I’d intended to be up really early on Saturday morning as I had a bit of a plan for the day, but it was not to be! By the time I was up, had written my diary and done my morning 15 minute dose of Duolingo, it was five to eleven! And I was going to very much regret not having made an earlier start…
The sky was a pale blue once more as I set off down Avenida Liberdade. I stopped at a little stall and purchased some postcards, placed them in my bag, and jumped on the metro down to Cais do Sodré station – beside the Time Out food market, and where I’d admired a pretty sunset I’d visited the night before.
A bike ride goes slightly wrong
Today I was planning to visit Belém. Historically it was where Lisbon’s docks and shipyards were located. Today it’s a low-rise part of the city filled with parks, plazas and a pleasant path that runs along the banks of the River Targus.
Rather than taking public transport to Belém I decided to hire a bike, as I’d read the ride was scenic and pleasant. A cycle along the riverfront sounded just perfect!
I already had a Lime account, so went up to the nearest e-bike and after managing to untangle it from its neighbours and wrestle it off the ground, I was soon on my way – on the best kind of cycle path – one that was separated completely from other traffic.
Soon I was on my way, leaving the busy city centre behind. It was very chilled! I was just cycling along and gazing at things. Every now and then I’d take a bit of a detour from the cycle path to have a closer look at something that caught my eye – like this amazing mural by Pariz One on the side of the LX Factory complex. Look at it – isn’t it just really cool and amazing!
I’d really love a print of that!
It was all very pleasant, but after about about twenty minutes it all went pear-shaped. The cycle path came to an abrupt end. Where the path ended the road swept under a bridge but I decided to plough on onto the pavement. I should have just gone under the bridge!
Now I was cycling along the pavement beside a terrifyingly busy multi-lane road, with a central reservation completely fenced off and no pedestrian crossings. I could see a really wide walkway by the river, but no way of getting across to it.
The pavement began to narrow but I decided to ride on in the hope that I’d soon come across a crossing.
Very quickly on the deserted pavement I came across two young pedestrians. And one of them told me off for cycling on the pavement! Which is fair enough, as that annoys me at home, but I was still embarrassed. I should have at this point explained I was a tourist, had been on a cycle lane which had just ended and was trying to find a way to cross the road, but obviously didn’t think of that until about twenty minutes later.
With the man not moving to let me pass, I dismounted, turned around and walked back to the pedestrian bridge and gazed up at it thinking I had no other option but to try and lug the bike up the stairs and across the bridge. If you’ve ever rented a Lime e-bike, you’ll know they’re not exactly lightweight – they’re bulky and heavy!
I had just started to lift it up the stairs when a helpful lady pointed out there was a rail laid on to the stairs at the side, for cyclists to take their bike up. Now it would have been easy if it had been a normal bike, but pushing the heavy Lime bike up the stairs – even on the rail was a bit of an effort! She kindly helped pull while I pushed, and between the two of us, we made it. Aren’t some people just nice! I thanked her profusely and got a smile and a ‘de nada’ in return.
Trying to guide the bike down the rail on the other side almost ended in disaster as it threatened to run away from me but eventually I was on my way again, cycling on a much better path along the river. It was a really nice, wide, walkway filled with people and families just out for a walk or a bike ride.
I passed the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology which I wanted to visit – it was just a very cool looking building, and also this – which I thought looked very communist era Soviet style – monument.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument of the Discoveries was designed in 1940 but actually only built in 1960 for celebrations marking 500 years since the death of Henry the Navigator. He was a central figure in Portugal’s empire and marine discoveries. While a represenation of Henry is placed at the front, overlooking the river, figures either side depict other characters from Portugal’s era of discovery. At 52 metres high, it’s a pretty imposing sight.
Almost an hour after I’d hired the bike, I finally arrived near my first destination of the day. The charge for the bike turned out to be €16,32 – so just over £14 at the then exchange rate which I felt was really pretty steep! I’d have been much cheaper in an Uber and would have avoided the whole take-your-bike-up-stairs-and-across-a-bridge experience, although I guess I would haven’t seen nearly as much. Still it felt pricey!
A dramatic tower
Just a short stroll through a small park brought me to my first stop of the day in Belém. There was a small ticket building, with a man walking around behind the counter but signs up around the building said that ticket sales had been suspended. I really couldn’t work out what was going on and there were lots of other people standing around looking confused too. In the end I just decided to go online and use my phone to buy a ticket for the Tower of Belém.
