When it comes to the Iberian peninsula, it seems Spain always gets the glory. Not for me last year though! I had yet to visit any of the countries that occupy the peninsula and I decided my first trip to the area would bypass the more popular Madrid and Barcelona and start in Lisbon instead.
My visit came at the tail end of a two week exploration through Senegal and Egypt and really was just a short three day stop over on my way back home to Chicago due to the cost of flights. I'm never one to frown on a productive layover though, so I did a bit of research on how to optimize my time and showed up in Lisbon with a smile on my face and camera raised.
Might as well start off this photo essay with my very first photo taken in Portugal - the view from my room at the H10 Duque de Loule upon waking up my first full day in Lisbon. Can you imagine waking up and this being the very first thing you see? That cotton candy sky, beautiful rooftops, and the nice little frame provided by the big window and upholstered bench was just magical. This would be pretty much the last time I saw a nice sky during my stay though.
I visited Lisbon in the middle of February, which was a bit of a chilly time of year by Portuguese standards but positively balmy for a Chicagoan. Still, "winter" activities were in full swing as I wandered the city including these two roasting chestnuts over open flame in the downtown core.
February was in the middle of the pre-Lenten season and as a historically Catholic country Portugal was in the midst of some raucous Carnival celebrations during my stay. In Lisbon one of the most popular ways to celebrate and unwind seemed to be dressing up in various costumes. Here a young boy dressed like a knight runs through a park with a balloon whlie his mother follows him in her coat and a Little Red Riding Hood costume.
One of the things I loved most about Lisbon was the gritty street art and graffiti that covered so many surfaces across the city. While graffiti can be found in any city, it really was a vibrant part of the cityscape in Lisbon. Get ready for a ton of pictures featuring this aspect of Lisbon's cityscape.
One of the most interesting (and honestly, beautiful) things I saw in Lisbon was the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) sitting along the banks of the Tagus River. And also one of the most problematic. Erected near the banks of the river where countless Portuguese ships departed during the "Age of Discovery", it depicts the men who sailed on those ships with the Christian cross behind them. Yes, it looked beautiful in the early evening light with the mirror-like water surrounding it. But it was memorializing a lie, a historical shame. You can't "discover" places people already live and you cannot "discover" things that those people already eat, use, and know. The European "Age of Discovery" marked a time of terror, death, enslavement, and oppression for African, Asian, and Indigenous people across the globe. So sure, it's beautiful. But does what it memorialize deserve to be celebrated? Remembered as a horrific period in human history? Yes. Celebrated? I'm leaning no.
More Carnival celebration in the chilly February air. This is the Praca de Comercio, a major square sitting between the Rossio and Alfama neighborhoods. Adults blow giant bubbles and children look on with glee as the bright blue sky is filled with rainbow-sheened puffs.
All this talk of pre-Lent festivities in a major European city and yet there hasn't been a single picture from a church? Let's fix that! Churches in Europe are like temples in Asia - you're constantly dropping in on them while sightseeing. This is the beautiful Church of Santa Maria de Belem which is attached to the Jeronimos Monastery. While the Monastery seemed to be the main attraction and was lovely in its own right, I really felt like the vaulted ceilings inside Santa Maria stole the show.
Two of my favorite things in Lisbon - the antique "elevadors" (funiculars) and the gritty street graffiti that blankets the city.
In Lisbon you don't need a beautiful sunny day to enjoy an afternoon of canoodling with your lover along the banks of a river. Cloudy skies and a chance of rain is as good an option as any for some snuggling.
This bench is probably older than half the countries I've visited in my life. Sitting in a corner of the Lisbon Cathedral, I loved the old style blue and white art work on the wall behind the bench under the late afternoon sun. These white and blue paintings were second only to the graffiti in terms of artistic flair that can be seen all over the city.
An example of that blue and white art style? This wall art of the Torre de Belem inside Fabrica da Nata, one of the many purveyors of the famous pastel de nata. There are several famous dishes to eat while visiting Lisbon but pastel de nata quickly rose to the top of my list of favorites. Pastel de nata is the Portuguese version of an egg tart, featuring a flaky outer crust filled with a creamy and sweet egg custard with a caramelized top. With my newly found fit and healthy lifestyle it was difficult to not spend my entire time in Lisbon sampling these delicate little morsels, but I definitely had more than one.
Speaking of the Torre de Belem (Belem Tower), here it is in real life sitting at the mouth of the Tagus River amidst some stormy waves during a particularly overcast day. The Torre de Belem is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was constructed under the reign of King John II to serve as a fortified defensive position for Lisbon.
An artist sits next to a closed bakery displaying art for sale. Perhaps it was the time of year but Lisbon seemed to have significantly fewer street side vendors than many other European cities I've visited.
The "mappa mundi" created out of mosaic tile at the base of the Monument to the Discoveries. It was a gift from South Africa and was created inside a compass with the decorative wave pattern that can be found throughout the area. It's visible on the ground but the true scale and scope can only be seen from the top of the monument.
From the floor to .... the ceiling! Here's the gorgeous vaulted interior of the Church of Santa Maria de Belem. The hypnotic geometric dance of the lines and circles held me entranced for a good 10 minutes during my visit.
A young girl with her face painted for Carnival stands in front of the Torre de Belem as visitors go out to visit the structure. I ended up staying on shore and wandering around the area by the tower and never made it onto the bridge to get inside.
A closer look at the Monument to the Discoveries with the statues of various men who made their mark during the Portuguese push to dominate the globe. While it might seem like they're just generic statues, each one actually is representative of a specific person who made their mark on the "Age of Discovery".
A bit more street graffiiti art in the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon, famous as the heart and soul of Portugal's fado music scene. As you can see, this art work makes multiple references to fado. And boobs.
Graffiti. Tiny balconies. Portuguese flags. Grit, grime, and food. Lisbon in a snapshot.
A Muslim woman sits along the banks of the Tagus River holding her daughter with the Monument of the Discoveries and the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) in the background. If you haven't caught on yet, my time in Lisbon really was plagued by overcast skies and rain.
Another view of those kids and parents enjoying bubbles for Carnival on the Praca de Comericio.
Locals pray inside the Church of Santa Maria de Belem while visitors form an endless trail of gawkers through the front of the building. Generally I find churches do a good job balancing visitors exploring the site with locals worshipping, but this one was one of the few I've visited recently where the tourists seemed to be overrunning the facility and locals were visibly annoyed with all the traffic.
You're probably tired of street art photos in Lisbon by now. Too bad this is my blog and I'm totally digging it still. Deal with it. It's beautiful and enthralling.
At the base of the Monument to the Discoveries is a color mural in a very pop-art style, featuring the various faces of the men depicted along the side of the structure. The modern style actually contrasted nicely with the old school romance of the monument.
Ending my look back on Portugal with the late afternoon sun streaming into the Church of Santa Maria de Belem. Other than sitting down with a creamy pastel de nata, this was my "happy place" in Lisbon.
And ..... that's a wrap on the photos from Lisbon! I hope you enjoyed them! If you've been to Lisbon before or have any questions about my time there, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me through the link at the top right corner of the page (or drop down menu if using a mobile device).
And for a final bit of traditional, I've spliced all of these photos into a montage video as well. Feel free to enjoy the music and photos again by playing the video below.
Thank for reading and safe travels!