Ah, Lisbon! My first visit here was in 2004 for New Year’s Eve, with my friend B. I was studying in the Netherlands for the year, and B was coming out to visit me during the holidays. We wanted to go somewhere to celebrate New Year’s – preferably some place neither of us had ever been before.
Though I normally book things online, I decided to go to a travel agent in Leiden on the Breestraat this time, to get some ideas. When you don’t have time to do a lot of research, don’t really know where you want to go or what your options are, a travel agency is a great option. Yes, you can research online, but then you’re at the mercy of whatever order your search engine puts your hits into, and who knows what you may find. The human element of getting a good recommendation from a live person is still very helpful, and a benefit that a real, live travel agency can still offer. Anyway, while sitting in the travel agency, I made a quick call to B in the States and realized that neither B nor I had been to Portugal before, so when the travel agent recommended Lisbon, I jumped at the chance!! A few weeks later, B and I were off to spend New Year’s Eve in Lisboa! This would wind up being the first of several trips to Lisbon for me – I had so much fun on this trip that I even returned for another New Year’s Eve!!
Now, whenever you plan a trip, your choice of travel companion can set the tone. My first visit to Lisboa was with my dear friend B, and this was actually our first trip together. But B and I are very different travellers. He was very interested in experiencing the nightlife (which usually left him wanting to sleep in the next morning), and I was more interested in getting up early and walking the whole city, which was completely new to me. Luckily, B and I are very independent people, so I would get up and spend the morning walking & exploring. B would sleep in and meet me somewhere for lunch. We would spend the afternoon touring together, seeing the sights, have dinner together, and then B would go out to the bars & clubs while I would go back to the hotel and sleep. Normally, I’d be up for more nightlife than that, but I had a cold during this trip, so the only night I stayed out really late was New Year’s Eve, when we went to an outdoor concert. But more on that later.
This being B’s and my first trip to Lisbon – to Portugal, actually – the first order of business was to walk out of our hotel towards downtown and explore. I truly believe that the best way to get a sense for a new city & culture is to just start walking! Our hotel was not in the middle of downtown, but rather further out, and gave you more of a sense of what everyday life must be like in that area. We walked, we explored, we tried some local food…. a great introduction to the city!! One of the places that B and I visited together was the Castelo de São Jorge. Set up on a hill above the city, the castle itself is impressive, but the views it offers of the city might be even better! Red rooftops sprawled out before you, views of the water (the Tagus river), and many recognizable landmarks all within view. B had slept in while I had gone shopping in the morning with a woman I had met over breakfast at the hotel. Her husband and daughter weren’t interested in going to the market, so she and I went to the flea market, where (being Brazilian) she was able to translate and negotiate a good price for me on a linen and handmade lace tablecloth set for my friend M’s upcoming wedding. So at lunch time, B and I had made an appointment to meet at the Castle, and my new Brazilian friend reunited with her family.
The Castle, which has many canons, arrow loops, turrets, and the like, seems well-designed to fight of invaders. Of course, having grown up in modern times, what do I really know about such things? But there seemed to be a lot of protected places from which one could take shots at attackers from a safe position. Which, to me, meant lots of cool nooks and crannies to explore, and lots of interesting angles for pictures!
After wandering around the castle for a few hours, we worked up a good hunger, and we wandered around to the nearby Patriarchal Cathedral and National Pantheon, and then on to dinner at an amazing little restaurant called the Clube de Fado, where we had a delicious meal and were serenaded by several Fado singers, including the amazing Joana Amendoeira, whose CD I bought as a souvenir of this wonderful evening.
As tourists in Lisbon, we saw many things. We did a walking tour. But honestly, my very favorite site from this trip was the Mosteiro de Jerónimos (Monastery of Saint Jerome) in Belem (see also Wikipedia entry for more info on the Monastery). This stunningly beautiful building shows absolute master craftsmanship and the detailed carvings are unbelievable!! Once again, an amazing opportunity to take beautiful pictures. I’m a big fan of pictures that have lots of visual layers, and this monastery offers many opportunities to take such pictures. Here are some of my favorite shots from this amazing site.
Now let’s turn to the main reason for our visit to Lisbon: New Year’s Eve!!! B and I turned up with no idea at all of what we would do for the big night itself. We are (and always have been) just friends, and were both single at the time, so we weren’t looking for a big romantic night or anything like that. One day, someone told us about this big concert that they put on – for free (important words to a then student!) – at a big square called the Praça do Comércio right downtown, and we saw the preparations for it – a big stage being built, and concession stands being put up all around the square. We had no idea what to expect, but we bought ourselves a couple of bottles of bubbly, and we were off! The weather was fairly mild – light coat weather. Just as a point of reference, I wore my favorite London Fog fleece lined rain coat, over jeans and a cute top, and I was perfectly comfortable. It was winter, but winter in Lisbon seems relatively mild to someone who has lived in the Northeast of the US most of her life! B and I enjoyed our night of music, fireworks, and celebration with several thousand new friends, and had a great time! We rang in the new year together, and then I was off to bed to sleep off my cold while he went to check out a nightclub. Would have been better if I had been feeling 100% and could have gone out with him, but nonetheless, all in all, it was a fantastic New Year’s Eve!
Stay tuned for more tales of visits and sights in and around Lisbon from later Chitalian visits! Until then, here are a few more pictures from a city I really enjoy visiting!