After Lisbon's revolution overturning the regime in the mid 1970s the city underwent a lot of change, by it's inhabitants, shaking off the dictator's heavy hand.
There's a feeling of vibrancy, youth and creativity - regeneration in its most natural form. A sense of enormous heritage and history in its castles, churches and twisting winding steep-steeped streets, all mixed up with modern food courts, as in the Palacio Guido, the food market owned by Time Out Magazine - a seafront food court with a host of vibrant eateries, communal bench seating and a fair old similarity to Borough Market in London.
The first paver stones arranged in the city centre were recorded back in 1842 and have been continuously updated and reworked throughout the subsequent decades. Diamond shaped stones cut from black and then natural stone and arranged in a wide variety of closed off and repeat patterns. Shallow steps make the 7 hills city easier to manage and has a feel of hilltop Spanish town and San Francisco.
The Fundacion de Calouste Gulbenkian was created in 1956 as a foundation to enrich and improve lives with art, charity, music and science. It's set in a beautiful concrete building which sits in the midst of a Japanese style garden complete with bamboo clusters, cherry blossom trees and dry river beds. I found the gallery spaces to be deeply restful. Despite the heavy building materials used - rather like the Barbican, it seems to have a wonderful mixture of solid and airy. Monumental and light-hearted. The light coming in along the whole of one wall and a sloping roof to give the works of art and sculpture a wonderful canvas.
Ceramic tiles are a key feature of Lisbon - they add a contemporary/shabby grandeur to every street - many of the buildings have a classically Greek-inspired facade which you'd expect to see in many a European city, but the washed out paint colours and bold tiles turn the streets into a more Havana-esque cityscape. Most of the tiles have single colour or bi-coloured patterns but occasionally there are multi-coloured beauts like these - and on one street - I spied a stunning 3D set of olive geometrics. It's not an optical illusion, they actually dip inwards at the centre.
The nice thing about Lisbon is the huge array of manageably-sized musuems and gardens - whereas in London a trip to the British Museum can make you feel like you need a week for each floor - in Lisbon, the museums are smaller and separated out into different collections at different sites. The Botanical Gardens is next door to the Natural History Museum and it's a lovely arboretum - beautifully shady right in the heart of the city - there are no glass hot houses like Kew but it's a welcome place to relax and sit or draw.
Padateria da Sao Roque - Saint Roque's Bakery-Patisserie looks like the atrium of an imposing city bank but the plastic tables and chairs and the brusque bakery staff makes it very clear that this is just a typically local cafe ( with two FF's ) and a stop off for tradesmen to grab a sandwich or coffee. I haven't drunk caffeine for many years and knew that this place would scoff at me even asking for decaf so with great timidity I ordered a Cafe con Leicte Par Favour. It was so rich and so smooth, so creamy and delicious I felt heavenly - and I didn't suffer from shaky hands or a palpitating heart either! I thoroughly recommend you seek it out!
Built around the same time as the Eiffel Tower this wrought iron tower offers a huge viewing platform of the city - if you pay a little extra you can go even higher to take photographs without the wire fencing hemming you in - Beware the the very narrow spiral metal staircase up though - I got unexpected vertigo as the streets below can be seen as you climb!
The wrought iron tower with wooden lift to get amazing views across the city
Lovely inventive cocktail bar where every drink they create uses a tea blend from around the world - situated inside the Hotel 8
Our Hotel was wonderful, right in the heart of the major city centre sights- it's called the Hotel Heritage Avenida Liberate - Redeveloped and elegantly modernised on the inside, but with a very attractive traditional blue traditional facade on the front.
The concierge team are very helpful and happy to make dinner bookings for you - they even tried to find me somewhere to dance tango but sadly I was there on the wrong days! The reception lounge offers 24hrs of free teas, coffees and Portuguese Pinata tarts, as well as an assortment juices and PORT. Yes, even after an indulgent dinner out, you can collapse into their armchairs and quaff a dainty glass of fortified wine before heading up to bed. I really recommend searching for the 4 star Hotel online and seeing what deals you can get - I used Expedia for the Easy Jet flights and hotel and was amazed at how reasonable it was in Feb/March.
Now I'm back home and in the thick of work again, it feels like a place I'll definitely return to - I can even imagine myself living there at some point!