New Year's Eve Weekend in Lisbon
“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there," wrote Pascal Mercier in Night Train to Lisbon. It was easy to leave pieces of ourselves in Lisbon, a city dotted with orange trees, graffiti and cathedrals, and the first city we explored together in our marriage. We stayed four days in the seaside district of Alfama-- the oldest part of Lisbon where Fado can be heard from inside the bars and restaurants-- weaving in and out of the winding city streets below the São Jorge Castle. Our Airbnb flat was a short 10-minute walk from all three train stations and just a few minutes from the downtown city center-- we would recommend it to anyone! After renting a scooter on the last day of our trip, we were also able to explore neighboring Belém and Sintra, the latter of which I'll post separately.
I was ecstatic to fit all of my belongings for our two-month journey through Europe into one backpack. I was concerned about traveling the continent throughout the winter, but Lisbon offered us sunny weather in the forties and fifties all week! Everyone we met told us Lisbon was the "brightest" city in Europe, and they were right. There's something about the way the sun hits each building that amplifies the light.
My favorite part about the city was the Spanish tile on nearly every building, each an intricate work of art. Coming in at a close second, however, were the cathedrals, many of which we had the opportunity to visit when they were open on New Year's Eve. Right up the street from our apartment was the oldest church in the city, Sé de Lisboa. Every few minutes, the historic Tram 28 flies down the street out front.
On New Year's Eve, we celebrated with thousands of other Lisboans in Praça do Comércio, or Commerce Square, in the district of Baixa. The square was just a few minutes away from our apartment in the bustling downtown city center and opens up to the sea. We learned very quickly that dinners in downtown Lisbon are a one to two-hour affair, and Portuguese paella-- cooked rice with meat and/or seafood-- is a must-try.
Thanks to our jet lag, we were up in time to see the sunrise over Alfama on the second day of our trip. We hiked seven minutes to the lookout spot our host recommended-- Largo das Portas do Sol-- and it was completely worth it. There are lookouts all throughout Alfama, you just have to keep heading uphill!
On the last day of our trip, we rented a scooter from Scooters Cool and made the 15-minute trip down the coastal highway to Belém to see the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, or Jerónimos Monastery. It was by far the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Side note on the scooter- the owner of Scooters Cool was incredibly informative and kind, and his pricing was very fair. We only had to pay 10 euros for gas!
The inside of the church is breathtaking. Visitors can roam the cathedral free of charge, while the monastery requires a ticket. We were so blown away by the church and dissuaded by the length of the line to enter the monastery that we skipped the tour, satisfied by our time in the cathedral.
Just across the street is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Right on the bank of the Tagus River, it offers an incredible view of the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Christ the King statue right across the water.
In the evenings, the streets of Alfama were filled with the sounds of Fado, traditional Portuguese music. The city got quiet around midnight, however, and didn't fully wake up until nine in the morning. We loved having the opportunity to wander the city pretty much by ourselves at dawn, popping in different pastelarias for a breakfast pastry. We actually asked one Alfama native to take our picture up at the lookout and then ran into him later that morning in one of the pastelarias. He owned several hotels in the area and gracious paid for our breakfast-- we got to share a pastry and hear about his experiences as a businessman in both the United States and Portugal!
Overall, our trip to Lisbon was highlighted by a fantastic New Year's Eve celebration, our time in the Jerónimos Monastery, and a scooter trip out to Sintra, an enchanting neighboring town that houses five 19th century palaces. Our visit to Sintra was hands down our favorite, and I'll blog about our travels there in my next post! What pieces of ourselves are we leaving behind? The joy of our first time traveling together, the nights spent getting lost in the side streets of Alfama and the few times when something went amiss and we simply looked at each other and smiled with the realization that we had nowhere to be! Until next time, Lisboa! Onto Madrid!