In which we walk, shop and eat our way through Lisbon

It was raining and cold when we arrived in Lisbon yesterday. When we woke up this morning, though, the skies had cleared and we walked out into a balmy, sun-spotted morning.

Here’s a photo essay of our day:

Lisbon has a vintage tram system that shuttles commuters around the city’s surface streets. It’s called the #28 tram and we picked it up just steps from our flat near the Alfalma neighborhood. Our tram got stuck in traffic and took way longer than we expected.

The #28 Tram

We were going to be late for the walking tour, so we jumped out of the tram about a half mile from the meet up place and ran like hell. Lisbon, I should note, is not a flat city–the physical geography of the place looks a lot like San Francisco. So, of course, we had to run up a long hill. The kids, who are in pretty good shape from all the walking we’ve been doing, chugged along and we made it to the meeting point just as the tour was beginning.

We have found these walking tours to be excellent ways to learn about the history and architecture of the European cities that we have visited. The guides are always very knowledgable and they generally show you things that would be easy to miss.

Our tour began at Chiado Square. Chiado means “squeaky” in Portuguese and the square is named after Antonio Ribeiro, a street philosopher who hung out in this square in the mid sixteenth century and who had a high-pitched voice. Locals and passersby started jettisoning his Christian name, referring to him simply as “Chiado.” He must have been quite a presence here because, gradually, the square became associated with the man and then, oddly, it got named after his voice. What a strange metonymy.


Our guide, Jamie, holding court in front of the statute commemorating the square’s namesake, Ribiero/Chiado

As we left Chiado Square, we walked by the Bertrand Bookstore–it bills itself as the oldest bookstore in the world, and that may be true.


From Chiado Square, we made our way down to the flats of Lisbon.

The view as we descended the high ground in Lisbon. That’s St. George’s Castle at the top of the hill in the background

Our first stop after Chiado Square was Rossio Square. We stopped in the middle of the square and Jamie asked our group, “What sinister events do you think happened here?” Both our kids, in unison, shouted, “Executions!” I don’t know where they got that information, but they were correct. Even Jamie was a little taken aback.  Rossio means commons in Portuguese and it was here, for a good part of the sixteenth century, that the Catholic Church did away with Christians who didn’t hew close enough to church orthodoxy.

It wasn’t all blood and guts and chasing after heretics here, though. Jamie told us that the Portuguese were the first to open up trade routes to Japan and, in fact, the Portuguese were early founders of Nagasaki. This created a good deal of interest among our family as we spent three weeks in Japan and simply fell in love with the people, the food and the culture. In the short time we were in Japan we tried to soak up as much as we could and much of that involved learning Japanese phrases like konnichiwa (hello), ohayo (good morning), oishi (delicious!) and, our favorite, arigatogozaimashita (thank you). To make his point about Japanese/Portuguese cultural exchanges, Jamie noted that the Portuguese word for thank you is obligato  and he asked our group if any of us knew the Japanese word for thank you. I was looking at the kids as this was happening and I could tell they were anticipating the question so before he could even finish the question they both, again in unison, shouted with startling enthusiasm, “Arigatogozaimashita!”

Rossio Square



From Rossio Square we walked toward the port of Lisbon where we found ourselves in the Praco do Comercio, or Commerce Square. Commerce Square was built following the historic and terrible Lisbon earthquake of 1755. I had read bits and pieces about the Lisbon earthquake, but until stood here and heard stories about the horror of that, and subsequent days, I never really realized how awful it was. In the past, Commerce Square served an administrative function where the State flexed its muscles.  It was also the sight of the assassination of Carlos I and the 1974 Carnation Revolution that toppled the last Portuguese dictator, Marcelo Caetano, and ushered in the current democracy.  Now, it’s mostly a bunch of tourists walking around.

Commerce Square

By that time, it was time for a break. I had my usual late morning pick up and Lu had hers.

One of my favorite European habits: espresso and sparkling water


And Lu’s favorite European habit, Nestea
A competitive game of chess at lunch

Lisbon is unique for its tile work. Many of the buildings downtown are decorated with beautiful and intricate tiles.


Those of you who know me know that I love hats. I left most of my hats in the States so Sujata knitted me a nice merino wool winter hat when we were in Romania, but it’s too hot for wool in Lisbon and I have been missing my flat brimmed hats. Sujata found a millinery on Tripadvisor and as we were close, we stopped in. The place is called A Fabrica dos Chapeus (The Hat Factory) and it’s run by a family that designs and manufactures all fitted hats in the store. Shortly after I walked into the story, I met Gi, one of the owners. Gi is a true connoisseur of hats and a super nice guy. He knows how to fit hats to your head, he knows which hats will look good on you and he gives good advice about sizing and style. I bought two hats–a flat brimmed and a beanie and I think I might try to go back before we leave Lisbon and get one more.

Me and Gi in A Fabrica dos Chapeus

All the sightseeing and shopping was making us hungry, so we stopped for pastel de nata, a signature Portuguese postre. They were so good that we brought half a dozen home with us.

Sujata enjoying a pastel de nata
A pastel de nata fabrica
2017-01-03 16.42.44.jpg
Cobblestone sidewalks in our neighborhood

At the end of the day, we took the Metro back to our flat. This is the view of Lisbon from our neighborhood:


We have two more full days here in the great city before we head to Ireland.


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