The tram that runs right under our apartment window, that we hear every morning at 6 a.m. rumbling by, the tram that got stuck for an hour outside our window because it couldn’t get by a parked car on this impossibly narrow street, is the most beloved tram in Lisbon, the no. 28. (A link to the video of this little nighttime drama: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4lzszmav5s)
We decided the other day, as it was rainy and we weren’t up for a hike through the narrow steep streets of our neighborhood, to take the tram for its entire run, and make photos as we went–I’m sure we’re not the only tourists who have done this! Most of these pics were taken from the tram, but not all of them.
We started at the tram stop on our street, and went up to the end station at Campo de Ourique, which is where our closest mercato is. The end of the line stops in front of the Cemeterio dos Prazeres, Lisbon’s main cemetery.
The cemetery reminds me very much of New Orleans’ famous graveyards, with tombs above ground. A lot of Lisbon reminds me of NOLA, in fact.
The Mercato de Campo de Ourique is a little bit smaller than the famous Mercato Ribeira down by the river, but it has a great fish market, and all the other conveniences of a market with stalls for cheese, nuts, flowers, and a food hall. That’s the building with the white cupolas, next to a rather modern church, Santo Condestavel.
We also discovered that this section of town is a center for fabric stores. The blocks around the Mercato had rows and rows of fabric shops of all descriptions. One of them seemed to have only pastel cottons, and another upholstery material. Portugal apparently used to be a center for textile production, although Asian companies have now taken over most of that market.
From the end line, we travelled down past the beautiful Jardim Estrela–a welcome green
area in a part of town with very little vegetation. That’s the garden outside the tram window, and an image of one of its ponds that we took on an earlier visit.
The tram then goes down the hill past the Assembleia da Republica–the Parliament House–into the Bairro Alto, the old part of town where we are staying (that’s our street where the tram is coming up). As you can see, these streets are very narrow and the houses are tightly packed. The place is filled with tiny little shops on the ground floors, and living spaces above. Some buildings look completely derelict but are still lived in, while others (like ours) are now being renovated and gentrified. According to our friend Paula, even five years ago, this neighborhood was a no-go dangerous zone. Still rough around the edges, we love the informality and the hilarious signage on some of the storefronts. This one is for a men’s barbershop–with cat? It is right next door to the window where we see this cat sleeping every day.
Now the tram heads up a steep rise and out of the Bairro Alto into Baixa-Chiado, at Praça Luís de Camões, one of the main plazas of town, and a central hub of the Metro–Lisbon’s subway. The kiosk usually has colorful characters seated at its tables, but today in the rain, they weren’t there. The statue, as I think I have already shared, commemorates Portugal’s most revered literary figure, Luis de Camões; the figures around the central figure are lesser literati. We come through this square nearly every day, and have often had to give up waiting for the Tram 28 and have walked DOWNHILL to get back to our apartment. The tram is lovable and a great way to see the city, but reliably efficient it is not.
From here, the tram enters the so-called ”Pombaline” section of town–named after the infamous Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782), Portugal’s very own version of a Cardinal Richelieu. After the 1755 earthquake decimated the town, Pombal, a minister of the King and the true power behind the throne, set out to rebuild Lisbon’s central area along more rational lines, with broad plazas, grids of streets with substantial buildings along wonderfully-tiled pavements. Many of these are now pedestrian zones. Alas, like so many of these enlightened leaders, who initially did so much good, Pombal got carried away with power, and began killing off his rivals. But his real end came when a new devout queen, angered by Pombal’s ousting of the Jesuits, stripped him of all political offices and more or less banished him to the countryside where he lived out his years peacefully.
The Pombaline section of town begins to merge into the oldest and most famous part of Lisbon, the Alfama; around the edges one still finds small shops, and a tiny garment district that made me want to go buy ribbons and buttons. Each of these shops specialized in one garment accessory.
Up the hill in the winding streets of this ancient, near-casbah-like neighborhood, past the Cathedral Se and the popular Church of Santo António (where Saint Anthony was born), the tram reaches a plateau at Largo da Santa Luzia, and around the bend to the Largos das Portas do Sol, with its magnificent views across the Alfama to the River Tejo and up the hill to the Church of São Vicente de Fora (Saint Vincent is one of Lisbon’s patron saints). On this plaza is the Museum of Decorative Arts, in one of the most elegant 17th-century buildings in Lisbon. Officially called the Ricardo Espirito Santo Foundation after the man who singlehandedly rescued much of the furniture and objects in the Museum, the building itself is worth the visit. The Portuguese approach to Baroque decor is much more to my liking than over-the-top pomposity of the Germans or the Italians–the aesthetic I find particularly appealing.
And still our little tram chugs along noisily, heading up the hill past São Vicente, and then–to my surprise–into a residential neighborhood called Graça. Here are two of the most spectacular ”miradoros”, viewpoints from which to look out over the city to the river. The tram stops at Largo da Graça, from where you can walk to both of these lookouts.
I didn’t realize that our tram went all the way around the Alfama hill and into the neighborhoods of Intendente, before finally coming to its end station at Largo Martim Moniz. A seemingly lackluster square, with several stalls and a few places to eat, this plaza is on the edge of what passes for Lisbon’s Chinatown. The neighborhood up the hill of Mouraria did offer some playful visions in murals, which were fun to see.
Despite the tacky surrounds, Largo Martim Moniz does contain one lovely gem in the Capela do Nossa Senhora da Saúde e São Sebastião–the Chapel to Our Lady of Health and San Sebastian. Dating originally from 1505, heavily rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake, this peaceful little shrine contains beautiful tiles from the 18th century. It was so tranquil that we were almost tempted to join the women sitting there in quiet contemplation.
But we didn’t. Instead we jumped on the Metro line back to Baixa-Chiado, and went to Pastelaria Benard on the Largo; the most distinguished of the old pastry shops that we have encountered, less touristy than A Brasileira next door. Divine!
As luck would have it, Tram 28 was not to be had for our final leg to home. The way we find this out–that it is heavily delayed–is by waiting for 15 or 20 minutes, then when we notice the natives bailing and beginning to walk, we know that by some method they
have learned that the tram isn’t coming for a while. So we walked down the hill again–and discovered, in a little lane by the Santa Catarina Church, this sight: a half-grown peacock on the fence around a preschool!
And again by luck, that evening, out for dinner at the Goan place we had discovered on our first day in town, I captured the 28 coming round the bend next to the restaurant. Looking ever so much like a scene from ”A Streetcar Named Desire”. And running on time!