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Sunday 23 November 2014

Feeling the earth move in lovely Lisbon

MONDAY: Onboard Flight TK1977, a packed B737-800 home from Istanbul Ataturk airport We are home at midday, descending over waterlogged fields as the pilot executes an extremely bumpy landing on the cross runway at Dublin airport which wakes us all up for a wintry Dublin day.

TUESDAY: Most of the Irish travel agents who spent the last few days in Istanbul are under the impression that the city is a giant traffic jam.

They formed this opinion during a couple of hours on a bus on the log jammed cast road beside Kabatage. The traffic can be grim in Istanbul, but the impression is a wrong one.

WEDNESDAY: Flight EI484 to Lisbon arrives on time. My taxi voucher is in the tourism information desk as arranged. Lisbon is a city I pass through more often than I stay in and I have seen little beyond the three signature attractions of Belem Tower, St Jerome's Monastery and the Castle.

This is about to be addressed with enthusiasm. Our hotel is the LX boutique Hotel, perched noisily over one of the two best nightclubs in Lisbon, Music Box (the other is Lux), and within walking distance of everything worth seeing.

Our hostess Carmo Botelho starts the tour with a visit to the new Lisboa Story Centre and a cup of ginjinha, the local bitter cherry liquor, from a roadside stall.

The Story Centre uses its technological armoury to recreate the earthquake of 1755, climaxing in an earth-shaking mini theatre and a three side video depiction of the monastery of Carmo collapsing on the inhabitants. More Doomsday than Disney but it works.

THURSDAY MORNING: A behind the scenes tour at Confeitaria de Belém, where they make a gorgeous pastry covered in cinnamon and icing sugar. Miguel Clarinha tells us the secret Pasteis de Belém recipe is still cherished and preserved by members of his family. They haven't told him the secret yet, which is worrying. What happens if one of them chokes on a cinnamon fleck?

THURSDAY AFTERNOON: True to my home county, I head off alone to Lumiar in quest of the relics of St Brigid.

Some disorientated Kildare crusader brought them here in 1587 and they have stayed ever since. The relics are in a small-undistinguished urn. Brigid does not have a nameplate for a statue in her honour in a small suburban church. It seems appropriate and wonderfully spiritual.

THURSDAY: We are here to sample some fado music, a musical tradition distilled into something more like Stockton's Wing than sean-nós. In Clube de Fado our first encounter is tasteful and haunting, the taste of Cabo Verde soup made from potatoes, onion and olive oil and cabbage chourico washed down with the sounds of "Ay Mouraria" in our ears as we do a quick pub crawl. "Nostalgia is what is left when all is passed away," they sang. It makes sense over a litre of Bocks.

FRIDAY MORNING: Catia David talks us through the historical excavations at the back of St Jorge Castle, where they have engineered a recreation of the Moorish dwellings, suspended over the ancient foundations.

FRIDAY NIGHT: More Fado. An amazing performance by Mafalda Taborda, who starts by launching into Poema Deolinda Maria alongside stunning guitar work by Fernando Silva.

SATURDAY: Real local food: grilled liver served up in restaurant Grania Velha. Tourists shun this sort of food, the owner Alcides Lopes tells us.

SATURDAY NIGHT: Something unusual. A fado-based musical, Uma Noite em Casa de Amalia. Producer Filipe La Feria greets us to the theatre in a booming voice. We are the only tourists here.

SUNDAY: Gate 41 in terminal 1 in Lisboa airport waiting for flight EI485. While Ireland remains outside the Shenghen area, we are destined to board at the most distant gates from the check-in at mainland airports.

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