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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Visiting Lisbon, Portugal



LISBON, PORTUGAL
           
            Lisboa, the capital of Portugal, is a 5-hour drive from Rota, and definitely worth visiting. It has a great variety of medieval charm, rich museums, beautiful architecture, and modern shopping, dining, and nightlife. There is something for everyone, whether you are looking for a romantic escape to fairy-tale castles, or a fun trip with children. Yes, they speak Portuguese, which looks similar to Spanish but has a completely unique sound. However, English is widely spoken in all tourist areas, so we had no trouble getting around.
            The drive to Lisbon will take you through the rural part of Southern Portugal, where fields of olive trees, sheep, and cows dominate the landscape. The tolls on the route are very steep. You present your credit card at a kiosk when you cross the border, and then small fees are automatically charged every few miles. In 2014, a Category 1 (small car) paid about 20 Euros in tolls each way. But a minivan is Category 2 and pays twice as much. So remember to plan tolls, gas, and parking expenses into your vacation budget. Also, note that Lisbon’s time zone is 1 hour ahead of Madrid’s.
            Lisbon is built on seven hills, each with its own personality. Research to find lodging on the one that suits you. For example, one has loud nightlife, one has great shopping, and another has a medieval castle. Try to limit your walking tours, because it is a VERY hilly city, with steep staircases that climb several stories at a time just to reach the next block. Children will tire quickly, and it is NOT stroller friendly, so consider using a baby backpack instead.

ST. GEORGE’S CASTLE: Perched high on the Alfama hill, this castle is a well-preserved medieval masterpiece. Children can play on the ramparts for free, or you can pay the entrance fee to tour the castle and visit the small archaeological museum inside. Either way, the views are gorgeous and worth the climb!

CATHEDRAL: The city’s largest cathedral, called the Sé, is a Romanesque building with arching stone ceilings, stained glass rosette windows, and huge paintings.

YELLOW TROLLEY CARS: these iconic, old-fashioned cars are the public transportation on the streets of Lisbon (there is a metro underground). They are especially popular in the old part of town, around the cathedral, where you can board certain lines and pay a minimal fee for a scenic ride.

AQUARIUM: One of the best aquariums around, the Oceanarium in Lisbon is a huge cube structure with enormous tanks on each side, representing the different oceans and their ecosystems. It can be reached by metro, and is located at the edge of the city.

CHRIST STATUE: The enormous statue of Christ overlooks the city from across the river. It was built in 1959 in thanksgiving for surviving WWII, and is modeled after the statue in Rio de Janeiro. You can reach it by ferry, then take a bus ride to the statue and an elevator several hundred feet to the top. Incredible views!

BRIDGE: The enormous suspension bridge that crosses the Tagus River is called the 25 de Avril, after Lisbon’s revolution. Americans will be reminded of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, which it is modeled after. Lisbon’s bridge currently has the longest central span in Europe.

ART AND ARCHITECTURE: Whether you visit an art museum, the beautiful Belem tower, or the Jeronimos monastery, there is plenty of colorful culture to experience.

SINTRA: a city just outside Lisbon which is considered “the essential day trip” from the city, because of its high concentration of gorgeous castles and mansions. It was the summer retreat area for Lisbon’s royalty. The most famous is the Pena Palace, with high turrets, beautiful domes, and bright pastel colors. You can drive 40 minutes from the city, or take a metro ride lasting about 30 minutes.

FATIMA: a Catholic pilgrimage site about 1 hour north of Lisbon. This is where the Blessed Mother appeared to three children six times in 1917, and demonstrated the miracle of the sun. A huge church is now built on the site of the apparitions, where Mass and Confessions are regularly available in multiple languages.

The above is an excerpt from the book, 'Welcome to Rota.' It was published in 2014 by Lizann Lightfoot.

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