The last week of February 2019 has rather alarmingly smashed all uk records for high temperatures – no doubt a worrying consequence of climate change. However when we left Bristol the grey had returned and storm Freya was looming out in the Atlantic. Arriving in Lisbon to warm spring spring sunshine (21C) was just the ticket. On Saturday our first full day we took advantage of the lovely weather to take a walk east along the river Tagus towards Belém.
Much like Bristol, Lisbon’s old industrial waterfront has gradually been cleaned up and become a new leisure destination for the city. Cafes, bars and clubs replace warehouses and wharfs with families taking a stroll and tourists on foot, bike, roller blades and electric scooters replacing dock workers unloading cargo. The riverside walkway and cycle path runs for miles out to Belém and beyond. Along its path are a few cultural delights to please the passers by.
First is the Ponte 25 de Abril, originally opened in 1966 it was named the Salazar Bridge after Portugals military dictator, it was appropriately renamed in memory of the ‘carnation revolution’ that returned Portugal to civilian rule. In 1999 the bridge was strengthened and a second lower train deck was added. I know a motorway bridge isn’t your conventional tourist attraction but this one is pretty impressive as it soars high over your head with the traffic making a distinctive clatter as it passes over the metal carriageway. On the opposite side of the river the bridge is watched over by the statue of Christ the King.
Further long you come to the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. A swooping white tile clad ‘space ship meets sea creature’ style building sits alongside a former power station. Both buildings now host exhibitions of contemporary art and design. The current offerings include a jaw-dropping display in the main oval exhibition gallery highlighting the problem of plastic waste. A ship sinking in a sea of plastic detritus – both suspended in mid air allowing you to view from above and walk below. Alongside this a ‘contemporary art installation’ of cardboard boxes and coloured paint – or as Michael put it ‘a load of shit’. An exhibition on robots and artificial intelligence and how they are taking over our lives, slightly chilling. A replica of ‘Little Boy’ the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and last but not least a wonderful installation in the old turbine hall that tells the story of the power plant, allowing you to walk through the old boiler and visualise the (grim) working conditions of poor sods who had to feed this fiery beast.
Our final destination on this perambulation was the delightful Torre de Belém, a 16th Century fortified tower built as part of the defence system to guard the Tagus river. The stone tower far exceeds its primary purpose as its solid stone battlements are adorned with the most beautiful decorative stonework. Pepper-pot turrets, candy twirl volume and delicate fret work balustrades adorn the tower. In the warm late afternoon sun, with the light shimmering on the blue waters of the Tagus, the tower was enchanting. It was a perfect way to end our stroll before we heading back to the centre on the tram – but not before grabbing a bag of roasted chestnuts (a traditional Portuguese winter street-food snack) to nibble on.