Cod, Cobbles and Custard Tarts

A long weekend in the photogenic but hilly Portuguese capital

I had never, before last weekend been to Portugal and for a change did little research or planning before we left so had little preconceived ideas. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement, Lisbon is a delightful city defined by its long shoreline with the river Tagus, its relative low rise due to the ever-present earthquakes and the ubiquitous cobbled streets.

Lisbon could be described as a cousin of San Francisco. Not only because of the earthquake parallels but also because the wide Tagus reminded me of San Francisco Bay and the April 25thbridge is of the same design and made by the same company that was behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

Lisbon’s April 25th Bridge is the little brother of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

The negatives first, Lisbon is not the cleanest city, rubbish seems to lie in most streets and it is not the easiest city to walk around the streets and pavements are cobbled and uneven and the castle district sits high on a hill which requires negotiating some steep pretty slopes. Having had major knee surgery last December and been diagnosed with osteoarthritis walking on the steep gradients was none to pleasant.

A typical climb up to the Castle district

But they are minor gripes about the city. The people are extremely friendly and seem genuinely glad to have you visiting the city. The layout of the city, spread along the northern bank of the Tagus, makes it difficult to see everything without using one of the hop-on hop-off bus services but a 2-day pass only costs €22 each and makes seeing everything you need to a breeze.

In additions to its buses and subway network there are tuk tuks everywhere and a tram network.

The history of Lisbon and its architecture is defined by the earthquake in November 1755. Pretty much the whole of the city was destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami which necessitated a total rebuild. But Lisbon was lucky in that this huge project was overseen by the Marquis of Pombal who oversaw a grid-based street layout with wide streets and numerus parks and squares.

The Marquis of Pumbal surveys his life’s work

We had booked two walking tours both of which were great value and good fun. The food and drink tour gives you a fascinating insight into the culinary history of the city and the opportunity to sample a variety of food and drink. We were treated to vinho verde, port (served with cheese and marmalade), cod cakes, pork roll and smoked chorizo.

Vinho Verde – excellent

While I struggled to grasp the concept that the Portuguese invented marmalade and that it should be made from quince rather than oranges what really surprised me was the dominance of cod in the diet. Apparently there are over 1,000 cod recipes in the typical Lisbonians cook book a fact that is even more surprising is that cod is not indigenous to the waters of Portugal but has to be shipped from the north sea.

Cheese and “Marmalade”

If your taste buds are at the sweeter end of the spectrum you will love the custard tarts which are sold on every street. Apparently the place to go to get the true original is a bakery in the suburb of Belem. When we went past it on the bus there was a long queue outside the shop to buy that day’s freshly baked offerings. They are served at breakfast, with mid-morning coffee and even as a dessert after the evening meal. Plenty were sampled at different time of the day during our stay!

We also did a small group walking tour on Sunday which lasted about three and a half hours and took us to areas the bus route can’t cover including the tight cobbled streets around the castle and a sneaky back route to access the top of the Elevador de Santa Juste and skip the long queue waiting for the elevator from the main street.    

Elevador de Santa Juste

Our last morning was spent looking around the castle itself, nestled at the top of the highest point of the city it offers stunning views across the whole of the city and river. For us it proved the perfect way to end the weekend as we looked out and identified all the places we had visited over the weekend.

If you want to see more of my photos from the weekend there is a gallery of about 100 images at FullSlidePhotography.