A few days around Lisbon and Belém…..a seductive city with soul


Lisbon has been one of those cities I always wanted to visit, I am not sure why, but something about it has always drawn me in.

Perhaps it is the guide book description of a ‘seductive city rather than grand slam capital, with a mix of crumbling pastel coloured houses, grand squares, narrow lanes and alleys‘. It just sounded like it had soul!

Off the back of a recommendation from the family I had recently met, I was to visit Belém as well as Lisbon, and after figuring out the logistics of parking my van, and riding my bike into the quarter, my day got off to a good start.

Belém is a area about 5km west of Lisbon central, with religious buildings, nice restaurants, and a mellow vibe, and it was here I met my friend Marie-Neige from Toulouse, France. She was also travelling alone so we ate some traditional Portuguese food and hung out for the afternoon, taking in some out of bounds gardens and generally touristing around.

It was good to share the time with someone and interesting to hear her stories of life in Toulouse, her take on travel and how some countries are better at making an effort than others when it comes to welcoming tourists, and her brothers adventures of solo cycling round the world! I understood he had been on his journey for over 18 months now!

Reputedly, Belém has the best pasties de bata (custard tarts) in the country. and the queues out of the door were testament to this reputation, so these were sampled, and yeah, they were pretty damn good

Marie-Neige had to return to France that evening so we parted company and I carried on into Lisbon central.
I aimed straight for the Alfama district, which was a maze of twisted alleys, steeply slanted slopes, and high vantage points to view the city scape.  It reminded me of a film set and whilst it was hard work riding up the slopes (should have taken the tram), it was fun riding back down, if a little sketchy at times.  Everywhere I looked were the famous azulejo tiles on different buildings, some crumbling, some not, small tightly packed homes, washing hung out everywhere, people on the street corners….I really felt like I was in the heart of the city just riding around and soaking it all in.
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I had also heard that the Bairro Alto district was worth a visit for the Cafe / bar / restaurant scene, so as the sunset, I visited here next.
It was a chilled vibe with a lot of people, a lot of restaurants and tight steep streets, but very relaxed.  I ate out for the second time that day at an amazing italian restaurant, and just soaked up the atmosphere for a while.
Whilst wandering the streets later that evening I noticed a bar with crowds gathering outside, and the occasional burst of music and applause.  Peering through the window I could see into a dark, busy room with 2 men playing traditional portuguese guitars and a female singer.  I hung around and realised they were playing the Portuguese style of music called Fado (fate).  It’s nostalgic and melancholy, and perhaps a little aimed at tourists in this area, but was exactly what I was looking for.
I found a spot at the bar, ordered some wine, got told off for speaking while the women was singing, and did some more taking it all in.  It was a good night, with some very soulful music and a good experience to witness.
After a few hours I was done and decided to ride the long road back to my van, worn out from a busy day in the city, but feeling like I had experienced a lot in a short time.
Definitely somewhere to return to for future….

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