Lisbon, Portugal

The very funky hallway of our hotel.

I can;t believe that it's taken me a month to get to this post. It's been a busy time. I was in Portugal the last week of May for a big trade show that we do every year. Geospatial World Forum is usually a pretty good event for us, and this year it was in Lisbon. I really like Lisbon - this was my 4th or 5th trip to that city - and was excited to get back. 

The conference was being held at the main conference center, which is a fair ways from the main part of the city. Our hotel was not very close by, and was in the business district, which wasn't very well suited. The hotel was nice - the hallways were very funky - despite the location. I arrived on Monday afternoon, and missed the first day set-up for the trade show. I was speaking at the event on the Thursday, but most of my time was going to be at the booth, and talking with customers and partners. I had a meeting planned on the Friday as well with one of our Japanese partners that was also at the event.

Our hotel was close to the bull fighting ring.

Monday night the team had dinner at a local restaurant, then called it a night. I went out for a short walk, and discovered that the hotel was close to Lisbon's bull fighting ring. These are always very cool buildings, and this one was no exception. There was a whole shopping mall underneath it, so I stopped at the grocery store and picked up water, snacks and such for the week. The Portuguese don't kill the bulls in their bullfights, which is a little better than the Spanish. The next event wasn't until the week later, so no chance to check it out.   

Tuesday morning I got up a bit early and went for a run. As I didn't know the area very well, I ended up getting lost and going a bit further than planned. I learned about the "wayfinder" feature on my new running watch - it tells you the direction and distance back to your starting point. It was very handy. :-)

My run took me down and past the very beautiful Parque Eduardo VII. Its name pays homage to Edward VII of the United Kingdom who visited Portugal in 1902 to strengthen the relations between the two countries. This was a familiar landmark, and gave me a bit of a sense as to where the hotel was relative to some landmarks I did know. It's a beautiful spot, with views down over the old city and the Tagus River at the bottom of the long hill.


Eduardo VII Park with Lisbon and the Tagus river in the background

Ponte 25 de Abril from below, with the Santuario Nacional de Cristo Rei

Tuesday was a pretty uneventful day at the show. The day passed without much happening, other than the usual discussions with customers, catching up with some people I have met at previous events, and trying to stay on top of things going on back in the office.

At the end of the day, the group of us walked over to an area that has a number of restaurants, right on the water and under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. Its a very nice spot - a bit touristy - but easy to find food, and the views over the little harbour are nice.

We had a nice meal, and enjoyed the warm afternoon. In addition to the bridge, you can see the Santuario Nacional de Cristo Rei (Christ the King statue), which is a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ overlooking the city of Lisbon in the central part of Portugal. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited that monument.

The Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and the small harbour near the restaurants.

After dinner, we cabbed it back to the hotel, and called it a night. We still had a couple of long days ahead of us at the conference. And I had a presentation to put together and review.

Wednesday morning I went for another run. I got a little less lost this time around, but still needed some assistance finding my way back. Ah well. There is a lot of very cool "graffiti" art everywhere around Lisbon. I ended up stopping to take some pictures of a couple of them.

Wednesday night, a few of us decided to head into the old city to have dinner and explore. There were four of us, and we started out in Figueira Square, the main square near the main train station (Rossio) in the heart of the city. Throughout the city, there were these beautiful purple flowers on the trees. It made the square look amazing.

  Figueira Square

Figueira Square

We wandered about the square for a little while, before starting to explore the city. Lisbon has some serious hills, and as I had been here before, I took the lead. We headed up the hill to the Jardim de São Pedro de Alcântara - Jardim António Nobre. The Garden of San Pedro de Alcantara was built in 1864, in two terraces. It is located in San Pedro de Alcantara Street , near Bairro Alto. The garden has a small pond and gazebo , and offers stunning views of the east of Lisbon. The view looks over the Baixa district of Lisbon and the southern margin of the Tagus river.

Garden of San Pedro de Alcantara, and views over Lisbon

The art and architecture in Lisbon are amazing. As you walk through the old part of the city, you get to see some amazing buildings. They use a lot of tile in Portugal, and some of the older building are spectacular. There's also a lot of iron work on the buildings, and marble and bright colors everywhere.

 One of Lisbon's signature sights - a funicular that helps people up the steep city streets.

One of Lisbon's signature sights - a funicular that helps people up the steep city streets.

A panoramic view across the city.

After wandering for a couple of hours, we made our way back to to the same area we had started in, and found a place to have dinner that worked for everyone. It was a bit touristy for my like, but the food was good, and we all needed a bit of a break. After dinner we found a cab back to the hotel, and called it a night.

