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A few days in Lisbon

November 21, 2011

My Twitter followers will know that my general lack of blogging over the last few months has resulted from my attendance at two work conferences. The second of these was a meeting of a subgroup of the European Space Agency held in Lisbon. I shan’t go in to the science in great deal, rather just show you how awesomely pretty ocean colour satellite products are:

The meeting was very productive and my colleague Marie and I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to discuss our work with a well represented international community of scientists. After the meeting we managed to get a few days holiday in before making the long journey back to Cape Town.

During the meeting we stayed at the VIP executive arts hotel near the Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) – a relatively new part of Lisbon which hosted the Expo 98. The highlight of this area has to be the aquarium, which should definitely be on any itinerary for Lisbon. The main exhibit has a large tank at its centre, containing many shark species and even a beautiful manta ray. This main tank is always in view as you circle around the upper and lower floors passing through sections dedicated to the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans. In this way you feel constantly surrounded by ocean and the exhibits are very well constructed to take full advantage of this. Penguins, sea otters and weedy sea dragons were some of the highlights, as well as the rescued sea turtles who swam under our feet in the temporary exhibit.

We managed to tag a few days on to our work trip to do some sightseeing and I think we managed to fit in most of the highlights proving that Lisbon would be a perfect weekend getaway for those of you in Europe. We navigated the fantastically efficient public transport system from the outskirts to the heart of the old city to stay at Equity Point Hostel. With rooms from 12 euros a night including breakfast this hostel is a bargain and is also perfectly equipped for your average backpacker – free wifi, cheap bar, well equipped kitchen – I just can’t rate it highly enough in terms of value for money.

As I said the public transport system in brilliant and in fact, an attraction in itself! You can buy a day ticket for 4.60 euros which allows unlimited journeys on the metro, busses, trams and furniculars.

This is particularly useful as Lisbon is also know as the “city of seven hills”! We took one of the old trams up to the Castle of St George. Despite getting lost and told several times how pretty our eyes were by a number of portugese men – we eventually found the castle and spent an afternoon exploring and enjoying the views. An added bonus of many attractions in Lisbon is their student prices – the castle offered a significant reduction in costs for concessions – including foreign students.

Like most European cities, there’s plenty to occupy you just walking around the city. The array of tile patterns, the interesting architecture and winding streets should be enough to impress anyone.

There’s a great array of shops and restaurants although personally I wasn’t overly impressed with the food. One exception to this is the bakeries. If you like pastry, cheese, custard and bacon, you’ll love Lisbon.

To see the best example of these delights, you can take the modern tram or one of the busses out to Belem and visit Pasteis de Belem for some pasties de natas amongst other overly indulgent treats.

We also got to try some other local delights during our lovely conference dinner – including risotto made with bacalhau (salt cod). The local vinho verde (green wine) is also very nice and very well priced.

If you’re on a budget, the museums and parks make a good choice to visit. On sundays the museums are free and we had a packed morning trying to see everything the science museum had to offer including dinosaur and mineral exhibits, an old chemistry lab and an awesome natural science photography exhibition. We also visited the botanical gardens and butterfly house next door – a nice way to relax!

All in all Lisbon makes a great weekend escape for those in Europe with access to cheap flights, or an essential part of any european trip.

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