A World Heritage Site, the tower itself isn’t that spectacular, in that it’s not enormous or anything. But what I think makes it stand out is that it’s on the waterfront, as opposed to a hill, and is entered via a wooden walkway. Combine all that and it’s a pretty impressive site, as I tried to capture in my photos.
The tower was built in the between 1514 and 1519 as part of a system to defend Lisbon from enemy ships. While the tower in its setting was impressive, I’ll tell you what wasn’t! And that was the queue.
The queue to enter the tower was ENORMOUS. It curved right around the small bay the tower was situated in. With nothing for it, I joined it and waited… and waited… and waited. It was painful. I was rueing not getting up earlier. I stood watching pairs of people leave the tower every couple of minutes while the security men at the head of the queue waited and then let a dribble of people enter every ten minutes or so.
I waited some more… then some more… then some more and was literally bored out of my mind! A man joined the queue in front of me saying he’d been in front of me earlier and had just taken a seat. I was like hmmmm…. as I have ZERO TIME for queue skippers! But I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Eventually I got to the front of the queue – more than an HOUR AND TWENTY minutes after I’d joined it! Thank god. My advice if you are visiting the tower is get there early. Seriously you do not want to be standing in that queue for long. And if it was like that in mid-November, I can only imagine what it’s like in peak tourist season!
Finally I was walking along the boardwalk to enter the tower. From there, the fact that the tower isn’t enormous actually made it a bit more interesting and exciting.
I was ready to give up by this point but waited to climb stairs and explore. The first level brought you out to an area which for some reason made me feel like I was on a big chessboard.
See what I mean?
Climbing another flight took you on to a small veranda…
I’m sure you’re wondering by now “well but what was the inside like”! What was in there? The answer is absolutely nothing!
Here’s one room….
Nada! While on the ground floor was a series of cannons pointing out windows…
And that was it.
Would I wait for an hour and twenty minutes to visit the Tower of Belém again? No. To be honest the best views are from the outside. There’s a bit of a novelty in walking across the boardwalk, and I guess you are stepping inside a building that’s been there for more than 500 years, but apart from that there is really nothing to see. So I was a bit “hmmmm…” when I left. Although there was a bit of satisfaction from gazing at the end of the queue still snaking around the bay lols!
From an ancient building to contemporary art
I crossed the busy road (pedestrian bridge) and walked along a little street which seemed to be Belém’s main thoroughfare towards a little homeware shop I’d read about. As I approached it I caught site of what is probably Belém’s main tourist attraction – the Mosteiro Dos Jerónimos, or the Cloister of Jeronimos Monastery, just along the road.
It did look pretty impressive but I’d decided to give it a swerve as I didn’t want to spend all my time in Lisbon just going around old buildings. And after my tower experience I’d had my fill of ancient monuments for the day!
There was nothing inside the home store for me, but there was a little café next door so feeling a little peckish, and with it being lunchtime, I nipped in.
I had a little empanada and an americano which I thought would keep me going for a while – by now it was already 2pm, but I wasn’t hungry enough for a full lunch.
The shop and café were both in a little strip outside a large contemporary art museum. My plan for the day had been to head back to the riverside Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology that I’d cycled past earlier, but as I did a bit of googling while I had my coffee, I read the contemporary art museum’s collection was pretty impressive. In the end I decided that I could check it out and perhaps still have time to head back to MART.
I got pretty confused reading about the art museum. I kept finding references to two different modern art collections in Belém which seemed to be in the same location. One was the Museu Colecção Berardo and the other the “Contemporary Art Museum – Centro Cultural de Belém”. I couldn’t work out if they were in the same building, different buildings or what the story was.
I headed towards the building, and stepped inside the impressive lobby space.
The lady behind the reception desk was really friendly and explained that the name of the museum had actually recently changed. Doing a bit of reading it appears a man called José Berardo loaned art from his collection to the Cultural Centre of Belém which then was able to display them. But the collection was seized by the state in 2019 after Berardo failed to pay banks more than $1 billion in debt he owned. So in 2023, the collection became part of the new Museum of Contemporary Art held in the Belém Cultural Centre.
Still with me? Good! Just wanted to clear that up! I’ve since discovered the Museum of Contemporary Art only opened at the end of October 2023. I was visiting literally two weeks afterwards. My ticket was €10.
After a morning of standing around a cold bay staring at the same tower for an hour and a half, being inside a modern, white-walled building was a refreshing experience, and I was keen to explore the galleries.
