Thursday, December 6, 2012



As I arrived in Lisbon on the shores of the Tagus River, I was mesmerized by the city rising gracefully and serenely against rugged surroundings, shaped by the presence of seven hills. As I walked on the pavements, with stone mosaics in patterns of black and white I was instantly in love with the city.


The two beautiful structures of The Discoveries Monument and Belem Tower are located right next to the Tagus River and at Discoveries Monument not only was I treated to an amazing 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding area, I also learnt the history of the Portugal Capital all in a single stop. At the tip of the monument there is a statue of Henry the Navigator looking out on the Tagus River. Flanked on either side of him are the statues of Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama. Later I took an elevator up to the top of the Monument with a few stairs to get to the roof. The great mosaic map in front of the Monument is huge! Belem Tower used as a fortress in olden times was no less spectacular at a perfect location to fend off any enemy. As for me I was awe-struck by the Renaissance style architecture. I then walked across to the monastery on foot. The building itself is stunning and uses the Gothic style in a unique way. Inside, I saw the tomb of the explorer who first discovered India, Vasco de Gama!


Foodie that I am, I had to make a stop at the No 1 rated egg tart place in town, in spite of many bakeries mind you in Portugal who have developed their own, local interpretation of this kind of tart. History has it that a little before the 18th century, Catholic Monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos of Belem, created this creamy dessert. As I stood in the serpentine queue outside I was happy to discover that the service was swift, and I moved along the line very quickly. Greedily we ordered 4 tarts each and made ourselves comfortable on the table. They were decadent to the core with a warm (just out of the oven), light crispy pastry shell enclosing vanilla scented mouthful of custard which was luscious and one can choose to sprinkle it with cinnamon and powdered sugar. I have a huge appetite, but couldn’t finish more than three and trust me they are hands down the best custard tarts one can ever get. Definitely worth the wait…!


By now I was quite exhausted with walking and my calves ached. To my joy I found these quaint yellow trams which take you along most routes, it wasn’t just historical but exciting as well! So I took No 28 and as I headed towards the Campo de Santa Clara, in the funky Lisbon suburb of Moorish –influenced Alfama district, I could see white spires of Igreja de Sao Vincente de Foran monastery and the white dome of the National Pantheon, the Church of Santa Engracia. Nestled happily between these two iconic Lisbon monuments, I found the Largest and the oldest flea market (in existence since the 13th century), Feira da Ladra which literally translates into ‘the thieves market’ and is a great place to see the quirks of the city unleashed. Tourists and locals alike flock here every Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Tiles, ceramic works of art, candle sticks, carvings from former Portuguese colonies in Africa, white lace from Tunisia, African masks, Handmade toys from Porto, clothes, shoes etc…you name it and they are all here at a bargain price. What caught my fancy were the painted roosters, symbol of good luck to the Portuguese and also make for excellent souvenirs. Needless to add, I bought a big back one home which now adorns my living room. By the way, before you ask…let me confirm…thieves out here are not welcome!


It was impossible not to want to listen to Fado, the local songs of the Portuguese. There were special restaurants termed Fado houses all around that played this, include a Folk dance performance with dinner in just 50 Euros at Alfama and are known to be the most original. After our meal was served (read large portions of delicious seafood that characterizes Lisboan cuisine), the lights were dimmed, there was silence and four men softly began playing their Fado guitars which were beautiful, round-bodied string instruments. A man from the audience stood up and began singing a slow, emotional tune. Other singers in the audience took their turns, performing about three songs each. Derived from the Portuguese word for ‘fate’, this urban folk music is both hauntingly beautiful and authentically rooted in the real world. I found it quite like an Opera. I may not put on Fado music when I go back home or in my car, but sitting there in that location, with those fantastic fadistas was a great experience at the Parreirinha de Alfama. I absolutely enjoyed my extra-large glass of Port and the rhythm of the night ….what a great way to end my trip at this enchanted land only regret is that I could not take picture owing to the low light!


Best Way to Reach- Emirates has a direct flight to Lisbon via Dubai. It is the cheapest and the quickest way to reach from India. A good idea is also to stop at Dubai enroute to make the most of your trip. Fares may vary; check on while making a booking.
Visa & Currency- Indians require a Schengen Visa to enter Portugal and the currency used is the Euro. 1 Euro is equal to approximately 65 INR

 Publised in TLF Magazine