Thursday, 5 May 2016


At this stage of our trip in Portugal, we became sick of all the forward thinking and planning. We really missed our usual Asian travel style of turning up in a place and finding a cheap place to sleep. It seemed every evening involved internet time to find the next cheap train fare, or organize an Air B and B. We felt we were not living in the here and now and relaxing and enjoying places fully. The decision in advance of how long we should stay in one place was also a pain, as we prefer to decide the day before what we're doing next. Oh well, poor us!!!

It certainly wasn't all gloomy, though! We arrived in the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, and were easily picked up by our Air B and B host- a lovely illustrator , who took us to our digs for the week. We were sharing a flat with two young female students, one of whom was extremely friendly, and after a wine and chat about all sorts, took us out to a cafe in an renovated, atmospheric ex factory down the road she thought we would enjoy (we did!). The apartment was in the suburb of Belem, which we enjoyed for it's being away from the tourist center, and it's cute pastelarias (cafes, and great places to sit with a coffee/beer/wine/pastry/sandwich available all day, and watch the world go by for a few euros), hilly back streets, tiled terraced houses (Sally found tile heaven in Lisbon, Rich was very patient during the constant photo taking!),  parks and art galleries.

The weather turned for the first few days, and we experienced some cool, rainy weather, with a proper storm one night. We wouldn't let it stop us, though, and donned our super duper Cambridge raincoats and  continued our exploring of the city.

First stop was Belem, which is famous for it's huge Manueline style (VERY ornate late Gothic) monastery built in the 16 century, and the matching tower on the river to celebrate Vaso da Gama's discovering of the trade route to India, and his purchase of a ship load of pepper. Apparently designers and architects were given free reign and endless money on these projects, and although not to our tastes, the results were sumptuous and opulent. However, with the continuing trend of nearly everything in Portugal being expensive to enter, and the addition of long queues and tourist buses out the front, we chose not to go in. We instead chose the amazing Modern Art Gallery, a picnic in the park, and a long walk around the shoreline and backstreets, ending in a hole-in-a-wall bar trying ginjinha, a local cherry liqueur.

Rich dwarfed by the monument to the age of discovery, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

The huge and magnificent Jeronimos monastery, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Beautiful sunny picnic in the park, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Andy Warhol's Judy, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Rich getting inspired in the Belem art gallery, Lisbon, Portugal

Pondering the art, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Awesome Dali telephone, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Actually, we found Lisbon to be a coulourful, quirky city, with unexpected art popping up everywhere, and great murals and bright scenes around many corners.

Tile shop, Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

Street art celebrating the famous fado song of Lisbon

Pretty tiles, Lisbon, Portugal

Colourful posters, Lisbon, Portugal

Decrepit art, Lisbon, Portugal

Multi ethnic mural, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon has the most varied forms of public transport we've ever seen in one place. Added to the local buses, taxis and trains, there are electric trams, two funicular railways, a "lift" to a hilly area, tuk tuks and various other tiny retro trucks and vehicles doubling as people carriers and food outlets. Some of these we tried, some we avoided due to the heavy tourist traffic.

Another area we enjoyed wandering (or, rather struggling up and down the hills!) around was Alfama- the oldest part of Lisbon. In the previous blog we briefly mentioned the great earthquake that destroyed  a lot of Portugal. After reading a bit more, we had to share more.......On All Saints Day, 1755, most of the residents of Lisbon (and all over the country) were at church. Within ten minutes, there were three major earthquakes, and the candles from the church services started fires that set the entire city alight. A tsunami then swept the seafront, and 40,000 of the 270,000 population died........and it was felt as far away as Jamaica!! Anyway, Alfama was somehow spared, as were the monuments in Belem, but the main part of the city was destroyed. The streets still had an ancient feeling, with many abandoned buildings in pastel colours (made a nice change from all the white we had seen so far). There were also tourists, dog shit everywhere (people here just don't pick up after their pets), views from in between tall narrow buildings- even with the drizzle, fado bars, little restaurants, street art and the ubiquitous churches.