Thursday was my day to present. It was only a short 20 minute presentation, but I had a good sized crowd and they seemed to appreciate the material. It actually generated more traffic to our boot than all of the rest of the days combined. Thursday was actually a bit of a short day, with the trade show part of the event wrapping up in the early afternoon.

Given the extra time that we had, Tim and I, who both like to take photos, decided to take off on our own to explore the city a bit more, and to take some photos. We were to meet up with Michele and Gordana later in the evening for dinner.

Figueira Square, the starting point once again for some exploration.


As it had served us well the day before, Tim and I started out at Figueira Square. There was lots to explore and take pictures of in the Square, without the worry of non-photographers getting bored. The picture to the right is a detail of one of the many sculptures on the fountain.

Out from the Square, we wandered some of the narrow shopping streets, and I was happy to find a couple of wine shops that had amazing port collections. I would have liked to have bought some, but the thought of carrying around bottles of alcohol all afternoon didn't really appeal to me.

After a while, we started climbing again, and ended up near the Se de Lisboa (The Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major or Lisbon Cathedral). Again, this was an area I was familiar with. Where the Se is located, it makes it really hard to get good photos of it. 

A detail on the Se de Lisboa. I had the all wrong lens for trying to shoot in the tight space around the Cathedral.

Another detail of the Se de Lisboa.

There was an old woman that was prostrated on the steps of the cathedral. Not being religious, I certainly don't understand it,  but I thought it made for a wonderful photograph. I don't normally do people, but it seemed like a good exception and was worth the wait to try and get the shot with no other people around. Definitely one of the better shots from the trip.


From the Se, we continued up the hill towards another great viewpoint that provides another excellent view over the city. It's one of the great things about Lisbon - you go around a corner, and you never know what you're going to find.

This is a classic view of Lisbon for me. The rabbit warren of small streets, the tile roofs and the character that it all exudes. 

From the viewpoint, we dove back down into the old city, and the warren of streets that weave through all the buildings and houses. You easily get lost, as the streets twist and turn, going up and down at random.

We were a couple of days away from the start of a big festival in the city, and through all of the narrow streets, the locals were setting up decorations, building patios, and getting ready to have what looked like was going to be a really fun time! It was too bad we were not staying a little longer! 

At one point, we walked through this little neighbourhood, where an old couple and their (?) granddaughter and her small children were sitting out on the steps. Somehow, Tim struck up a bit of a conversation, and after a lot of back-and-forth (him - no English; us - no Portuguese), it became apparent that  couple was offering to sell us a drink of their homemade moonshine. Once the granddaughter translated, we decided to sit with them and give it a try. How bad could it be?

Not great as it turned out, but not horrible either. And it was pretty entertaining. One of the younger women had spent time in Canada, so it gave us a common point, and we had a lively chat. Soon we were on our way.

Our host and distiller

As we were wandering, we came across a Fado restaurant that Tim had been looking for. We marked it's location with a plan to come back later for dinner. From Wikipedia, Fado is a music genre which can be traced to the 1820s in Portugal, but probably with much earlier origins. Fado historian and scholar Rui Vieira Nery states that "the only reliable information on the history of Fado was orally transmitted and goes back to the 1820s and 1830s at best. But even that information was frequently modified within the generational transmission process that made it reach us today."

Although the origins are difficult to trace, today fado is commonly regarded as simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia.

The restaurant we ate at Thursday evening

Tim and I wandered for a while longer, and stopped in a small bar in this back alley where we had a couple of drinks and watched the locals go about their lives. It was very entertaining, with quite a few characters. After an hour or so, we headed back to the restaurant for dinner. Michele and Gordana joined us, and we had a nice meal. 

From what we could tell, Fado is sung by women, with men playing different types of guitars. They played about once an hour for 10-15 minutes, and everyone takes it very seriously. There's no talking while she sings, other than the parts where participation seems mandatory. It was quite good - the woman had a very nice voice - and the breaks allow you to eat, chat and carry on, then stop to enjoy the performance. 

fado singing

Our Fado singer, as the sun went down outside the restaurant.

After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and called it a night. I ran again the next morning, then spent the last day with our Japanese partners at the trade show. My flight was at 4 p.m., so I headed to the airport around lunch time to give myself lots of time. I was stopping in the UK on my way home to visit with Mark and Rachel, which as always, was a lot of fun.

Águas Livres Aqueduct. It is one of the most remarkable examples of 18th-century Portuguese engineering. The main course of the aqueduct covers 18 km, but the whole network of canals extends through nearly 58 km. Construction started in 1731 and was completed in 1747.