I’m by no means an expert on art, but I was looking forward to walking around and admiring works by what read like a who’s who of famous contemporary artists. The museum holds works by the likes of Picasso, man Ray, Salvador Dalí, Jackson Pollock, Warhol and one of my favourites, Roy Lichtenstein.
I headed up to the 2nd floor and started to make my way around the exhibits.
What I really liked about the museum was how, rather than just randomly displaying works, the collection had been arranged chronologically and split into the different artistic movements that had developed over time. So the displays started with works from the beginning of the 20th Century, beginning with Cubism, then moved into Constructivism and so on. Now I’m not going to pretend I can tell you what Constructivism is or even what it looks like. But as you went from works from one movement to another, displays gave information about what the movement was, and how it started. So for someone like me it was perfect. You could kind of gain an understanding of how a movement started, and also then see how one movement developed into another.
You could also see how world events like wars or recessions or political movements were reflected in the way artists were working. The explanatory words in the displays really added some value as opposed to just letting visitors wander around staring at the art.
I’m just going to put some of my favourites down here.
First was this photograph from a Russian artist in the 1930s which I thought was a bit creepy as I always find communist-era Russian art to be!
I liked this Mondrian which reminded me of L’Oreal shampoo packaging for some reason.
And though they also had a lobster telephone I thought this Man Ray was pretty amazing. The painting held a speaker which I think would have been pretty groundbreaking at the time!
I loved the colours in this work by British artist Kenneth Martin from the 1970s…
.. and I’m a total sucker for anything in Klein blue….
There was a brightly coloured Warhol…
… and I loved this living room print by Lichtenstein.
I’ve loved Roy Lichtenstein’s work since I was a teenager so it was a bit depressing recently to read accusations he’d plagarised works from comics. I think those refer to his works with speech bubbles so the work is presumably all his own?
It was so chilled out just walking around the galleries and gazing at the creativity of all these famous artists. I literally forgot about anything else as I just walked from room to room soaking it all up and just thinking about what might have inspired them.
I made my way down the artistic staircase… and into the basement where there were bigger galleries with sculptures as well as works on the wall.
As I looked at some of the pieces I just thought “how on earth would you think to paint that?” – like this work which was two people filling a jerry can from a tap which is actually painted on a mirror…
Some of the work was pretty sobering too. In one room was a work called 364 Suisses Morts, which gathered 364 different portraits of people clipped from death announcements in newspapers.
As I carried on walking around the galleries I kind of got so wrapped up in art that when I walked around the corner and saw this coffee machine next to a print I was like hang on er is this art? for a minute.
It actually was a coffee machine!
There was a small exhibition on drawing which was pretty amazing – I liked this…
While look at how intricate this is!
I also loved that there was a massive sculpture of 48 bales of hay with – somewhere in there – one gold needle. I couldn’t find it!
There was also a temporary exhibit by an artist which included a room full of animal skins cast in wax and lying on pallets…
It gave me the heebie-jeebies!
I’d spent an hour and a half exploring the MAC – or Museu de Art Conteporânea. If you find yourself in Lisbon I really would recommend it – even if you don’t have much of an interest in art, it does really make you think a bit differently. I also found it inspiring, and learned a lot – which is why I loved it so much!
A weird detour
One thing that taking all these photos and surfing the web in the queue for the tower had done was reduce my phone battery down to practically zero. And I was beginning to get a bit of battery anxiety. How would I work out how to get anywhere without Maps on my phone! How would I get back to the hotel? I reckon I would have been alright in the centre of town – I’d just ask someone – but I was a good bit out of the centre now, and had no idea about how to get – well – anywhere really.
I’d left my power bank at the hotel after forgetting to charge it, and my phone was now showing around 9% left. And seemed to be rapidly draining.
I decided I’d go and buy a bigger, more substantial powerbank and did a quick Google (mindful of trying not to use my phone too much) to see where I could get one that was relatively nearby. I googled “big fnac stores” and eventually worked out I could get to one in a shopping centre by taking just one bus from the museum. If the juice in my phone didn’t last long enough to tell me which stop to get off at I figured I’d be able to tell when the bus had pulled up outside the shopping centre just by sight and by memorising roughly what time it was due to arrive at the centre.
So off I headed. I got to the bus stop literally just two minutes before the bus arrived, hopped on and sat down for the roughly 45 minute ride. 45 minutes!
