You can always stumble into something in Lisbon if you are open to the experience. On the other hand, if you always proceed with a plan for the day, you can close off any impromptu involvements that might be tossed in your path. While it is important to plan some things, it is also essential to just stumble around, wander, explore, and open yourself up to whatever experience presents itself. Most call this taking time to smell the roses. To me, it is more than the static activity of smelling something external to one self. I am talking about being the rose. When one is the rose, contentment in just being is accessed. By experiencing anything and everything the day has to offer and being intimately a part of the experience, good or not so good, the rose can be profoundly affected by it, in a good way. Sounds like heady stuff, someone once told me. The key to being that rose is to be that rose, content to take it all in, whatever “it all” means. It requires patience, something with which I fail more often than I would like. But it is something that provides great new understandings in those rare occasions “it” is accomplished.
The Avenida da Libredade, an important street in Lisbon, is filled with numerous hotels, most upper end. Don’t shy away, you may uncover a bargain with some good searching. Either way, this would be the area to attempt a few nights stay. The Avenue is wide, long and has a nice park-like median. Possessing a pedestrian area with gardens for walking, it can be the perfect place to start and be that rose. The public park was once walled in. But, sometime in the 1800’s, the wall came down. Along with the redesign, fountains and statues were added. There is a World War I statue in memory of the fallen. The Avenue reminds one of what might be seen in Paris’s boulevards, complete with all the designer shops. For a listing of all the shops visit our friends at Portugal Confidential.
One afternoon, we stumbled upon a parade of some sorts. A passing marching band seemed kind of impromptu. So we just went with it, jumped in, and became the crowd. We couldn’t find any English-speaking people with knowledge of what we were viewing, so we acted as the rose, just taking it all in.
Wander into a bakery for some early morning coffee and pastries. The friendliness is, again, incredible as long as the rose is in bloom. Broken English and no Portuguese can be the order. Kindness flowered out of the baker. Soon an English lesson and Portuguese lesson ensued. Once other customers entered the scene, the lesson was over. No problem at all, the rose is just there to take in whatever comes its way. Not to mention, there is an air of courtesy that prevails, as the rose is not the only rose in the garden.
The tourist information center designated by the “blue I” sign is in the square, near the statue and the funicular. You will find that you are within walking distance to nearly everything.
Take in Igrega S. Domingos at the south end of the square. If you find the Palacio da Independencia, Igrega S. Domingos will be next to it. Founded in 1241, the church was rebuilt in 1755 after an earthquake just about leveled it. Fascinatingly, the structure was rebuilt around all the fire scarred remains caused by the earthquake’s near destruction. There is a peculiar magnificence inside. Just stay a while, imagine and contemplate the scene.
From the square, while standing near the monument, you will spot the funicular. Take it for a ride up the hill to the Bairro Alto district. For more info on that district read our article Dinner Time in Lisbon. If you prefer to walk to the Bairro Alto, the uphill walk can be strenuous. As an alternative, you can also walk to the Bairro Alto by wandering south towards the water then turning east into the Chiado district, the theatre district. Heading east, your next stop will place you in the Bairro Alto district. But do not beeline to it. Wander through the other areas. It can be magnificent.
The Baixa district is loaded with small shoppes and farmers markets that offer a great stroll. Take in some fresh produce, cheeses, or whatever falls in front of you. From there you can see the Castelo S. Jorge, a Moorish castle strategically placed with a commanding view of the city and the Tagus River. In 1255 the Crusades took over the Castle and Alfonse III used it as his center. One Hundred years later Ferdinand I walled in the fortification. The Castle welcomed Vasco De Gamma on his return from opening up trade routes to India. Around the 1600’s the castle fell into disrepair and an earthquake created more damage, leaving the castle to become a prison. The view from the top can be breathtaking. Today it is not a working castle. It is open for visitation.
From the castle find your way over to the Alfama District and experience the “Free Fado” as in our article But The Fado was Free. Fado is nice for the evening. The area is full of history and comes alive at the end of the day. It can be gritty, but do not shy away, the history here is outstanding. Just imagine drunken sailors wandering the streets after many months at sea and lonely maidens swooning for their man’s affection.
Your exploration may turn up different experiences, and hopefully it will. Just start walking and be the rose.