On my travels: Lisbon
In April 2014 I took some time away from my usual surroundings in the New Forest to make a short trip to Lisbon, a city I’ve long wanted to visit. It’s sometimes referred to as the “City of White Light” and I’ve seen enough images from my friends, fellow photographers and Lisbon residents João Almeida and Ruben Vicente to make me want to experience its culture and people for myself.
I was able to catch up with João and Ruben for dinner on my first night in the city and pore over maps of the different districts with them to identify some of the most interesting spots away from the main tourist areas. Priceless advice!
The downtown area of Lisbon holds plenty of interest, even if some of the grandest squares are just another place to hang out and relax for some locals!
But for me the real jewels were the more intimate areas of three other districts: Alfama, Bica and Belem. Looking down on Alfama from the Miradouro das Portas do Sol gives an indication of the random jumble of tiny streets that makes up the Moorish part of the city.
It was just down the road from here that I made my favourite image from the trip, of a young female street musician, playing for the odd euro proffered by passing tourists. She had a real presence, a mixture of tenderness and street-smartness that really appealed to me.
On the other side of the downtown area lies a second hill offering great views of the city. This is Bairro Alto, a different vibe to Alfama, busier, more contemporary, but still with quiet spots where you can admire stunning views of the city. White Light indeed!
A little further west lies Bica, a working-class area but nonetheless stunning to photograph. And steep! Nothing much in Lisbon is level ground, but Bica is one of the areas where you definitely make use of the small funicular trams that climb the toughest gradients.
Again it was the tiny backstreets, devoid of tourists (or those hassling them) where I felt most at home in Lisbon. Bica more than matched Alfama for its character and colour. Most of the streets seemed so small that I didn’t think anyone could drive along them, which made it all the more exciting when I saw people attempt it!
On our final day we headed out of central Lisbon via a suburban train to Belem, a more outlying area but famous as the departure point for Portuguese seafarers during their unparalleled period of global exploration.
Belem is not perhaps as pretty an area overall, but it is definitely worth a visit with a number of fascinating places in close proximity. The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is most famous (but, travellers take note, closed on Mondays!). We made up for that with an extended lunch at Pasteis de Belem, a local bakery and restaurant which features world-famous Potuguese custard tarts, before walking them off through the area’s pretty parks and gardens.
We finished up at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a monument to Magellan, Da Gama and the other legendary Portuguese explorers. As a traveller myself, I thought it was a fitting tribute to these great pioneers and the views from the top of the 150ft monument across the city are absolutely worth the price of admission (even if it was a slightly grey day).
I can’t recommend Lisbon highly enough as a great place to visit for street and travel photography, it’s easy to get around, has plenty of variety and above all the people are lovely. Put it on your list!