There was something not quite right. As I looked out my hotel window I saw them – solid and unforgiving. I’m travel weary and my feet hurt. How am I going to do this? I flick through the city tour guide in my hand and there it is, like a ray of light from above – a new way to explore an historic city built on hills.
Tucked away in a side street I found them – waiting patiently in a row. “Come ride me,” they beckoned, “a day of new adventures awaits.” My guide for the day, Ricardo, was also raring to go (and also rather cute) and in well-practised English he introduced me to my ride and the mounting/dismounting techniques.
With helmets on and smiles on our faces, off we went, the seven hills of Lisbon awaiting our arrival. I wondered if my ride was going to be able to conquer this historic city adventure with me in charge.
I needn’t have worried. Ricardo knew how it is for people like me. Young at heart and mind willing, but body not as flash as it used to be. We meandered our way through narrow flat streets exploring the inner city architecture and the well-known tourist attractions of Rossio Square, Praca do Comercio and the Rua Augusta Arch, which commemorates the city’s reconstruction following the epic earthquake, tsunami and fires that practically demolished the city in November 1755.
As we rode on I was becoming more confident and carefree on my chosen ride. And then it appeared, the first steep hill of the day. What was it Ricardo had said? Do I do this with my left hand or do that with my right? His calm voice was like music to my ears, riding next to me to calm any fears. But oh the joy and oh the fun, as my electric bike effortlessly took me up the hill towards the sun. My smile got bigger, my adrenalin started to pump. I glided up the incline and over every bump.
We arrived at the city’s highest point in the Graca neighbourhood, Our Lady of the Hill Viewpoint and miraculously I still had my breath. St George Castle stood stoically atop the São Jorge hill to our left and the Graca residential district nestled lovingly into the rolling hills below. As we sat with our coffees under the clear Portuguese sky, my eyes consumed a panoramic view of the River Tagus (Rio Tejo), the Ponte de 25th Abril suspension bridge and across to Montigo – Terreiro do Paco in the distance. The River Tagus flows into the Lisbon region from the north of Portugal and opens into a wide but shallow estuary, which was paramount in the establishment of Lisbon as a significant Roman port as the estuary provides protection from the often wild Atlantic Ocean.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and is now home to more than two million people within the metropolitan area. Historic buildings and the modern day way of life blend effortlessly together in the central city filled with shops, restaurants and bars that ooze Portuguese culture and cuisine.
I reflected upon my Portuguese culinary experience the day before when I had sampled one of the 365 different ways in which the Portuguese prepare their unique Bacalhau (salted cod fish). Unique it is, a taste I will never forget. Thankfully the local wine was an excellent way to wash it down.
Having finished my excellent coffee and reveries it was back on our E-bikes (I was now up with the lingo). We set off to explore the historic Alfama district and what a treat it was. Calling out “BomDia” (Good Day) as we passed the locals, we painlessly pedaled our way up and down the twisting narrow streets. Washing adorned the pastel walls of the historic terraced houses, expertly hung on precarious window lines. Elderly folk were gathered in conversation, lazy cats peered through windowpanes and aromas of freshly baked Portuguese custard tarts wafted from small bakeries and café’s along the way, willing me want to stop and devour them.
Life seemed to be slower in Alfama, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, its historical significance kept alive by those who inhabit its houses and shops. As we roamed our way down one of the many cobblestoned streets, Ricardo slammed on his brakes and exclaimed, “Oh yes, it’s open, let’s go inside.”
The hole-in-the-wall bar was incredibly small and bursting at the seams with over 40 years of stories, photos and memorabilia. The elderly man who stood behind the bar has been its proud owner since day one. It would have been rude not to sample the local cherry Ginja liqueur despite the morning hour. Made from alcohol infused Ginja berries (sour cherry), sugar, cinnamon and water, it was sweet and smooth and definitely a winner with my taste buds. The smiling old barman assured me it was some of the best around.
We continued our exploration of the seven hills, each holding its own special piece of history and culture of this thriving port and city. With names of São Jorge, São Vicente, Santana, Santo André, Chagas, Santa Catarina and São Roque, I could only dream of what memoirs and legends lay within the depths of their soil.
Goodbye My New Love
I was beginning to fall in love with my E-bike that had ferried me safely around. All too soon, it was time to go our separate ways. The parting was bittersweet. It was with sadness I gave up my newfound pleasure, but it was with blissful relief that I took my sensitive butt off the pitiless bike seat. Ever the gentleman, Riccardo helped me to park my E-bike back in the line-up to await its next ride.
As I sauntered back to my hotel past the many restaurants and brightly coloured shops, I reflected on how different my day would have been if I hadn’t opened the Lisbon city tour guide and found Bikes and Company, the effervescent and knowledgeable Ricardo and a new source of city exploring joy.
+351 919 149 332
Rua dos Douradoures,
16 1100-206 Lisbon