Trying (again) not to use my phone I just gazed out the window as we passed through residential streets and suburbs. It was actually pretty interesting just gazing at the bits of Lisbon that as a tourist you’d never normally visit. Small restaurants and shops all sped by.
Eventually we pulled up just outside the Colombo (shopping) Centre – miraculously just as my ‘phone died!
WHAT A PLACE! As I walked in I was like “ooh!” And “oh!” I was actually very pleased I’d made the trip as the centre was absolutely massive – like a (very confusing as there are no windows anywhere so you can’t work out where you are) enormous temple to consumerism.
First stop was fnac. God I love that shop!
I wandered around the music and electronics section before settling on an almost brick sized powerbank and joining the queue (frustratingly not one of the self service checkouts available seemed to work properly).
Spotting a tax-free sign I asked the lady behind the counter if my purchase would qualify – yes was the answer! She just needed to see my passport. Ah – “I don’t have it with me,” I explained. “Do you have a photo of it?” she replied. “Yes but it’s on my phone! Which is dead!” was my reply.
The lady was literally so helpful. Rather than just shrug her shoulders, she explained that once my phone had charged I could take my receipt to another counter, show it and the scan of my passport to the member of staff, and they would sort all the paperwork for me. Result! And so friendly and helpful.
I went to the small, sadly slightly lacklustre fnac café in the middle of the store and had an americano and little pastry as I tore open the battery packaging and started to charge my phone. Before long it was all fired up, and after a quick wait at Customer Services (and what seemed to be ten minutes of solid typing by the poor lady) I had the paperwork to claim the tax back too!
I had more of a look around fnac, picked up some goods on behalf of someone else, and noted they’ve even got a reading room for people who have just picked up a book.
I so wish they’d open branches over here!
I was also sorely tempted to purchase this!
After a really long look around there, I headed off to explore the rest of the mall. It was absolutely enormous.
I found a great home store on three levels called Area which had a mix of pretty cheap and not so cheap stuff…
A big electronics store called Worten…
And an absolutely ENORMOUS supermarket called Continente.
I had a quick look in there, and it was pretty jazzy! They had loads and loads of salt cod..
And a massive aisle of crisps which even had video displays running along the top!
I had a good wander around the rest of the mall, occasionally losing my bearings before heading to the metro.
It hadn’t really been a planned stop on my day visiting a random shopping centre in the ‘burbs but actually I’d really enjoyed just moseying around! (Moseying isn’t a word you hear very often anymore is it?)
My first Portuguese you-know-what!
A quick trip on the metro whisked me back into downtown Lisbon and I decided that for dinner, I needed something quick and easy. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know where this is heading! Just a six or seven minute stroll from my hotel was a McDonald’s – so I decided that was exactly what I needed.
Ordering from touch screens has thankfully made things a bit easier when ordering McDonald’s abroad. I flicked through the options and was surprised by one of the dips on offer.
What is potato sauce! Is it sauce made of potatoes or just sauce for potatoes?!
The whole counter area was a bit chaotic unfortunately – a well oiled machine this McDonald’s was not! As someone that spent a fair bit of time as a manager in a McDonald’s store I could see orders piling up ready to be given out, but only one very slow moving member of staff actually handing them over, meaning food was going cold quickly.
After not too long a wait for my food I headed upstairs. The signs weren’t great to be honest! My fry packet wasn’t full and the fries looked limp and soggy.
I’d ordered the Maestro Ovo Benedict – a burger with an egg on it and hollandaise sauce. Look at this!
(Sad face.) Definitely not what it looked like on the menu board / screens! It was limp, curled and rather sad looking. It wasn’t particularly warm either.
I ate it all anyway – and washed it down with a McFlurry Caja Roja – Caja Roja being a brand of boxed chocolates. It was all very ‘meh’ and really disappointing! I think I’d have had a better experience in a non-city centre location, but after managing to wait a couple of days in to my trip before making my traditional McDonald’s visit, it was all a bit of a letdown!
Back at the hotel, I sat downstairs in the lobby and wrote my diary before checking out my itinerary for the following day and doing my evening Duolingo sesh.
My trip to Belém hadn’t exactly gone to plan, and overall I felt I hadn’t really seen or done that much on my fourth day in Lisbon. I’d also not made it to MAAT – that amazing building on the riverfront, that I’d had on my list for weeks. But then, I reflected, it hadn’t been that bad a day – I’d been to an amazing art gallery and spent an enjoyable couple of hours at the shops, so all in all it had maybe just been the slower kind of day I needed.
Tomorrow would be much less relaxing!