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Exploring Lisbon at a Glance

Heart-broken and inconsolably sad from a recent young-love break-up, such was the state I was in when I went to Lisbon all those years ago. Unbeknownst to me and my shattered heart, this short trip would turn out to be my unexpected salvation. And so off I was to discover a country I hardly knew anything about.

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I remember nights spent drinking cocktails at a bar perched high up on a cliff overlooking the raging, Atlantic ocean showing off its multiple shades of blue. I also remember loving the feeling of being back in the Old Continent. Having visited Italy a few years prior, my unfinished love affair with Europe still lingered.

Those two weeks in Portugal were exactly what I needed. Back then I wasn’t the history and photo enthusiast I am today so the agenda basically consisted of a bit of sight-seeing, a lot of sunbathing, laughing hysterically, meeting fun-loving Brits and having one too many drinks at above-mentioned bar. Yup – good times were had!

I haven’t been back to Portugal since then but these monuments surely haven’t changed so here are my best 35 mm photos (remember those?) of Lisbon at a glance. You could, of course, spend days just walking around Lisbon’s enchanting streets but following are a few interesting things to visit in and around the capital city.

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PRAÇA DO COMÉRCIO (COMMERCE SQUARE)

With the Tagus River lining its shore, this square (commonly known as Terreiro do Paço or Palace Square) was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake completely destroyed the Royal Palace which was previously located here. The statue of King Dom José symbolically crushing snakes sits proudly in front of the Commerce Square. It’s a wonderful place to just take your time and stroll along the river. The imposing gate is a tantalizing invitation to explore the old town of Lisbon and its wonderful architecture some of which is covered in the uniquely Portuguese hand-painted blue and white tiles called azulejos.

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PEÑA NATIONAL PALACE (SINTRA)

This palace dates back to the Middle Ages – sitting proudly on top of a hill, it watches over the town of Sintra – less than 30 km from Lisbon. Quite an eclectic mix of different architectural styles, it’s best described as romanesque revival. The blue and white mosaic of tiles, yellow-domed towers, intricate torsades and a fiendish ghoul greeting you at the main entrance, Pena Palace is one of the wonders of Portugal. So much so that it earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Nowadays, Peña National Palace is used by the President and other government officials as a meeting place – with those panoramic views I wonder if they get any work done?

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CASTLE OF THE MOORS (SINTRA)

Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site can be found in Sintra. Construction of this castle expanded from the 8th to the 9th century. With views of the terracotta roofs of the town of Sintra, the wall covers a perimeter of 450 meters around part of the mountains. With each step taken, the medieval architecture of the wall certainly doesn’t fail to bring you back in time. It’s easy to imagine the days when armored Moorish men mounted on their horses furiously waved their swords in the air ready for battle.

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CAISCAIS 

Located on the Estoril coast, Caiscais was a quaint fishing village when I went all those years ago. From what I read, nowadays it’s more of a popular vacation destination (with a beach) for both locals and foreigners. I can’t confirm whether Caiscais kept its local, fishing village charm (which was enhanced by the many colorful fishing boats) but located only about 30 km from Lisbon, it’s definitely worth a day trip at the least.

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I hear (and read) that Lisbon has become quite the tourist magnet resulting in endless lines to visit the most popular attractions. Apparently, the hoards of tourists have also rendered the city somewhat unpleasant. I’m really glad I had a chance to visit Lisbon before it became so crowded – there weren’t any tourists when I went – but I would like to return one day (hopefully not during peak season).

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Have you been to Lisbon recently? What are your thoughts on it becoming so popular?

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