Lisbon, December 2015

It was my first visit to Lisbon and I didn't have any specific activities planned. So I decided to do what I like to know in a city I don't know -just walk around and have a look.

And the day when I arrived, the weather was great. Not too warm (after all, this was in December), but pleasant with cloudless blue skies.

So I walked through to the shore of the River Tagus and then continued along the river bank. I passed by the 25 de Abril Bridge, which is a bit like a mix of two bridges in San Francisco.

25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon 25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon

The first reaction is, of course, 'That looks like the Golden Gate Bridge'.

And then you look it up and notice that it was built by the company that built the San Francisco Bay Bridge, connecting San Francisco to Oakland. And in most engineering details it matches that bridge. (It has two separate decks and the supporting cross-beams in the pillars are in x-shape and not parallel.)

But the bridge uses the same paint that the Golden Gate Bridge has, so it's the Bay Bridge, painted as the Golden Gate Bridge, set in Lisbon.

Near the other end of the bridge that reminds visitors of other bridges, there's a statue that reminds visitors of another statue. But I'll get to that later.

While walking along the river banks, I noticed Lisbon's answer to the increasingly annoying 'love lock' bridges - a love lock sculpture.

Love lock sculpture Love locks

Large letters and a heart symbol with a wire mesh, at a photogenic location, where couples can attach their locks and cold metal hearts, without bothering anyone else with it.

I don't quite see the point of it - especially since everyone used the same small red lock and little metal heart to write their names on. So the message seems to be - 'our love is so unique, that we display it to the world in exactly the same way as everyone else'.

And adding a metal heart also seems an odd choice. I would understand using a piece of wood for its symbolic value - something (once) living, the 'heart' of a tree. And it would fit with the old tradition of carving your names into the bark of a tree somewhere. But a heart of metal - generally associated with cold, impersonal, unforgiving?

But then again, I'm not a romantic person, so what do I know?

Better than love locks on bridges, anyway.

Next stops were the fountain at the Praça do Império and the Tower of Belém.

Praca do Imperio fountain with rainbow Praca do Imperio fountain with rainbow Praca do Imperio fountain with rainbow Praca do Imperio fountain with rainbow
Praca do Imperio with fountain Praca do Imperio with fountain Praca do Imperio with fountain
Horse sculpture at Praca do Imperio Horse sculpture at Praca do Imperio Tower of Belem

There's also a plane sculpture nearby, as a monument to the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic (with stops on the way).

Biplane statue

One annoying thing that seems to becoming more popular seems to be the use of cute little dogs for begging. Usually Chihuahuas, holding a little plastic pod on a wire in its mouth. Of course, a lot of beggars have dogs, since that makes them seem more friendly and people presumably give for care of the dog as much as for the person, but that used to be dogs just lying around. Training them to actively participate kind of goes back to the times of organ grinders and their monkeys.

Beggars Chihuahua

Back to sightseeing.

Nearby is also a monument to Portuguese discoverers and, presumably, their supporters (I don't think Philippa of Lancaster or Afonso V of Portugal did do much discovering on their own). Mostly they seem to be related to naval discoveries, but the persons shown also include pilots and a mathematician as well.

Discoverers monument Discoverers monument Discoverers monument
Discoverers monument Discoverers monument Discoverers monument

Though the monument is a bit ominous. While it is dedicated to discoveries, there's a huge sword embedded on the back of the monument, so the discoveries seemed to be backed by a show of force.

Reverse side of Discoverers monument

There's not really a container port nearby. There is one about four kilometers away, but the containers here have nothing to do with that. The containers here are part of an art installation as a remembrance of refugees.

Discoverers monument and containers Discoverers monument and containers

As the weather was fine, I went on a boat tour along the river and sort of reversed my tour, seeing the things I did see from the river banks now from the river side in reverse order, all the way back to the 'Commercial Square' from where I started my walk along the river shore.

Discoverers monument Discoverers monument Tower of Belem
25 de Abril Bridge Christ statue Commercial Plaza
Commercial Plaza Boat wake

After the boat tour I went up the monument of the discoverers to enjoy the view. The viewing platform is rather slim, but the views over the city are great.

Viewing platform of discoverers monument View from discoverers monument View from discoverers monument
View from discoverers monument View from discoverers monument

While I went up with the elevator, I went down the stairs and was surprised how much (natural) light there was inside. Many of the seams between the bricks of the monument aren't filled with mortar, but are open to let the light in.

View through discoverers monument seam

While the panoramic view from the inside is limited, of course, there is still a fair amount of outside light that gets in.

