In Love with Lisbon | Above the city: spots with a great view

Lisbon is a time machine. Living simultaneously in Portugal’s glorious historical past and its more recent economic struggles. A city of contrasts, it grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go. From our first glimpse of the city from Marqes de Pombal to the last dinner in Alfama: it is stamped on a pile of great wine-infused memories.
One of my favorite things about the city was definitely its layout. Like a small European version of San Francisco the streets run like serpents: high and low across town, shaping several elevated areas from which you can enjoy wonderful views of the area. Some of these spots are full of tourists, others are small local gems, which you have to find on your own.
Here are several of the best ones (and you don’t need to queue for the Elevador Santa Justa to see them).
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The Moorish castle of Sao Jorge is not a palace: it is a fortress with beautiful views from the watchtowers with very limited number of museum collections inside. There is more to see outside than within the castle: apart from a tiny small archeological exhbition of ceramics and Moorish coins.
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The elevator of Santa Just can be seen in the distance

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However, the location allows you to enjoy Lisbon from above. The Portuguese way would be with a good company and a glass of wine.

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Best view ever (pun fully intended)

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Some people swarm in visitor crowds, others enjoy reading their book in solutide while overlooking the city. Couples breathe the serenity of the view, locking hands around each other or around glasses of white wine. Some stick only to sunset conversations, while others try a crossover straight to Sunset Boulevard…

Sao Jorge is open for visitors until 9pm so I would really recommend it for a late afternoon walk. It is definitely worth the hemstring challenge of the steep streets leading to it: especially if you stumble upon some of the small staircases with street musicians and Fado-themed graffitti. It is also above the charming neighbourhood of Alfama, so you can combine the visit with a dinner and Fado.

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Park Bar: (A sort of) Secret Spot Above the City

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Panorama of the Park Bar | Shot on Huawei P9

I learned about the Park bar online and I don’t think it is a place which is easy to discover by chance. It is in a quiter part westward of the busier streets of Bairro Alto: without the exact address, a map and a mighty thirst to quench we would have easily passed it by. There are no signs outside and to reach the bar you have to use the staircase of a 5 storey parking.

On the top of the building there is a small bohemian oasis which opens after 1pm and offers a rooftop space to chill in the middle of your city walk.

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Rooftops, seaguls and airplanes: Lisbonian idyll shot from the top of the parking lot. A piece of advice: the Park Bar opens at 13.00: do not arrive there earlier unless you are really into getting sunburnt | Shot on Lumix Gx8

I recommend the fresh and fruity housewine and the tapas (petiscos) with shrimps or garlic calamary (Delicous!) You can go with friends or just hang out on your own: reading or writing & getting your inspiration from the view above town.

Bairro Alto at Night

“Bairro” is the name of communities/neighbourhood regions in Portugal and its colonies. The name Bairro Alto literally means The Upper District of Lisbon: a neighbourhood full of restaurants and bars located across a set of steep streets slowly ascending to small hill overlooking the lower part of the city.

We were joking that basically your evening follows the geography of the streets: you start with Petiscos (the Portuguese version of tapas) and dinner at the “lower” streets and then as your mood goes up, you continue on the upper streets with wine, Porto or Ginja (typical local sour cherry liqueur). You can simply enjoy the taste of local drinks or dive into a pool of cheap vodka and complimentary shots if you are a British tourist on a mission to crawl drunk on the sidewalk by midnight.

I recommend just walking around with sangria and enjoying the view: the bars are full of too many wasted tourists: something which is fun when you are in your 20s and frankly: sort of boring once you discover the joy of actually having fun without the need of tons of alcohol.

There is a lovely small park with fountains and terraces overlooking the city if you want to enjoy your drink with a view above the city.

Alfama (going up on Travessa Merceeiras)

Alfama is a whole new story on its own. Discovering  the dozens of small city spots with a great view on your own is one of the greatest thrills about walking around Lisbon.

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Creamy sunset over Alfama | Shot on Huawei P9

Practical Tips

Sao Jorge Castle entrance fees: €8.50/€5.00/€20.00 per adult/child/family. The castlelo is open every day from 09:00 to 21:00 (peak season) and 09:00 to 18:00 (low season) | Google Maps
✓There are wonderful spots all across Lisbon which I personally prefer to discover by chance, but if you prefer to visit only recommended places here is a nice Conde Nast list of some of the best rooftop bars in the city
✓Lisbon is not a huge city: unless you want to enjoy the small vintage trams just walk around it. It is easier and faster to take public tansportation but the most charming spots are usually those you stumble upon by chance not those you meticulously pursue on your GPS

Disclaimer: With the exception of a few mobile shots made with my Huawei P9, all photos are taken on Panasonic GX8, kindly provided for a test by Panasonic Bulgaria

Perushtitsa | The Red Church in Black & White

Did you know that one of the earliest surviving Christian churches in Europe is located near the small Bulgarian town of Perushtitsa?

