Lisbon: Day 2


I visited the Baixa district today. I started at the Praça Marques de Pombal, who was pivotal in the construction of this district after the massive 1755 earthquake that hit Lisbon. The first section of the district, along the Avenida de Liberdade, is a wide promenade with a central walkway covered with trees. There are very few trees in Lisbon and Porto, I’ve noticed. This is probably why I have not had any hay fever while I’ve been here. Coming from Toronto and Halifax, which both have thousands of trees, their absence here is particularly noteworthy.  The shops in this section are on the higher end: Bulgari, Gucci, Cartier, Burberry, Valentino, Prada, and Louis Vuitton. As you keep walking towards  Praça Rossio, the shops become less expensive, and the streets rather noisier.


The Baixa district culminates with the very grandiose Praça do Comercio, which features a very impressive triumphal arch (the first picture in this post), and a large statue of the reigning king when the square was completed. The walls of the buildings are yellow. The sides of the square have walkways under archways.



I went to a museum that gives an interpretive tour of the history of Lisbon. Like other parts of the southern Mediterranean, Lisbon was occupied by the Phoenicians, the Romans, and the Moors. You see the development of Lisbon as a naval and exploratory power. A lot of attention is paid to the 1755 earthquake, which destroyed most of the city. The Marques Pombal was instrumental in rebuilding the city, giving it a grid structure and constructing the massive square. This museum was not visited by too many people, which is a shame, as it’s very informative. The picture below shows the “flying Jesuit”  Bartolomeu de Gusmão, who built an airship in 1709. The airship was never tested, which was probably lucky for him.


Tomorrow: the Chiado district.


Lisbon: Day 1


On my first day in Lisbon, I decided to visit the historic district of Alfama, which is the oldest part of the city. The picture above was taken from the terrace of the National Patheon (more about that later). Alfama consists of narrow streets and are mostly steep. There is a popular tram that tourists take to go to the top part of the city, but I preferred to walk, as the trams were too crowded. Besides, it’s better to experience the city by simply walking. It’s hard to get lost because all you need to do is keep an eye out for the river and you can find your way back. This is not a place to visit if you have limited mobility. I saw a few of the older residents negotiating the streets with canes and I admired their resilience.

The National Pantheon is actually the Church of Santa Engracia. Given the lack of seating, I don’t think it functions as a church.

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The Pantheon is the final resting place of a number of famous Portuguese figures, as shown below:


The Pantheon has an impressive organ, built in the 18th Century by Joaquim Peres Fontana. I saw advertisements for a number of concerts held in the Pantheon; hearing that organ would be a rare treat.


You can climb up several stairs to the various levels of the Pantheon, called Choir 1, 2, and 3. These choir areas provide a splendid view of the inside of the Pantheon.

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The Pantheon has a large outdoor terrace that provides you with an excellent view of Alfame. The terrace surrounds the Dome, which is closed to the public. I didn’t mean to capture the two women below in the photograph, but I hope they won’t mind.

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After all that climbing, I needed a treat, so I had a vegan ice cream from one of the local gelaterias. I’ve noticed that many restaurants in Alfame offered vegan options. Fortunately, it was overcast today and on the cooler side at 24 degrees, so walking was comfortable.

The Fado Museum was next on my list. I was treated to a Fado performance by some University of Porto students at the conference, so I was very interested to learn more about this musical form. The museum features a beautiful collection of Portuguese guitars, as well as late 19th and early 20th-century music boxes and phonographs.

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The Baixa district tomorrow.




Porto: Day 4


Today is my last full day in Porto. After the conference sessions, I walked to the Rua San Catarina, which is the main shopping strip of the city. Along the way, I stopped to take a look at the interior of the famous Lello bookstore, seen above, which is held to be the most beautiful of its kind in the world. There was a very long queue to enter the store, so I didn’t go in, as being cooped inside the store with that many people would have taken the fun out of it. Travelling in July is always problematic in that so many of the places I want to visit are simply too full. Being an introvert has its disadvantages at times.

Walking along the Rua Carmelita, I came across the famous Clérigos church and tower. The church is in the Baroque style, which is common for a number of the churches I have seen here. Baroque is not to my taste, as I find it too ornate, especially when it comes to churches; the philosophy seems to be “more is more.” I grew up surrounded by Baroque churches. The church has a lot of gold on the walls, which is typical of this type of architecture. The sanctuary and altar are marble, with lots of gold. I rarely take photographs of the interior of churches, as I find it a little disrespectful; to me, a church is a place of worship first and foremost, rather than a tourist attraction. The views from the tower are beautiful






Rua San Catarina is a pedestrian thoroughfare, lined with shops on both sides. The stores are average on the whole; nothing on the high end in this district.  Nothing to tempt me, which is good, since I have only carry-on luggage.


For lunch I ordered what I was told is a traditional Portuguese sandwich: the Francesinha. When I saw a picture of the item, I didn’t know what to make of it. The restaurant had a vegetarian version with vegan sauce, so I thought: why not? The sandwich looks like a flattened hollowed out loaf filled, in my case, with broccoli, green peppers, carrots, and onions, and covered with sauce. The dish is always served with thin french fries. The sandwich is usually filled with meat, and sometimes also with eggs. It’s an odd-looking dish, but absolutely delicious.

20180711_140258I walked by the Mercado do Bolhão, which is a large indoor fruit and vegetable garden. Unfortunately, the market is closed for renovations.