As I did do quite a bit of walking on that first day in Lisbon (about 28 km walking, without the boat tour), I wanted to have a lazier day on the next day.

Conveniently, the weather had also changed from blue skies to all-day foggy and hazy, so that also was a good reason for doing much outdoor sightseeing, but rather head for indoor entertainment.

Cable car in fog

So I started by visiting the oceanarium.

Oceanarium, Lisbon Diver sculpture in front of Oceanarium, Lisbon

The core of it is one big aquarium, with the building going around it on two floors.

There are a couple of aquariums and exhibitions on the other side of the corridors around the central exhibit, but those are small.

The main reason for visiting is clearly the big aquarium in the middle. And there are a lot of viewing windows into that aquarium, from huge panoramic views to small windows and viewports.

Oceanarium main aquarium Oceanarium main aquarium Oceanarium main aquarium Oceanarium shark

And while it sounds a bit dull to have just one big fish tank, the interior design is done in a fairly clever way, so you get different kind of 'habitats'. There is the huge, open area, where the sunfish and the large sharks dwell, but there are also little rock corners and underwater forests. So while there are many viewports into the same tank, most of them give a somewhat different insight into the underwater world.

Nearby is also a science museum, which is fun.

It's strongly based on activities (or 'doing', as a large sign has it).

Doing sign

The 'educational exhibits' (by which I mean those that are supposed to teach you one single fact, like how a prism splits up white light or how sound waves can create patterns in sand on a platform when stroked with a violin bow) were nicely done.

And it's nice to see concepts taken from one scenario and applied to another.

So while different kind of mirrors, shaped like various conic sections, will reflect a light beam in specific ways, it's interesting to see that done with oddly shaped pool tables instead of with lasers and mirrors.

Oddly shaped pool tables Oddly shaped pool tables

And there's a lot of 'You (probably) can't do that at home' exhibits, which, for me, is the main thing about an interactive science museum.

I dislike museums that have long descriptive texts and use computers to show videos and run applications, since visitors can do that at home as well (usually better). It is partly justifiable in 'science history' museums (museums that present original artefacts, like the Harrison timepieces or the laboratory of Alessandro Volta), but a modern science museum should have exhibits that visitors can 'play around' (experiment) with in ways that can't easily be done at home.

And there's lots of neat stuff in the 'Pavilion of Knowledge'.

Most of it is aimed at providing kits for kids, but there's still a lot of stuff for adults to play with.

The museum even acknowledges/encourages it.

When I entered a specific area, there was a sign "this area is for kids, but adults can enter to if they promise to behave like kids" - an easy promise to make.

And then stand on wobbly platforms, drive a car with square wheels over a (specifically shaped) bumpy surface or hit lit points on a wall as fast as possible.

And in the room following that, there were lots of things to make, providing an early entry in the emerging 'maker' culture.

There were a lot of electrical 'things' on a table - batteries, lights, different kind of switches, sound generators, motors and so on. And there weren't any kind of specific tasks set, so you could just go and try things out and build something.

Electrical building blocks

You couldn't do anything complex - there weren't diodes, sensors or gears. (Though I was somewhat disappointed that there weren't any relays. I understand the reason for not having them, since they are a bit old fashioned and nobody uses them anymore. But it is easy to understand them and they extend the range of circuits that can be built quite significantly.) Everything was very low key - just things on wooden boards with some screws and cables with crocodile clamps for electrical connections. But it had a nice basic touch and allowed 'hands on' access to the actual things, as opposed to a more elegant version with packaged components with standardised connectors.

On the next table were shoe-making things.

Shoemaking tools

You probably couldn't have built more than fairly simple moccasins with the things that were available, but there was a good variety of source materials, like different types and colours of cloth and insoles. (The picture just shows the working area - there was a large table with source materials next to it.)

And close to it was a wall with hundreds of peg holes in it. And various tubes and pieces of wood and plastic to build a "marble run".

Again, everything is quite low-tech. Elements are attached to the wall with wooden dowel pins that have a metal hook screwed into the end. And, again, lots of things to play with (I think I did see some cut-in-half swim noodles as possible building elements.)

So lots of interesting things to make and build with.

There were also some parts that were more aimed at adults, like a fairly good temporary exhibition on viruses and their propagation - starting with the usual biological ones, but also covering computers and 'viral ideas'. (The exhibition was more about the process of contagion than about the viral elements themselves.)

Contagious exhibition

So it's a nice museum to visit.

Outside, it was still foggy, but I decided to take the cable car along the former Expo site anyway.

The sights were limited, of course.