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Beautiful Bulgaria | Weekend in the Rhodope Mountains

 I had the pleasure to take Panasonic FZ2000 & DMC LX15 on a trip to the Rhodope mountains

to test their capabilities. The photos in this story are taken with these 2 cameras and only adjusted for brightness/saturation.

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Reservoirs, lakes & gorges | The beautiful Rhodope Mountains

According to the Thracian legend Rhodopa and Hemus were a brother and sister who fell in love and called each other by the names of the Gods: Zeus and Hera. And since Ancient Greek Deities are not famous for their good temper, the abuse of their names brought on a curse on the young couple: both lovers turned into mountain ranges. Of course, geologists have a slightly different idea about the formation of the mountain range.

The Rhodope Mountains takes up 1/7th of the territory of Bulgaria and features ski slopes,  caves, historical cities and villages, hiking routes and some of Bulgaria’s biggest reservoirs & artificial lakes.

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Unlike Rila, which is swarming with tourists (to the detriment of the area’s ecosystem), the Rhodope Mountains still manage to preserve their raw charm and offer travellers a serene look into Bulgarian nature, history and traditions.

Things to do & Places to visit

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Zooming to the distant shore | Shot on Panasonic FZ2000

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Things to do near Sofia | A walk along the Dragoman Marsh

If you are fond of outdoors activities and especially birdwatching, take the time to visit the Dragoman Marsh. Located just 35-40km away from Sofia, this area is part of Via Aristotelis: an important bird migration route passing through the area. In fact more than 160 bird species have been identified by bird watchers visiting the marshes along with dozens of amphibians and other species.

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Marshes, marshes, everywhere you look | Shot on LUmix FZ2000

In February birdwatching isn’t the best activity to plan, but the marshes still offer an escapist break away from the noisy city. The marsh itself covers more than 300 hectars but the most easily accessible to the general public area is relatively small: only several hundred meters of wooden bridges serpent their way through the marsh frail.

So unless you are into exploring the 160+ species of birds and plant species this trip would be relatively short. Me and my brother spent less than an hour there because there were no birds at this time of the year. Nevertheless, we were quite happy to explore the place and take some shots in the area.

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Travelback Thursday | You can never see the same Venice twice

I remember my first arrival in Venice. The boat was shaking and so were we. Although winters in Italy are usually a pleasant thing, La Serenissima (the most serene of all cities) is often piereced by cold currents which can cut to the bone.

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I remeber everyone who had already been there had completely conflicting stories of what the city is like:

“Oh, it’s overrated. And the channels smell so bad”

“It is the best city in the world: never seen anything quite like the Carnival”

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So which one was it? Well, for me it was love at first sight. It can be a bit claustrophobic if you get phased by large crowds but as soon as you take a random street in the opposite direction of Rialto and San Marco you will soon discover the real charm of the city. As an art history buff I don’t underestimate Venice’s most famous spots, but trust me: its real appeal is away from the crowds.

Grab a gelato and choose the smallest, emptiest street you can find. Getting lost in Venice is a travelling delight and trust me: sooner or later you will reach the central spots again.

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Alpine Winter Tale | Snowboarding in Sölden

The last few winters in Bulgaria were a barren ground for skiers and snowboarders in Bulgaria. The limited snowfall and high temperatures made wintersports a contest in who is going to get the best blue-purple gradient certificate for painful landings on rocks barely covered with snow.

This year things look quite different, but if one wants to have guaranteed fun in the snow, the Alps are the destination to go. There are countless alpine resorts in Italy, France, Austria, Germany, you name it. 

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Sölden, Austria

Yoddl, yoddl! Does it get any more Austrian than being in the heart of Tyrol? The lovely small city of Solden has just about 3 000 inhabitants, but it lies at the outskirts of 33 (!) lifts and 40 ski/snowboarding trails of varying difficulty.

It was one of the most enjoyable, well organized and neat spots for snowboarding I have ever visted: from conventional slopes, through fun parks and mountain-top views. I have heard that there are no less plesant spots in other Alpine resorts, but Solden is perfect for combining historical sight-seeing in the nearby city of Innsbruck. On your way back you can also visit beautiful Saltzburg, which is about 250km to the Northeast (more on that in the following posts).

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Vazov’s Hiking Trail & Skaklya | The Bulgarian “Rocky Mountains”

It’s December 31st. The final chapter in a year full of great moments and great mishaps. We are headed to Zasele: a small village at the top of a series of pictureque road turns along the Iskar Gorge.

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I am looking out the car window and taking in the view: mountains, curvy road turns, pine trees, rows of houses up on the hills… Cough. Cough. Cough. It’s not me. The car is choking and when I look back there is blanket of thick white-to-gray-to-coal-black smoke coming out of it. Luckily we are just a few kilometers away from the village, so we park in the nearest pile of snow and leave the Cherokee behind for the rest of the road. 2016 reminds us it is still not over so I am keeping my fingers crossed for the remaining 10 hours of it.

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Our guest house is 5 minutes away from the Vazov Hiking Trail which connects Gara Bov and the village where we are staying (Skaklya) so instead of spending time indoors we head to see the trail and the waterfall it leads to.

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