“There are hills everywhere, even on the pavement,” noticed Jonathan as we headed off in search of the Hard Rock cafe late last night. He was referring to the limestone mosaic walkways lining the Lisbon streets that had a certain quirky undulation to them. On the way to cocktails they were just about navigable in trainers. We were not so sure about the return journey.
We had arrived in a pleasantly mild Lisbon just after 9pm so missed the last aerobus service into the city. In the time it took me to consider the metro option, Jonathan had downloaded the Uber app and had Peugeot driving Antonio on his way to us in two minutes. You can gather a lot about a city from its taxi drivers; ours was a cheap, nippy and clever drive who got us through Christmas lit city streets to our hotel doorman in 15 minutes for 10 euros.
The pasteis de nata (custard tarts) and bottle of port found in our room as a welcome gift were a surprising and perfect stop gap as we regrouped before heading off for a late supper.
Portugal is definitely the location of choice to spend any birthday that occurs on December 1st as it coincides with Independence Day. With roads closed, red carpets, massed bands and saluting police I loved being part of a national celebration and city party.
Lisbon is also the place for a hill loving walker. Like Rome, it sits on 7 hills and provides a beautiful rolling vista of multicoloured pastel walls under terracotta roofs.
Buildings jostle for space, expecially in the old quarter of Alfama where handshake balconies display plants and washing over narrow winding streets. It is a joy to explore, with alleys and ginnels and steep breathe in stairways diving off in tantalising directions.
Of course we needed a summit to conquer so the 11 towered Castelo de São Jorge made sense as a suitable target.
I was intrigued to find that the castle is dedicated to Saint George, the patron saint of England, as a result of a wedding gift. King Afonso Henriques presented the castle to his English wife, Philippa of Lancaster, in 1387. As the Portuguese seat of power at the time, I am wondering exactly who he was buttering up and how Philippa responded.
The all encompassing views from the battlements and steep access roads highlight it’s impregnability. Only earthquakes have laid it to waste in its long history, despite the best attempts of the Spanish.
Which brings me back to Independence Day. The Portuguese were ruled by Spain ftom 1580 but, after a turbulent 60 years, decided to break free under the leadership of Joao, Duke of Braganca. Taxes and involvement in Spanish disputes were to blame. However, the Portuguese Restoration War then took 28 years before independence was finally realised in 1668.
And we think the Brexit wrangles are taking a while.
Independence has its place but I’m more a fan of dependant birthdays. Life tastes good when done together. Walks, views, cocktails and cake are so much better when shared and time with my boy is the proverbial icing.
But then he’ll do anything for food in warm sunshine.