Cable car still in fog Cable car still in fog

Some nice fountains on the way back.

Blue water fountain

Next day the weather was a bit less foggy, but still overcast.

I took the ferry to the other side of the River Tagus and walked to the oddly shaped water tower that I had seen two days earlier.

Christ shaped water reservoir Christ shaped water reservoir Christ shaped water reservoir Christ shaped water reservoir Christ shaped water reservoir

It's close to the other side of the not-quite-a-Golden-Gate-copy bridge and looks a bit like a copy of a well known statue in Rio de Janeiro. This is not a coincidence. Seemingly a cardinal visited Brazil, liked the statue and wanted one as well.

The rest of the story seems a bit - questionable. Presumably the church 'promised' to erect the statue if Portugal kept out of World War II. Which is a bit like, let's say, Jaguar 'pleading' that the UK government spares them higher fuel taxes and 'promising' to erect a giant version of classic hood ornament on Trafalgar Square.

There might be the impression that this might not be an entirely selfless gesture...

A little known fact, however, is that the base of the statue has a water reservoir inside (with a second water reservoir in the statue itself) to provide the nearby city with sufficient water pressure. So the construction is, in fact, a well disguised water tower (unlike the statue in Rio de Janeiro).

The view towards Lisbon is probably impressive in good weather, but in so-so weather, it is...just ok.

25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon

I walked a path down to the shore and followed that to some abandoned buildings.

Abandoned factory Abandoned house Abandoned viewing gallery Abandoned viewing gallery

I'm not sure what happened here - I thought that a place on the river bank with great views of Lisbon on the other sight would be a prime location. But instead of luxury villas, there are just abandoned factories and abandoned, overgrown houses.

Good place for looking at graffiti, though.

Rabbit graffiti DJ graffiti

Instead of walking the last kilometer to the ferry along the coastline, I did take the elevator up the cliff again and walked downhill to the ferry from there. Just to ride the elevator.

Free standing elevator

There's a lot of graffiti (official and unofficial) and odd sculptures in Lisbon, some of that quite intricate. I liked the racoon a lot, as this is not only painted on, but also has glued on elements that makes it three dimensional in parts.

Bird graffiti Racoon graffiti Racoon graffiti Car bird sculpture Giant bird with man sculpture

I also visited the University of Lisbon Scientific Museum, which is a bit of an oddity.

It can't really decide what kind of museum it is, so it turned into a museum equivalent of an old attic where all the stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else ends up in.

It looks like it might have started out as a medical teaching facility, as there's something that looks like a medical observation amphitheatre.

Chemical amphitheatre

Though it seems that this used to be a chemical demonstration room, not a medical one.

But in any case, there's a large collection of historical medical instruments in the room next door, together with an impressive collection of something that seems to be wax impressions of skin diseases. Lots of body parts with large warts and other disfigurations. (Though I am not sure whether there were actual bodycasts or 'artist recreation' of the diseases.)

Medical exhibits

The same room also had four plaster heads with ropes and strings around their necks. I have no idea what they were for - they looked like they should illustrate the effect of different forms of execution on the human neck, but I am not sure...

Another two rooms were dedicated to an early Portuguese supporter of Darwin.

A few rooms further, there's a display about (as far as I could tell) mining in Brazil, followed by an impressive collection of quartzes.

Collection of quartzes

There was also an exhibition about wolves and their habitat, which is evident by the large whale sculpture hanging from the ceiling.

Wolf exhibition with blue whale

It seems like the wolf exhibition was a tie-in for a recent Chinese movie about a wolf. A projector in the middle showed something that looked more like a 'making of' for the movie next to a film poster, though the other posters seemed to be a bit more scientific. But there was also a display case with Arctic sea birds in the room. It looked as if this was originally an exhibition about Arctic fauna (hence the whale) and they just moved everything out that was easy to move to make room for the wolf posters.

Outside the door was an exhibition of astronomical pictures of the moon.

And a darkened corridor nearby had essentially just a long timeline with some graphics, describing the development of the Earth from the Big Bang onwards.

There were also some physic experiments for kids. (Well made, but mostly the standard experiments, without any special spin to it.)

There's also a physics and astronomy lab, but that was closed (it looks like that is only accessible at times when the planetarium is operating).

A rather interesting area was dedicated to mathematical games and puzzles.

They had a 'hands on' area in the middle, where visitors could try to solve various mathematical puzzles and display cases with beautifully done representations of other math based board games.

