Feasting on Lisbon’s history
One kind of a ride in hilly Lisbon is tram number 28.
This tram is a tourists’ favourite and one of the most memorable mean of transportation in Lisbon.
Number 28 has a pretty antiquated wooden look and is rattling up and down steep mini hills, edgy turns and narrow streets of the capital.
It was going to take us up to Lisbon’s Castle, known as Castelo S Jorge, when the heavens above decided against a smooth ride and more for the one of a kind experience in Portugal.
It just so happened that a car blocked the tram and we got an idea of Portuguese temperament.
The car owner got out, wiggled his arms about angrily and started a heated argument with the tram driver. Then the tram driver got out and both tried to prove who’s in the right while mutually blocking the whole road. Meanwhile, some Portuguese tram passengers stepped in, shouting at the driver to carry on the ride.
Portuguese trams seems to offer various encounters. We saw another one yet.
Adjusting Portuguese old tram destination signs, which sit in an old wooden box above the driver’s booth, is tricky. It requires a mirror and the strong hands of a motorman. The tram driver has to rotate the destination signs, turning an iron crank, while simultaneously checking if it is the right sign with the mirror, held in his other hand.
This circumstance, demanding strength and skill, may lead to loud temper outbursts by the man on duty. Since in Portugal you always have to pass the driver when entering the tram, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But barking Portuguese drivers don’t bite and we boarded without further ado.
Anyway. Tram number 28 is usually crowded and we noticed that it does not go up all the way to Castelo S Jorge, so that it is best to take bus number 737 which stops right at the very main castle entrance. We weren’t keen on being squished like Portuguese canned sardinhas on the tiny old tram and we just hit it lucky when boarding the bus.
We have arrived. Entrance to Castelo S Jorge.
This medieval fortress is (probably) one of the more overrated sights in Lisbon but a young wannabe knight getting a wooden souvenir sword (and The One) might think otherwise.
Because eleven same-same-but-different towers and a small door on the northern wall, called the Door of Treason, which allowed messengers to enter and exit, is about as exciting as it gets.
The history of Castelo S Jorge. Initially built by the Moors in the mid-11th century on the natural slopes of the hill, the purpose of this fortification was military and not residential. It did house military troops to protect the Moorish elite living in the privileged area of the old medieval alcacova (citadel), in case of a siege.
A stronghold solely for the elite who resided on the citadel, the Moorish governor whose palace was nearby and the city administrators who lived on what is now the archaeological site.
In 1147 the castle was conquered by Dom Alfonso Henriques, who would become the first Portuguese king. He modified the castle to make room for royalty, bishops, royal archives, coronations and festivities and so it stayed until 1580, when Portugal became part of the Spanish crown and the castle was turned into military barracks.
Hit by the 1755 earthquake, it wasn’t until its reconstruction in the 20th century.
Just checking because, Castelo S Jorge is worth the visit and a 7,50 Euros entrance investment, to see the fantastic workings of the Camera Obscura – a unique, rebuild periscope, invented by Leonardo da Vinci.
This optical system of lenses and mirrors gives astoundingly detailed 360° views of the capital. It is a bit like google maps, only better because the periscope is mirroring the city in real time.
The sensation of looking at a moving picture of bustling Lisbon is surprising and entertaining.
The rest of Castelo S Jorge is ruins surrounded by big curtain walls, which you can walk to enjoy a fresh breeze and Lisbon from above.
View from the castle walls onto the city centre of Lisbon.
Mum refusing to catch us, if we decide to do a super castle wall jump.
Underwhelmed princess on castle walls looking for enhancing entertainment with her Prince.
Ah, there he is.
Did I say, there are excellent canons at the castle, too.
The castle is not very high on my list but I did enjoy the capital’s past grandeur, especially from the prosperous times of Portugal’s discoveries and voyages.
The nearby Cathedral mirrors those past riches (of clergy) and boasts an impressive vaulted ceiling with frescoes and devotional objects.
More people were in awe and taking pictures of the cathedral while we waited for a Portuguese miracle, nothing short of Fatima… the tram to arrive on time.
This day, we have also found a neat restaurant with traditional Portuguese (culinary) history.
Location: on the corner of Rua Nova do Carvalho 55 and Travessa dos Remolares 32-34, Lisbon.
The restaurant has a very spacious eating room adorned with Portuguese azulejos on the walls, frequented primarily by local customers. The waiters were dedicated professionals of age and one made our evening worthwhile.
Our waiter explained that although meant to serve cover-charge-starters, we do not have to pay for what we don’t eat. A Portuguese restaurant how it should be. Only in the worst touristy restaurants do they serve and charge no matter what.
He then showed us and named all the displayed seafood, so that we could chose from the fresh haul.
Portugal has a long coastline and a passion for seafood that includes tuna, sardines, swordfish, sea bream, shrimp, crab, clams, octopus and eel. Somehow the supply of fresh seafood doesn’t meet the demand, so when you ask, waiters will tell you that much of their seafood is imported. Like dried, salted cod (bacalhau), the signature dish of Portugal.
Portuguese cuisine is plain with Mediterranean and Moorish influences and is often described to be not more elaborate than peasant food. Which doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just not thrilling.
The most popular Portuguese dishes can be made in a single pot over an open fire or grill. The use of strong olive oil, garlic, onions is prevalent.
The discovery of the New World introduced tomatoes, bell peppers, chillies and potatoes to Portugal, and a main Portuguese meal would constitute of meat (mainly pork) or fish (mainly bacalhau) with potatoes and a simple tomato-onion side salad. White bread is served with every meal.
Our Portuguese dinner at Rio Grande.
Mum chose grilled sea bream. Tomek and I had tender sole with potatoes in a delicious butter and lime sauce. We very much enjoyed our meals.
When we left around half past 9, people just started to come in. In Portugal people eat late and are generally not pressed for time.
What I am learning in Portugal is that there is no need to rush. Not for history, not for us.
“Para nascer, Portugal, para morrer, o mundo” (One country to be born, Portugal. To die, the whole world). We can’t choose how/where we are born but we can choose how/where we die.
Wall tile writing on Rua do Correio Velho.