbons. We wandered around, had a coffee, then booked a trip on the Douro River for the next day. Later in the afternoon we walked down to the river, where there was a very touristy market, then took the funicular back up to the top of EiffelÕs bridge, and walked back past the Sé to our rather homely apartment. Later I had another exploration of the surrounding area - down a different street, up a different street, up some steps and bugger me - there I was back at the Sé again!
We were booked to go on a boat to Régua, with breakfast and lunch onboard. It wasn't too bad - there were some interesting people to talk to, and two locks to negotiate - the second one was very big and impressive. We took the train back to Porto, finishing at the rather beautiful San Bento station. We went to the bookshop where Harry Potter was born and I bought a book by José Saramago - it turned out to be a wonderful book! The bookshop was also wonderful, with a staircase that looks like tongues.