Art for Art’s Sake

Travels Without Vince

After such an early start the day before, it was a luxury to lie in until 8.30 or so on day two. Have I mentioned that we’re very Scottish? We only paid for cheap flights and the most basic of hotels – so no breakfast provided! As soon as we were decent we headed off to look for somewhere to eat. 

The road into the city led us past something I’ve never seen before – a toast café! Inside we sat down to a feast of freshly squeezed orange juice, omelettes, fruit, coffee and – you guessed it…lashings of toast made with beautiful home-baked brown bread. That set us up nicely for another day of exploring Portugal’s capital city. 

Our original plan had been to head for the art gallery but as we were walking to the Metro, Gill spotted the Ascensor da Glória – a funicular tram which climbs the hill up to the Bairro Alto area. ‘Why not?’ We thought. So we did! Originally powered by pumped water, the strange-shaped tram cars now run on electricity. Like so many of the trams, buildings and trains here, they were absolutely covered in graffiti. Graffiti really seems to be a thing in Lisbon, I’m not sure I’d describe it as a problem as such, although here and there it’s a bit of an eyesore, but some of it is startlingly well done.

A short but very steep climb later we stumbled out of the tram into yet another Christmas market with the obligatory buskers. We only stayed a minute or two to enjoy the views of the city from a different angle to the day before’s viewpoint – this time we were looking over the rooftops towards the castle.

Our downhill stroll back to the waterfront was briefly interrupted by a stop-off at the Igreja da São Roque, a beautiful church being prepared for the Christmas celebrations. It was enchanting to see strings of colourful hand-made paper doves suspended over the pews, twirling and fluttering in the candle-scented air. Just for a moment I fondly remembered all those childhood Christmasessesses. And yes, I heard you up the back there – there have been lots of them.

Our Viagem day-tickets proved great value yet again as they not only covered our metro journeys and the Ascensor da Glória, they also paid for an extra bus journey after we sailed right past the art gallery and had to come back, d’oh!

The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is in a beautiful old waterfront building and houses mostly paintings, but also a smattering of sculptures, ceramics and ancient textiles on three floors. I’m no art expert but it was enjoyable nonetheless to browse the differing painting styles which have evolved over the centuries. It’s certainly a strange feeling to see the world through the eyes of artists who had no concept of photography or digital manipulation. We have it so easy now. 

There were many artistic references to Lisbon’s patron saint – Saint Vince, including the world famous panels painted by Nuno Gonçalves in 1470 depicting 58 people gathered around the Saint at the Royal Court. Art historians worked out the order in which the panels should be displayed by analysing the perspective of the floor tiles – clever so-and-so’s.

In keeping with the season, a selection of medieval wooden and plaster nativity scenes had been removed from the vaults, dusted off and set up in one room. The level of intricate detail was fascinating but I’m not sure I’d have wanted something that size on my mantelpiece at home.

Our highlight of the visit was being able to gaze uninterrupted at ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony’ by Hieronymus Bosch. There were no handrails, no protective glass, and very few visitors to spoil its impact. We could have reached out and touched the masterpiece, but of course we didn’t. 

Painted in oils between 1500 and 1503 on three panels of oak, this work packs in an extraordinary amount of detail. Each panel shows a different part of Saint Anthony’s struggle (with boredom, laziness and lustful women, apparently. Sounds familiar…) and is filled with strange beasts and half-animal, half-human creatures. My descriptive powers fail me here – my own pic of the centre panel is below, but this link will take you to a much better photograph, think Terry Gilliam of Monty Python and you won’t be too far out! I hope that doesn’t insult the memory of Herr Bosch but it’s hard not to make the connection. This link describes the painting in more detail. 

Click to enlarge

Once you’ve had your fill of the main panels, you spot that they’re hinged and designed to close. When closed two more panels are revealed showing crucifixion scenes painted in grisaille – or black & white (I’m not kidding, honest!) Perhaps they were done first, before Bosch got his colour licence. (Now I am).

If any of the arty-farty prose above makes me sound a bit pretentious – don’t worry we soon went back to normal with a return to the hotel, a wash & brush-up, and a forage for yet more wine…

As with the Spanish, the Portuguese don’t seem to eat much before 8pm. Even the local Pizza Hut didn’t open until 7.30pm on a Saturday so we skipped our evening cocktails (no sunset – it was chucking it down) and just had a quick beer until all the eateries were in full swing. A local restaurant (not the Pizza Hut!) served up two beautifully skinny, crispy and tasty pizzas with a fruity red house wine in double-quick time. We then went off clubbing all night taking lots of illegal substances to keep us dancing until the sun rose. 

No we didn’t. Like the old codgers we seem to be turning into, I hooked my phone up to the hotel room TV and we caught up with Tess & Claudia and the Strictly finalists. My name’s Ken and I’m a Strictaholic. There – I said it… 😀

Believe it or not, I’m rounding off these last few paragraphs at 38,000 feet! Yet another first for Travels With Vince – this post really has been written on trains, planes and automobiles. I should point out that I’m offline or easyJet will ban me from flying with them ever again.

We hope you enjoyed our wee break as much as we did, Vince may yet get another run out before Christmas, although the clock is ticking on that one. We’re thinking about our favourite spot in the harbour next door to the micro-brewery. We read that the Isle of Whithorn’s Steampacket pub has a band and some good food on the go this Saturday night. Hmm…we’ll keep you posted on that one!

As always we love to hear back from you via the comments, via email at or you can always follow our more general day-to-day nonsense on Instagram at @vincentvan_gone 

Until next time, keep safe, and chat soon!


Still waiting for Gill to finish drying her hair…..
Nativity scene
Don’t tell Christopher Robin!
About Ken Tomlinson 219 Articles
Semi-retired biker, blogger and world’s best grandad. Doesn’t take life too seriously. Discovered motorhoming in 2015, sold up and downsized to fund more travels. Now with added Yorkshire.

3 Comments on Art for Art’s Sake

  1. The weather yesterday was pants! Lisbon definitely looks like a superb city break. Today we drove over the Vasco de Gama bridge to the south side district. We are going to leave visiting Lisbon this time until we have more time to explore. We have a pitch booked in the Algarve for Christmas and need to get a shifty on. I will be able to revisit your posts when we come back. Glad you had a lovely pre-Christmas break.

  2. I was only reminiscing the other day about childhood Christmases and paper chain decorations Those doves are beautiful and the nativity… intricate. Glad you had a good break.

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