Hilly laneways, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Rich with a lovely wall, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Back streets, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Window box, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Rich in the "oldest urinal in Lisbon" (we heard this from a tour guide!)

Unusual church feature, Lisbon, Portugal

Moody church interior, Lisbon, Portugal

A Sunday service, Lisbon, Portugal

Lovely detailed church ceiling, Lisbon, Portugal

The best thing we enjoyed in Lisbon was a brilliant flea market held on the weekend, and full of all kinds of weird and wonderful items we would have looked at more closely had we had a home! The smell of marijuana was sweet in the air (possession for personal use is legal here), and colourful people selling cool stuff mixed with tourists, residents and old timers.

Weekend flea market, Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

A particularly unique (and not just because there was no entrance fee!) church we visited on our last day in Lisbon was Igreja de Sao Roque. It really summed up the Baroque style to us- the gold, mosaics, lavish carvings and paintings on the roof were over the top, extravagant and designed to show off the wealth of the church.

Could you get any more gaudy??

Sal loved these ugly fat cherubs!

Random display with men and arms, no idea what it was about.

After five days, our Air B and B hosts was leaving town, so we moved to a more central hotel, which had the same old fashioned quirkiness and price of the place we stayed in Faro. This one was run by a lovely, very Indian family from Gujurat, who, true to form, tried to charge us an extra 10 euro on our arrival, then pretended it was a mistake!

So, we touched briefly on bidets in the previous blog, but the obsession continued (especially for Sal not being a sophisticated European!). Every house, apartment or hotel in which we stayed had the facility, but the exact purpose was still not clear. Were they for a post coital wash, as someone suggested, or to use after number twos, and if that is the case why did one hotel room we stayed in have a bidet, but no toilet in the room?! And surely, it's all a bit messy- to move to a different location mid defecation to wash?! Does one hover or sit down- there is no seat? And how to stop water from splattering the surrounding area? And another problem posed to us we hadn't previously though of, is the temperature issue- apparently it's vital to make sure the water is not too hot or cold! Maybe we have been in Asia too long, but isn't it easier to sit where you are (or squat), and have a bucket of water or hose to clean oneself?!!

Glamorous bathroom where we stayed in Lisbon, with another bloody bidet!!

Overall, we enjoyed Lisbon, especially the older parts of town- to be honest the huge city squares, with their statues, marble surrounded by showy Neoclassical buildings, left us cold. There was no character or charm.

Wonderful old trams still in use, Lisbon, Portugal

Tiles galore, Lisbon, Portugal

Old retro sign, Lisbon, Portugal

Tram depot, Lisbon, Portugal

Port wine ad, Lisbon, Portugal

Street art, Lisbon, Portugal
Photogenic Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

One of many backstreets, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon apartments

Lovely old window, Lisbon, Portugal

Unusual lift transport, Lisbon, Portugal

Grand fountain in a grand square, Lisbon, Portugal


  1. The depictions of apartments capture a kind of city glumness, which is contrasted well with the quirkiness of the markets and the gallery/street art scene. Also gave that sense of it being a center of colonial power a few centuries past as the disembodied hands seem to be like a hunger for more power and wealth of the elusive orient. Great travel narrative, thanks.

  2. hey u 2, yes. bidets. they've always baffled me. i see no beneficial use for them. and above and beyond all your comments about them, i'd add: what about all the bacteria from the bowl (from yourself and previous users) being shot up to your crotch--especially for women. not my idea of getting clean after a dump. AND--one more thing: are u gonna wipe your face w/ a towel you've dried your post-bidet butt with? maybe there is supposed to be a designated post-bidet towel?

    thanks, once again, for your entertaining blog updates. sally and i love them. randy

    post comment from sally: When I was in Portugal about 30 years ago, my memory of those puzzling ceramic utilities is that they made the rooms smell sort of musty/rotten - often they were right in the sleeping space (which was usually immaculate even in our very cheap accommodations) so we slept with the windows wide open and hoped for a breeze. Hugs, Sally (P.S. Still wear and enjoy the cotton tunic & scarf & pants you had custom made for me in India several years ago.)