Lisbon for New Year’s! We arrived in time for the Celebração de Ano Novo and to kick off our travels for another year.
Our Airbnb is in the old town, Alfama, with it’s steep streets, fado bars, restaurants, churches and traditional shops. The apartment offers great views of the River Tagus and the area where the main fireworks display would be, but for this celebration we wanted to be in the main square, the Praca do Comercio, right in the heart of the activities. It was impressive to be surrounded by hundreds of people speaking dozens of languages, all of us enjoying the same fireworks and celebrations. We toasted to the New Year and to new adventures in 2019 with a lovely Portuguese Espumante Brut.
It took us a week to fully adjust to the time change but we are now back in a comfortable rhythm. In January Lisbon is blessed with a mild climate (approximately 15°C/ 60°F) and plenty of sunshine. The daily indigo skies are vivid and the evening sunsets glorious. After being in the chilly overcast Pacific Northwest for the past few weeks, to be walking outside again in the sun feels great.
Lisbon is built on seven hills so no matter where you go you are climbing or descending the steep streets and staircases. Of course the effort is always worth it, especially hiking up to the twelfth century Moorish castle, Castela de Sao Jorge, perched high on a hilltop overlooking the city and offering the best 360 degree views.
Before and after 1755
Lisbon’s history could be thought of as two periods of time; one before and the other after the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755; a massive earthquake that shook the area on the morning of November 1st, 1755. Seismologists estimate the Lisbon earthquake had a magnitude of 8.5–9.0 and that it lasted between 3.5 to 6 minutes, causing fissures 16 feet wide to open in the city centre. We have personally experienced an earthquake that lasted 20-seconds and that seemed a very long time. We can’t imagine 3 to 6 minutes! In combination with devastating tsunamis and several lethal fires, the disaster almost totally destroyed Lisbon. Most of the buildings we see and enjoy in Lisbon today were constructed after this nearly apocalyptic earthquake, tsunami and fire.
One positive outcome was that this was the first earthquake that was studied scientifically. The information gathered and learned then lead to the birth of modern seismology and earthquake engineering.
Museu do Fado
For a number of years we have enjoyed listening to the genre of music called Fado, but after visiting Lisbon and the Museu do Fado, Fado music will forever remind us of our stay in Portugal.
The origins of Fado (which means fate in English) music are still being debated. One thought is that it originated with the defeated Moors of Portugal. Another is that it originated with the Brazilian slaves that were brought here. Other theories suggest the origins are centuries older. Regardless, the music is haunting, passionate and beautiful and is said to be the very expression of the Portuguese soul.
The Museum of Fado opened in 1998 and although it is a fairly small museum it continually adds photos, posters, musical instruments, costumes, testimonials and recordings of former and current artists. There are wonderful recordings of many, many artists that you are able to sit and listen to as well as an interesting collection of 12-string Portuguese guitars.
After your visit to the museum, the city offers many nearby restaurants and bars where you can enjoy live Fado music with dinner or a port wine.
To date we have found at least three unique food and beverage flavors that will remind of us of our first visit to Lisbon.
Ginja – Ginja or Ginjinha is a delicious Portuguese liqueur made from the sour Morello cherry. In nearly every street you can find, often elderly ladies, selling half-ounce shots for a 1€. Yum!
Pastel de nata
Pastel de nata, is a Portuguese custard tart dusted with cinnamon. We tried these at various local bakeries and although each one was slightly different, they were all wonderful. The best, however were the fresh, warm, soft custard-filled buttery tarts we purchased at the very first shop ever selling these pastries. Pastéis de Belém was opened in 1837, the secret recipe purchased from the monastery when it was closed in 1834, and descendants of the original owners still operate the bakery and shop today.
These tasty morsels were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery. At the time, convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as nuns’ habits, and it became quite common for monasteries and convents to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries. Throughout our travels we have sampled various recipes made by different monasteries using egg yolks but, so far, pastel de nata is the winner.
Port wine, Porto, vinho do porto
Our familiarity with port wine was somewhat lacking prior to our visit and we wanted to expand our knowledge while here. Typically port wine is based on a red wine, rich and sweet with a hefty alcohol content of 19% to 20%, but it also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties. It is served primarily as a dessert wine in North America, but in Europe it is more often consumed as an aperitif. We discovered it does pair nicely with one of Portugal’s favorite soft round cheeses. The traditional way to serve the cheese is by cutting off the top of the rind, use a spoon to scoop out the cheese, spread it on crusty bread and follow that with a sip from your glass of porto.
Museu Colecção Berardo
The Museu Colecção Berardo is an important tenant inside the huge, and very modern, 140,000m² Centro Cultural de Belém building. The museum’s goal is to collect bold, exuberant, colorful pieces that viewers find easy to communicate with or interpret. The result is that the museum feels modern, minimalist, cheerful and welcoming. The collection includes works created from the 20th century forward and we found a number of favorite pieces we each wanted to capture via our cameras.
Museu Militar de Lisboa
The first thing you may notice as you begin your tour is that the building this collection is housed in is outstanding both on the exterior as well as the interior. It has rich baroque painted ceilings in each room, quite a number of wonderful 18th century paintings of ships and battles hanging on the walls and a few beautiful marble statues. The impressive collection of swords, fire arms and general war-related pieces however, have no problem competing with the splendor of their surroundings.
You may be again surprised when you walk through to the outdoor courtyard where dozens of antique cannons are on display and historic Portuguese battle scenes tiled on the courtyard walls. The battle scenes, each recreated on blue and white tile, depict battles that date back to the Christian reconquest of 1147 up to scenes from World War 1. We tried to get photos of every mural but many were hidden behind the display of cannons that had been used in the battles.
Then, as you near the end of your visit, you are directed to the basement where once again we were amazed at even more wonderful pieces both small and very, very, large. We were surprisingly absorbed, for more than a few hours, by the quality and quantity of the collection displayed so beautifully in this wonderful museum.
Museu Nacional dos Coches
We visited two car museums last year, one in [Malaga] and the other in [Mulhouse] The oldest vehicle in those collections dated back to the early 1800s. The collection at the Museu Nacional dos Coches was quite different. This museum in the Belem district of Lisbon has the largest and most valuable collection of horse-drawn coaches, carriages, brougham and landaus’ from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Many of these extremely ornate ceremonial vehicles are from the Portuguese Royal House, but there are also vehicles used by bishops and Pope’s, other European courts, state vehicles and private collections. Each carriage is an absolute magnificent piece of art and it is certainly easy to recognize where Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s coach came from.
Our knowledge of Portugal was minimal when we arrived but exploring and discovering new cities, countries and cultures is intoxicating. Each and every day our hearts and heads are filled with all we see and learn. We hope we will retain the excitement of learning for a long time.
Felicidades from the lisboans,
Ted and Julia