Since my days here have been shortened because of conference attendance, I didn’t get to see as many places in Porto as I would have liked, but I got a good feel for the city, mostly from walking around. You do need a map to get around, be that physical or Google map, as there is absolutely no grid system of streets here, and streets often change their names. I am never afraid to explore any city, as long as I have a good map. Once I know which way is North, my compass App never lets me down. It’s fortunate that English is spoken by so many people here, as I find Portuguese very hard to understand. Spanish is much easier for me to follow, given my knowledge of Italian, but Portuguese pronunciation is very different.

Off to Lisbon tomorrow.

Porto: Day 3


After attending conference sessions, I headed down to the Ribeira District, which is the most tourist-intensive section of the city.  The Ribeira lies along the banks of the Rio Duoro, featured above and below. I debated going on one of the river cruises, but I didn’t relish spending that much time in the sun, as most of the boats have open decks.


The streets here are very hilly. The buildings are old; many are in rough shape, but they certainly have a lot of charm. There are many bars, restaurants, and cafes, as well as plenty of the usual souvenir shops. Some of the main areas of the Ribeira are featured below:



The buildings below, in particular, caught my eye:


Here is the obligatory shot of one of the port-tasting stores:


The walk back was uphill all the way; seriously, there wasn’t a single flat street, so I’m now cooling off in the apartment. I’ll be trying a vegan restaurant this evening that is a few blocks away on my street.



Porto: Day 2

I spent most of this day attending the conference and giving my paper in the morning. The photograph above is the view of the Rio Duoro, taken from the patio of the university building we were in.

After dinner, I decided to visit the São Bento train station, which is supposed to have very beautiful walls. The city of Porto would certainly pose a challenge for people with limited mobility, and for those who need assistive devices to move around. Many of the streets are steep, and the cobbled streets and very narrow sidewalks would be very hard to negotiate.

Along the way to the train station, I saw the Paços de Concelho, shown below. I thought it was a church, until I saw the information about it on my map. It is certainly a very ornate building for a city hall. The photo was taken from a side street. The lighting from the main street was not very good, because the sky was too hazy.

Pacos de ConcelhoThe train station has very beautiful walls. The station was inaugurated in 1916. The walls are covered with azulejo tile, and depict a variety of historical events.

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The return walk to my flat was all uphill. The humidity was at 100% this evening, so it was quite a slog up those streets. Winding down now with a cup of lavender chamomile tea.

Porto: Day 1

Carmelite churchAfter 10 hours of combined flying, fiver hours layover, and a three-hour train ride, I’ve arrived at Porto. The AirBnB flat is in a convenient location, and there is a grocery store across the road. This is not a city for high heels; I’m glad I don’t wear them. Most of the sidewalks are very narrow and cobbled. The streets here remind me very much of the side streets in Sliema, Malta.

Pictured above is the combined Carmelite Church (built in the 17th Century) and the Carmo Church (Igrejo do Carmo), built in the 18th Century in Baroque style. A narrow house stands between the churches; it is that very narrow slit with the two white windows and the green door. The churches were closed when I walked by, but I’ll try to visit when they are open. The side of the Carmo church is adorned in blue and white porcelain, as shown below:

Carmelite church_side view

Below is the view of the cobbled Rua da Cedofeita:

Rua da CedofeitaAn interesting window display on this street; most of these items are related to First Holy Communion gifts.

Religious items

A World War I memorial:

WWI memorial

My flat is by the Martires da Liberdade Garden:

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Off to bed to try to get some sleep before my presentation tomorrow.







Porto and Lisbon bound


I’m heading off to Porto and Lisbon today. I’m attending an academic conference in Porto, where I will be presenting a paper, and will then spend a few days in Lisbon. Flying directly into Porto proved problematic, as there were a number of connections involved. I am flying into Lisbon instead, then taking a three-hour train to Porto, then back to Lisbon. I have only one connection in Toronto going and returning, which is very reasonable.

This will be my first visit to Portugal. As usual, I’ve made a list of museums that I would like to visit while I’m there. Lisbon has a large number of museums, while Porto appears to have fewer, but it looks like a lovely place to walk. I’ll try to get to see as much of the city as I can while I’m attending the conference. I’ve rented AirBnB flats in both cities. I normally stay in the conference hotel, but the venue this time is on a university campus, so a flat is more convenient. I will try to maintain a travelogue while I’m there, as I find it’s helpful to remind me of the places and attractions that I visit.

I had a bit of a tech crisis, as the keyboard of my Chromebook became suddenly possessed by some evil spirit; it froze completely three days before I was scheduled to leave. I did not relish the prospect of flying with my laptop, as it’s heavier and larger. Fortunately, there is a computer repair shop in my neighbourhood. They fixed the computer for $35. I had to scramble to get it back in time for my flight, especially as they had transferred it to one of their other shops in the city, but the manager drove it to my location in the nick of time.

Because my flight to Toronto doesn’t leave until the early evening, I decided to take public transit to the airport, rather than rent a car. You can’t beat the $1 cost (I have a monthly transit pass. You must pay an additional $1 since the bus goes outside the transit zone). I arrived at the arrived three hours early, which is normal for me. I hate leaving anything to chance when it comes to flying; I have to wait anyway, so I might as well do it in the airport.

The airport Starbucks was eerily empty; normally, there is a long queue. I wonder whether this is due to Canadians boycotting U.S. companies as part of the “tariff war” between our two countries?