A Weekend in Lisbon

If I am to describe Lisbon in one word, it would be “antiquated”. Although that usually has negative connotations I mean it in more an affectionate manner.

Nothing really looks new or clean and if it did, it would probably be out of place.  There is a discernible sense of faded grandeur about the place. Many buildings looked in need of a lick of paint and a clean up.

That is not to say I wouldn’t recommend it though. Some of my personal highlights:

Lisbon is renowned for its old trams. They are  small and quaint and it feels like you are in a moving museum however they are used by locals and  tourists alike to navigate the undulating landscape. Tram 28 is one of the best known. I took it from near the castle up to its terminus near the Jardim da Estrela. Its a great way to see the city and certainly a novelty.

There are a number of viewing points throughout the city but the view from Castelo de Sao Jorge is probably the best.

Looking back across the city from Castelo de Sao Jorge:

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The view from the Hotel Chiado terrace as the sun sets on Castelo de Sao Jorge:

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Just outside Lisbon, the Belem Tower can be easily reached by bus:

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The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is also close by:

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 A little further out, Cascais is situated about 40 km to north west of Lisbon. There is a frequent train service linking it to Lisbon. The one way fare is the princely sum of €2.15. A nice way to spend an afternoon is to walk along the promenade from Cascais back to Estoril. Its a nice stretch along the seafront. You can then get the train back to Lisbon from Estoril.
The bay in Cascais:
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The Estoril coastline:

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Another town within easy reach of Lisbon is Sintra. I didn’t visit it on this trip but it’s supposed to be  particularly beautiful.

Bairra Alto is the hub of the nightlife where you can find all the main bars and restaurants. It only livens up around 11 where the narrow streets become crowded and there is a good buzz with everyone standing outside drinking and chatting.

Grapes and Bites is both a hostel and the restaurant located in Bairra Alto. They have an excellent selection of local wines and ports. They also have live music most nights. Mostly covers on acoustic guitar but the evening I visited was particularly good. Everything from Layla to Californication with an original twist!

 A few other things:

A little off putting is the sheer volume of guys trying to sell drugs. “Psssh hash, cocaine, marijuana” is a consistent refrain. They obviously think that every guy in his mid twenties is mad to buy drugs! Despite this, there was no sense of unease  or danger around.

In general, I was not blown away by the standard of the food. There were plenty of nice places but nothing which I would be rushing back for. That said nothing is particularly expensive either.

I was taken aback by the amount of Germans I encountered. Over the few days I was there, it was very noticeable the amount of German accents I heard in a number of the different sites. Interesting!

The weather was very pleasant. Most of the time it was cloudy but no proper rain and nice spells of sunshine.  Considering it was mid October, it was great to be able to wear shorts and t-shirts throughout. Even at night it was not particularly cold.

Lisbon is a hilly cobblestoned city. Bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes.

There is an excellent public transport system. A 24 hour ticket for the bus/tram/metro costs €6. This is very good when compared to most cities. Alternatively you can pay a once off fare of 50 cent for a reusable card where each (metro not sure about bus/tram) trip will cost €1.40.

The airport is also just over a half an hour from the city centre on the metro which is particularly convenient.

5 Things to do for Free in Berlin

Some minimal cost may be involved but nearly free doesn’t have the same ring to it.

1. Do a Walking Tour

There are a number of free walking tours available. Most visit in the main sites and take about 3 hours. It is generally practice to offer the tour guide a tip based on how much you have enjoyed the tour. I would generally give €5-€10. The good thing about these tours is that you will be brought to the main sights which you’ll probably want to see anyway and you might learn something along the way.
2. Visit the East Side Gallery

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Apart from the part of the Berlin Wall adjacent to the Topography of Terror is located, this is probably the best remaining example of the wall. There are murals with various  themes along both sides. It also isn’t a crazy busy place and there’s a nice little park along by the river. The area of Friedrichshain a short walk away contains many nice bars and cafes and is worth a look around.
3. Visit the Holocaust Memorial & Topography of Terrors

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These two are certainly not the most uplifting attractions to visit but are excellent in their own way.
Firstly, the memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust is certainly appropriate and profound in a number of ways. The way it looks like a graveyard, the distorted effect of walking through it as well as the individual but orderly fashion in which each stone is placed. There is also a museum underground where you can learn more about the various Concentration Camps and the way Nazis systematically murdered so many people.
Secondly, the Topography of Terror details  the rise of the SS and the way that they operated their campaign of oppression and control whilst occupying countries during the war as well their role in the Holocaust. What most fascinated me was the details of how prominent Nazis fared once the war had ended and how some were allowed to lead relative normal lives without repercussions.
Most people feel a bit shit after visiting one or both of these places but we must never forget!
4. Drink in Public
Ok so you will actually have to buy a beer somewhere first, but it can be quite refreshing to stroll around and see Berlin with camera in one hand and bottle in the other. This option works well with 1. & 2. but don’t even think about doing it with 3.
5. Visit the Reichstag

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Although the politically correct name is the Bundestag. All the locals refer to it as the Bundestag. This is the big building near the Brandenburg Gate where the German Parliament sits. Entry is free although it is advisable that you book ahead of time on their website www.bundestag.de

The Barn

It can often be difficult to get really great coffee, particularly in a city which you are less than familiar with, not even mentioning the merciless bombardment by Starbucks this and Costa that.  Thankfully, Berlin has an abundance of people who value quality coffee and plenty of coffee connoisseurs to meet that demand.

Situated a little bit away from the main thoroughfares on Auguststrasse, The Barn is a compact little coffee shop whose owners offer an authentic “third-wave” experience. I went there mainly because it was close to where I was staying. But as soon as I got arrived, it was clear that these guys meant business. When you see the freshly roasted coffee on the shelves, it’s always a good sign.

They also have a second location which is used primarily  as their roastery and they host events there also. There was a talk by James Hoffmann of Squaremile Coffee Roasters on the same day. Unfortunately I didn’t make it but it clearly shows the approach of  “The Barn” to their craft.

As far the coffee itself, it was fantastic. From the first sip, there was smoothness and delicate flavours coming through.  A good flat white is hard to beat and this was up there.  Particularly when you get the aftertaste and caffeine buzz later.

Although not spacious inside, sitting outside it was the kind of place where you could go in for a quick espresso and spend the day there reading or watching the world go by.

 

Burgermeister

Situated in a disused Kreuzberg public toilet, Burgermeister certainly captures the quirkiness and vibe that defines Berlin. We arrived on a Tuesday evening and already there was a queue of about 15/20 people waiting to order.

As my friend waited in line, not being one to enjoy a queue, I hopped into the nearest bar, picking up a couple of takeaway (€2) pints. Drinking in public seems like such a novelty to someone who normally resides in Dublin.

Once we got in sight of the menu, I did a double take when I saw the prices. All (or nearly all) burgers were under €5, with sides available for just over €2.

I went for the Hausmeister and my friend had the Meisterburger along with two sides of chilli chips. Each burger was generous in size and cooked to perfection with enough juiciness present.  The buns were also just on the fluffy side which shows the attention the guys at Burgermeister put into each meal. The chips were unexceptional but certainly didn’t take from the enjoyment of the burger.

This place already has an excellent reputation,  and when I mentioned it to few locals, they recommended it whilst quickly insisting not to tell anyone. Go there!