Mathematical puzzles and games Mathematical puzzles and games

Two rooms also contained a good presentation on excavation of dinosaur bones, based on fossil finds in Portugal. It featured a nice set of dinosaur skeletons and bones as well, but the main focus was on the process of finding them, extracting them, cataloguing them and preserving them - so it was more about the process than the result.

Dinosaur parts Dinosaur parts

In a museum that features a historical chemical demonstration lab, skin diseases, dinosaurs, stones, mining, dinosaurs, games, wolves, Pangea, moon photography, mining and whales (and I think I left out some areas...), there was also room for mathematical shapes derived from formulas.

Visually quite pleasing (it looked more like a design exhibition in parts), there were three rooms were the spatial representations of mathematical formulas were shown.

Formula derived shapes Formula derived shapes Formula derived shapes

But then - why not?

And then it seemed like they ran out of ideas or material to fill up the rest of the rooms, so they had some rooms were they just but in some artwork instead of scientific exhibits.

Random artwork in science museum Random artwork in science museum

The monochrome art was done by putting adhesive tape over bits of black material and pasting that to a canvas. And that was properly hung on the wall. The colour pictures were just nailed to the wall. No frame. Just taking the canvas and nailing it right to the wall, as if it was a poster on someone's office wall.

It didn't feel like an art installation - it really felt like someone was just looking for something to decorate the empty rooms with.

Some interesting things in that museum. But it gives the impression of being less of a collection and more of a dumping ground of random exhibitions.

Then it was time to get back to the river.

The boat tour on the first day was with a rigid-hulled inflatable boat, which was fast and fun. But I wanted to do something a bit more laid back, with a bit more of a 'Mediterranean' feel (even though Portugal has no connection to the Mediterranean Sea...)

Luckily, the same company also offered sunset sailing tours and they happened to have one on the next day, when the weather had also improved a bit. (December is not the main tourist season in Portugal, so there aren't always enough customers to justify a sailing tour, especially in mid-week when the weather report mentioned rain. So it was coincidence that there were enough customers that day and that the weather turned out to be nice again.)

The tour route was pretty much the same as the previous boat tour.

Tower of Belem 25 de Abril Bridge

But the tour took about twice as long, was a lot more relaxed and relaxing.

Sailboat on Tagus River Me on sailboat on Tagus River Sailboat on Tagus River

A nice day out.

And a good sunset as well.

Lisbon sunset Lisbon sunset

Back in the harbour. The boat I went on is the one in front. Quite a nice one.

Boats in harbour in Lisbon

I had a late flight back on the next day, so the obvious thing to do was - go to the zoo!

The nice thing about visiting zoos before going on a flight is that there's enough to see and do for a flexible number of hours. And you don't need anything more than a camera, so you can leave the rest of your luggage at the hotel. You know where you are, so you know how long it will take to the hotel and then to the airport. And you're not on any tour or boat, so you can leave at any time you want.

And you can end the web page with a set of animal pictures.

Like dolphins and sea lions showing off...

Dolphins performing Dolphin performing Sea lion barking Dolphin performing
Sea lion swimming upside down Sea lion swimming Sea lions

...apes and monkeys looking thoughtful...

Monkey looking Monkey behind electric fence Gorilla eating Orang Utan looking
Monkey looking Monkey looking hanging from branch Monkey looking Chimpansees walking

...a lemur being cheeky...

Lemur showing tongue

...a bunch of animals just relaxing...

Wallaby relaxing Wallaby relaxing Koala sleeping
Hippos relaxing White tiger sleeping

...and another bunch of animals for which I can't find a common theme.

Lion looking Elephant picking up leaf Giraffe Giraffe Rhino
Rhino Penguins looking at tree Red Panda fighting with stick (actually eating from branch) Leguan

There are two unusual things in this zoo, the cemetery and the aerial cable car.

The Lisbon Zoo has a pet cemetery on its premises. This is quite large and it's not only (if at all) for the zoo animals, but for private pets that their owners bury here.

Lisbon Zoo pet cemetery

The Lisbon Zoo also has an aerial cable car that runs along a triangular path and covers most of the area of the zoo.

It is a bit unusual, since it only has one station to enter and leave the cable cars, so it is purely for sightseeing and not for transporting visitors between parts of the park.

And the cable cars are 'standing only', which is something I've never seen before. They are small platforms with a waist height railing all around, so you can stand there and freely turn to look at the sights and the animals below.

The cable cars even take you to 'unused' parts of the zoo. For example, the area where the camels are currently located are off-limits to visitors, so using the cable car is the only way to see them.

Lisbon Zoo cable car Lisbon Zoo cable car Lisbon Zoo cable car Lisbon Zoo camels

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