Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lisbon, The first capital of the global village

Lisbon is reawakening. The words "new" and "cool" haven't really been associated with this city since the 16th century when it ruled over the world's first global empire, extending from Brazil to India. Vasco da Gama's expedition to the East brought it cultures and a touch of the exotic that Europe had never seen before -- spices (cinnamon, pepper, ginger), foods (potatoes, pineapples, tea) and animals such as the elephant and rhinoceros that paraded by the city's waterfront. When the glory days of trade and discovery were over, Lisbon fell victim to one of the most destructive earthquakes ever recorded, and remained dormant ever since. The kiss that awoke the "princess by the Tagus" came during Expo 98, the last world fair of the 20th century. The Expo site became a new neighborhood with futuristic architecture, riverfront warehouses were converted into clubs and restaurants, its narrow cobbled lanes were invaded by caipirinha-holding young crowds enjoying a typically-warm night out, new boutique hotels and contemporary-design hostels opened in renovated old buildings, and an energized artistic scene brought it a renewed sense of confidence. 

 But what hasn't changed are the breathtaking views from its hills which arguably make Lisbon Europe's most scenic capital. Add its trademark mosaic pavements, dilapidated pastel-colored or tile-covered buildings, iconic turn-of-the-century trams, melancholic Fado music, and you also have one of the world's most soulful cities. In fact, Lisbon's unpolished appearance actually provides a seductive atmosphere all of its own, and prevents it from ever being just another bland old city.

 Top 10 Sights and Attractions
  1. Jeronimos Monastery's cloisters and Vasco da Gama tomb.
  2. Belem Tower and views of the Tagus River from its loggia.
  3. Gulbenkian Museum's art and gardens.
  4. Berardo Museum's modern art.
  5. Oceanarium and surrounding PARQUE DAS NAÇÕES architecture.
  6. ST. GEORGE'S CASTLE and nearby views over medieval ALFAMA.
  7. BAIRRO ALTO bar-hop and clubbing by the river.
  8. Treasures from the Age of Discovery and European masterpieces at the Ancient Art Museum.
  9. A late-afternoon drink or snack at a riverfront cafe or restaurant, or at the docks warehouses under 25 DE ABRIL BRIDGE.
  10. A daytrip to the palaces of SINTRA.
Hotel Bookings Look for the hotel or hostel that best matches your budget, type of trip or personality. Here you can guarantee a room but you do NOT pay anything at the time of booking. Payments are only made at the hotel and there are no booking fees. Most hotels allow cancellations with no penalty if done up to 24 or 48 hours in advance. You'll see that information at the time of booking and again in the confirmation email.  

RestaurantsEating and Drinking Dinner time in Lisbon is always after 8PM and often after 9 or 10PM on weekends. Eating out is quite cheap when compared to other Western European capitals, and a wide range of restaurants are clustered in the Bairro Alto neighborhood. Tourist-friendly options with local and international cuisine are found in the pedestrian Rua das Portas de Santo Antão downtown, and by the marina Docas de Santo Amaro with tables outside with wonderful views.
Check if the international luxury brands have any special offerings in their Lisbon shops down Avenida da Liberdade and Rua Garrett. Go for something different at the trendy and funky boutiques with retro and urban wear in Rua do Norte, and look for the sophisticated independent shops down Rua Dom Pedro V in the Principe Real neighborhood. Finally, find some extraordinary old shops filled with charm in Chiado and get some design ideas in Santos.



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