The Great Escape – Lisbon

Like many others, getting away seemed like an escape from jail (metaphorically speaking) – with the days, weeks and months of lockdown having merged into one hazy, stultifying blur. It might sound a bit melodramatic, but I think lock-in got everyone seriously down. TheEye made her last big trip in March 2020 and had to leave Mexico very abruptly because COVID was finally acknowledged in the country and she was on the last plane to London. Very fraught as B.A. seemed to be in some strange denial: no mask wearing, no sanitisers in the loos and the man in the next seat had a bad cold and his sneeze germs were flying everywhere. A miracle I wasn’t infected.

After our flight to Lisbon was cancelled 3 times and it seemed unsure whether we would be going anywhere, we found another route and well-worth persevering –  what a wonderful treat it was to be in the sunshine in a beautiful city.

Lisbon is a city of steep hills. Comfortable shoes are essential. How anyone drives on the narrow cobbled winding streets is a mystery. It is the sister city to San Fransisco, in that respect, and almost as difficult to navigate; the trams don’t help.

The trams don’t help

Picture perfect

The architecture is gracious with Art Nouveau buildings and statues of people you will not have heard of. There are wide boulevards and squares.

Ornate churches with interiors reflecting the wealth of their ancestors.

Nothing understated

Staircase Tile Museum

Tile Museum

TheEye was captivated by tiles on buildings and walls which have a historic association with Portugal. The famous Tile Museum was an education. We (and I include myself) regarded tiles in bathrooms or swimming pools, but the history is fascinating going back to Roman times with images reflecting the religious and domestic life of the day. Pictorial stories in glorious pastel colours and intense blues.

Then there is TheEye‘s favourite museum – The Gulbenkian, the legacy of Calouste Gulbenkian, a reclusive Armenian who came to the city in WW2 and a remarkable and very unique collector.

The Gulbenkian Foundation runs two museums, one housing the founder’s collection of treasure from Ancient Egyptian funeral masks, Assyrian carvings, Greek vases, ancient bibles illustrated in the 1660’s, furniture, tableware from palaces of French kings and Russian czars to French Impressionists and of course the magnificent Lalique JewelsThe collection is held in a low-lying 1960s building set in a peaceful landscaped garden.

Egyptian glass vessel with the Museum garden reflected in the background

Exquisite Rene Lalique hair comb

Murals are serious works of art in Lisbon, but it’s a case of ‘seek and thou shalt find’ (if you are lucky and observant) as many are in nondescript streets enhancing otherwise nondescript buildings. The most spectacular, which few city dwellers, even our taxi driver, have heard of is a collaboration on a three-storey residential block commissioned by a gallery (Underdogs) depicting two women from different cultural backgrounds, their faces merging into each other.    Alexandre Manuel Dias Farto, known as Vhils and L.A. based artist, Shepard Fairey.  One side is carved into the building’s surface creating depth and texture (a technique unique to Vhils) whilst Fairey’s style is more decorative with a palette of red, white and gold. The overall effect is spectacular and a brilliant idea of the enterprising developers.

Mural by Alexandre Manuel Dias Farto (known as Vhils) and Shepherd Fairey

Someone’s watching you – Scary!

Most people make a pilgrimage to Belém, a suburb of Lisbon, in search of one thing – the famous custard tarts (pastéis de Belém) sold at the Antiga Confeitaria. The crispy thin pastries with a rich custard filling are, to many, quite addictive.

Pastéis de Belém at the Antiga Confeitaria  – to many, they can be addictive

One of Lisbon’s great symbols – Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Belem

Belém has an important cathedral, a contemporary art museum and the magnificent Padrão dos Descobrimentos created in 1940 and unveiled in stone and concrete in 1960 on the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, whose statue stands at the prow.  Behind are 33 figures including poets, cartographers and fellow explorers – Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Pedro Alvares Cabral. It’s a pretty impressive sight overhanging the sea.


But the sad truth is that is not what brings the masses to Belém – it all goes back to custard  tarts and maybe a refreshing Piña Colada.

From Lisbon it’s an easy drive (around 45 minutes) to Cascais and Sintra and that will be something to look forward to in TheEye’s next post coming very soon.

Don’t miss it.


  1. Thank you so much Jan. I was due to be in Lisbon this October but I have postponed. Now I know where to go. Terrific

  2. Stuck in Sydney lockdown – I can’t believe I left London, just as it was opening up again to land smack bang into a claustrophobic Aussie shut down – I am totally living vicariously through you. Wonderful photos and observations. Thanks Jan. xxx Love Kathy

  3. So glad for us all that you got there (and back)!

  4. Thank you for this fascinating tour of Lisbon. These days it is so lovely to follow your trips! X

  5. What a wonderful account of this beautiful city. Now keener than ever to visit.

  6. Fascinating tour, with so many interesting revelations for someone who doesn’t know Lisbon – what a wonderful city. Thanks

  7. Hope you’re having a lovely time. We will be filling in your footsteps. Arriving in Lisbon on Sunday. Then Comporta for a few days on the beach. Sending love. Niki & Micky Sacher xx. (PS we also did the Mexico exit after Costa Rica in March 2020 … 😉)

    • We are now in London. please don’t miss the Tile Museum, it’s mind blowingly beautiful but check opening days and times (it closes each day between 12.30 and 2 p.m. we were caught out, very annoying) and take a car and driver for the day and visit Sintra and Cascais (Paula Rego Museum).
      Beware in Comporta of awful mosquitos. Go well prepared. The beach restaurants are excellent but you MUST BOOK in advance. We had a late lunch at 3 p.m. and no dinner. Great fun and great fish. The little town of Comporta is charming and some small, nice boutiques. My Sintra and Cascais post will be out tomorrow.

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