So while the Books department toured the historic city of Rome, the Ceramics students (with the help of our handy in-house Portuguese tour guide, Tiago) went to Lisbon! And what a study tour it was-filled with sun, tiles, pastries, and the world's best chocolate cake. Plus about every form of public transport imaginable...

One of the first stops on the tour was to the French Embassy, which along with the beautiful architecture and superbly decorated interiors had the most wonderful collection of oriental porcelain displayed in quite a unique and ingenious way...

Now, having said that due to security issues I don't actually have any photographs but why not take a minute to close your eyes and imagine the wonder of the Porcelain Room... You are standing in a small room with a vaulted ceiling; in the centre of the room is a large round table with a mirrored top that almost fills the space. Your eyes are drawn to the mirrored surface and you find yourself staring into what appears to be an ornate blue and white chasm. But this is in fact a reflection of the meticulously crafted ceiling above-placed within bespoke decorative wooden panelling and filling the vaulted space are approximately 30 oriental blue and white porcelain plates ranging in size, shape and design. Whether craning your neck upward or staring down into the reflective depths of the table top you could stare at the ceiling for hours. Paradoxically the blue and white porcelain are far safer displayed like this, away from human hands (and in case one does fall there is a net protecting it and any unsuspecting visitors below).

To be honest a photo couldn't really have done it justice anyway...

Lisbon is a city filled with tiles-decorating the facades of houses and churches or found on park benches or fountains, the polychromatic ceramic tiles or AZULEJOS are everywhere!

The term azulejo comes from the Arabic word az-zulayj, meaning "polished stone"; today the famous tiles are an important part of the Portugal's architecture and culture as a nation. In recognition of this cultural tradition on day two of our study trip we visited Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum); set within a former convent, the museum has an impressive collection of ceramic tiles spanning five centuries and tracing the history and production of the art form. Its collection is the only of its kind in the world, and contains a splendid array of tiles from as early as the 15th century along with displays on how they were made.

As well as having a detailed tour of the museum we also had the pleasure of visiting their conservation lab! Responsible for the treatment and display of the museum's many, many tiles, the conservators certainly had their work cut out...

"One tile down, ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine to go..."

With limited resources and a mountain of tiles to conserve the museum uses volunteers to carry out some of the more remedial conservation tasks such as removing mortar and cleaning. One of the first things you learn when specialising in ceramic conservation is that due to shrinkage when firing, losses are almost never filled with ceramic-instead materials like plaster and resin are used... However, it was interesting here that for some of the more substantial areas of loss the conservators were producing fills out of clay that were fired and then glazed-although the process was tricky, the end results were pricing to be extremely successful.

Now, I believe at the start I mentioned something about pastries-well after our visit to the Tile Museum we journeyed to Belem to try "the best custard tarts in Portugal"... According to Tiago (our unofficial guide) the actual recipe is only known by three people!

And the verdict... DELICIOUS!Ensuring the entire Ceramics department went home complete tile experts, we visited the resplendent Palacio dos Marqueses Fronteira (Fronteira Palace). After two trains, a bus and a rather hot and sweaty walk we eventually reached the palace that was nestled high in the quite suburb of Berfica, northwest of Lisbon city centre.

Built in 1640, the palace is considered one of the most beautiful residences in Lisbon and is particularly noted for its stunning formal gardens and extensive collection of 17th and 18th century tiles.

As part of the visit we given an extremely informative guided tour around the residence and were then then left to explore the glorious formal gardens and grotto decorated with none other than (shock, horror) broken ceramics!! Perhaps it was my naivety but personally I considered the decoration both pleasing and an ingenious use of broken plates-surrounded by conservators, needless to say not everyone shared with my view...

In fact there were even suggestions the ceramics had been broken on purpose purely for the decoration! Surely not...!So after tiles, pastries, broken ceramics and more tiles the only thing left to complete our trip to Lisbon was O Melhor Bolo de Chocolate do Mundo (The Best Chocolate Cake in the World)... Located away from the main tourist drag, the modestly named pastry shop attracts customers from all over the world (including a few conservation students) to savour the chocolatey goodness!

So, was it the best chocolate in the world?

Umm it was alright I guess...

Only joking!! It really REALLY was the best darn chocolate cake in the world...!!And the tastiest way to end our Lisbon adventure...