After Porto, we made our way by train to Lisbon. It was an easy, no nonsense train trip which dropped us right in the middle of the capital city of Portugal.
Similar to Porto, with it’s steep winding staircases and alleyways shaping the hilly neighbourhoods, it was a breathless affair finding and walking to our accomodation. This is where it comes in handy not having a lot of possessions as a heavier backpack would have killed me! When we finally stumbled into our room, dropped our bags off and stepped out into the warm weather, we were again taken aback by the views. Perhaps we’ve been in The Netherlands too long, but after 5 minutes walking around exploring our surrounds, we encountered countless viewpoints which gave us stunning views of the water, the city and the burnt orange rooftops everywhere. At each of these viewpoints locals and tourists were taking in the magnificent views all around, snapping photos, playing chess, or just catching their breath – which is what we really loved the viewpoints for! It meant that every few corners you had a different view of this beautiful city and a place to sit and take it all in. Absolutely awesome.
As we made our way down the hills towards the water, the city which had originally felt like a bigger-Porto to me, began to take on a different feel. We found ourselves walking down to the Praça Do Comercio (which is a big public square with the entrance to the city from the sea!) and taking a stroll along the water. To me, this was a beautiful walk. As we soaked in the sun we forgot all about the cold we left behind. It really felt like summer to me, and not just because of the weather, but because of the carts selling beer, the lawn chairs rolled our facing the water (and sun), the street music turning every normal step forward into a dance move, and of course everyone in T-shirts and shorts sitting around getting a tan :D. That summer beach atmosphere, at a time where it’s supposed to be cold really made me think about how festive this area would be in the summer…
On another one of our days in Lisbon, we did a free walking tour to learn a bit more about the history of the city and get a local perspective on things. As usual, the tour was lots of fun and our great host Rafa gave us a nice perspective on why Lisbon is what it is today. I really recommend anyone who goes there does a similar tour, you will learn a lot about Lisbon’s history, where to go party at night (if that’s what you want!), and see parts of the city you wouldn’t see on your own. The highlight for us was walking to the area known as Alfama. Alfama as we learnt, was one of the oldest neighbourhoods/districts in the city, and still holds a lot of it’s character from the past. The alleyways and staircases are especially narrow, the houses small and close together, and the community like a family, still using communal laundry rooms and always looking out for another. Exploring and walking through this historic district was definitely a highlight for us and very interesting.
About 40 mins out from Lisbon is a town called Sintra where old kings and queens built magnificent castles. It was like a fairytale…really. One of the castles we visited, the Pene Palace, was covered in highlighted yellows, pinks and reds. Tacky, bright, weird and cartoonish – but impressive nonetheless. This was just one of the castles scattered around the mountains and the only one we took time to see. From the top it was incredible to see these monstrous structures stretching their gaze all the way to Lisbon and beyond. They all had a grandness about them that made you think about kings and queens in fairytales, or maybe that’s just my Australian side being excited because we have nothing of this sort back home. Oh and getting off the train at Sintra was really confusing, because it wasn’t clear whether we should bus to the town, walk or get tricked by one of the tour guides waiting to sell us all their packages. We ended up walking 10-15 mins, which was super easy, so if you go, save yourself some money and do some walking!
The most amazing thing I saw and probably the most memorable sight from my time in Portugal however, was not a pink castle. It was walking through the Quinta da Regaleira gardens. The gardens were beautiful, but that’s not to say they were better than any other european gardens made for royalty. What made this special was the Initiation Well, an old well with winding staircases that snaked it’s way down into a network of underground caves. There were ancient green clumps of moss covering the Well from top to bottom, strange masonic symbols which gave the area a mystifying fog, and although it was a sunny day, the way that the Well was constructed filtered the light into complete darkness at the bottom. We walked all the way to the top, to look at the dizzying darkness below and also looked from the bottom of the Well to the small hole of light up top – from both perspectives the Well was equally impressive. My description won’t do it justice, so I will leave the photos to do the rest of the talking…