Friday, 17 August 2012

Keeping Cool in Lisbon

...And failing. Big time. Even though I spent my first 14 years in California, I am hopeless in hot weather. In fact, hopeless doesn't even begin to describe it. I bloat up, and moan about it like a teenager. I feel like an internal sweat tap gets turned on and left to run endlessly. My make-up runs down my face. My hair frizzes. Overall, not a pretty sight.

 Despite this prior knowledge, and also being gripped by Olympic fever, Mr. Needles and I headed off last week to Lisbon, where everyday was at least 30 celsius (that's roughly 1,000,000 fahrenheit) And it was BRILLIANT!

 This was the second time we visited this amazing city, and this time we did it even better. I think what I love most about Lisbon is the fact it still feels like a secret, undiscovered destination, relatively unspoilt by hordes of tourists and commercialism. Whether this is a conscious effort on the part of the Portuguese to limit outside influences on their city, or just the result of sellf imposed isolation as a result of political history, I don't know. But there aren't many European cities where you can find shops in the centre like this:

Beautiful fabric shop, specializing in evening fabrics, mostly covered in sequins
 or this:
A candle shop, over 200 years old

or this:

A teeny, tiny glove shop!

or even this:

A haberdashery shop. This was one of many on a WHOLE STREET of similar shops! The problem was, it was Sunday, our last day, before I realised they were there, and they were all closed...
Here's a quick run through of other cool stuff to do in Lisbon (If you don't like other people's holiday snaps - well, you've been warned) :

Drink great coffee and eat cake -

You're never more than a few paces from a pastellaria, where you can get coffee in various formations (always strong), as well as lovely custard cakes. Every park and square seems to have a kiosk with a few tables where you can while away the hours.

Have a cocktail in the Chinese Pavillion:

Or if you prefer, have a pot of tea! 

This is the most fantastic bar I've ever been to! It's like walking into the house of a very organised hoarder. Room after room is filled with loosely themed collections - toy soldiers, military hats, toys, statuary, porcelain trinkets. You name it, there's a cabinet full of it. There's a never ending menu, with cocktails and exotic teas, and even a couple of pool tables in the back room, so something for everybody. A lot of on-line comments mention the expense of this bar, but I really didn't think it was that bad, and considering the time and effort put into the displays, I think it's worth every penny.

For non-vegetarians - eat great seafood -
A devoured gilthead (I don't even know what that is, but it was tasty)

Besides gilthead and octopus, I also stuffed myself with sardines, clams, squid, and stingray, and I loved it all.

Admire all the beautiful tiles -

Tiles - 'azulejo' - are everywhere, not only inside, but on the outsides of buildings, covering whole facades. I particularly liked some of the mid-century examples, like this panel outside a shoe shop:

The subway also has some beautiful modern examples. This was my favourite one, at Cais do Sodre station, a busy station at the port, hence the big Alice and Wonderland rabbits, checking their watches:

Ride the 28 tram - 

No, this isn't the actual tram...

It's a really touristy thing to do, and the gangs of people with cameras probably get on the locals nerves, but the 28 tram is the closest you can get to a rollercoaster disguised as public transport. Lisbon is hugely hilly, on a par with San Francisco, and like that city, it has trams and cable cars to deal with it. The 28 is brilliant, in that it runs from the peaks in the east of the city, through the centre, and out to the west. 

The route in Graca, to the east, is the best part - the tram belts along tiny little streets that it just about fits on. You skim so close to the houses and shops, you can put your hand out and pluck a sardine from a dinner plate!

Drink in Barrio Alto -

Boca do Inferno - our favourite bar.
Bairro Alto is similar to London's Shoreditch, in that it's a once rundown area which has been transformed by little bars, restaurants, and shops. But where Shoreditch has become over run by binge drinking hipsters braying loudly from every corner (that's just my opinion), making it a bit of a young person's ghetto, Bairro Alto manages to keep a balance between young and old. I saw gay and straight, students, families with children, all out having a good time, with little hint of trouble that usually comes with these situations. You can go in one bar and jump around to techno, or go next door and listen to mellow jazz and drink pina coladas. There were even police out having their photos taken with visitors!

Some of the bars and restaurants are tiny, most the size of a small living room, with just a few tables and chairs. Our favourite was Boca do Inferno, a punk/metal bar with a really friendly owner and great decor:

I think that's enough for now. We did loads more - a day in the mountains of Sintra, walking along embattlements built by the Moors; we ate great ice cream; we even spent a day at the seaside.

I always have trouble finishing off posts, so I'll leave you with a picture Mr Needles took of me knitting on train coming back from the beach - any opportunity to get a few stitches in!

Take care!


  1. Your trip looks so wonderful! We're going to be in Spain next month and as much as we would like to see EVERYTHING while we're there, I don't think we'll be able to get to Portugal...your snaps are the next best thing! Thanks!!!

    1. Oh, I love Spain, especially Barcelona. You'll love all the Art Nouveau, it jumps out at you from every corner. Check out my post on Barcelona:

  2. Thanks for a little insight to Lisbon. It looks delightful.

  3. OMG the heat, the heat! We are having a horrible heat wave here in Cali. You are lucky you are not around. The food looks delicious! What a fun trip.

  4. That looks amazing! I've never been to Spain, now I've added Lisbon to my must-visit list. I do love hot weather in theory, but it's a bit rubbish for sightseeing without melting into a puddle.

  5. I'm heading to Lisbon next Monday for a few days and found your post. Thanks for the recommendations.


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