Friday, February 21, 2014

Last day - one last tour of lisbon

Today has been my last day here in Lisbon. Tomorrow I fly home, back to the waiting arms of The Amazing Ms. D. In deference of my aching legs, I took an easy day, but an interesting day. I decided to spend the morning on Lisbon’s natural tour bus – the Electrico 28.

I decided that the best way to do this was to get on at the 28E terminus at Plaça Martim Moniz. Martim Moniz was a Portuguese knight in 1147 during the reconquest of Lisbon from the Moors. The plaza has been rebuilt recently to provide parking underground. It is now a large cement open space with trees and food stands. It sits on the edge of an Asian neighborhood in Lisbon, so I got have steamed pork buns for breakfast.

Getting on at the terminus is important because the 28E is a small old tram and if you want a seat so that you can see out of the windows you have to be near the start of the line. You might even want to let one tram load and wait for the next.

The 28E starts at Plaça Martim Moniz and winds its way through the oldest of Lisbon’s neighborhoods. First to Graça and then through the Alfama. There are places where if you reached out the window you touch the houses on either side of the street. This is an area where the streets are so narrow that the tram track goes down to 1 lane, which means trams going one way have to wait for trams going the other to clear, where people walking down the street have to duck into doorways to let the trams go by. It winds its way down to the downtown neighborhood of Baixa, and then up the hill on the other side to Bairro Alto. The 28E finishes up in front of the Cemetério dos Prazeres. This translates as Cemetery of Pleasures. It was opened during a cholera outbreak in 1833 and was named after the farm that used to occupy the area.

This end of the 28E is in the Campo do Ourique neighborhood. If you walk 2 blocks back up Rua Saraiva to the S. Condestavel Church and look to your left you will see the Mercado Campo do Ourique. This is a great place to pick up the fixings for a picnic lunch. From here you can get back on the 28E or take one of the other buses back to the Baixa or Chaida neighborhoods, or just walk around and see explore where real people live in Lisbon. 

Fish mongers at work

Really fresh cuttle fish

Roasted suckling pig
Card game in the park

Everytime I leave Lisboa it rains!

I am not sure what it is about me, sites of natural wonder and bad weather, but we three seem to go together.

Take for example my first (and so far only) trip to the Grand Canyon. Well, the Amazing Ms. D and I had already spent a beautiful week under the hot south-west desert sun. We had traveled to Santa Fe, Taos, Acoma and Canyon de Chelly. Sunny and hot every day. Even driving up to the eastern gate, not a cloud in the sky. But, as soon as we entered the park - BAM! the fog rolled in. I think we drove along the south rim, truthfully all I could see were the tail lights of the car in front of me. It is true that today I have amazing photos of the fog coming up out of the Canyon, taken from above.

Or take our trip back from spending a year in the Canadian Rockies. While it is true that we had a lot of beautiful days in the Rockies, it is also true that the temperature did not go above 70 degrees from the 10 months we were in Canmore. Yet the day we crossed the border back into the U.S. BAM! 90 degrees! !0 days taveling from Montana to NYC - Sunny and hot everyday EXCEPT the one day we went to Yellowstone National Park. That one day out of 2 weeks - rain and fog.

I know that I have had lots of wonderful days seeing lots of wonderful sights, yet......There I was yesterday at Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point on the European Continent. And here is the best picture I could get:

Yup, fog and rain again.

So back on the tour bus, and back to the town of Sintra. I took the tour of the National Palace of Sintra:

The Palace was pretty much continuously occupied from the 16th century until the end of the Portuguese monarchy in the late 19th century and had been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. It's most famous features are the two kitchen chimneys (above) which allowed for an huge open space kitchen:

There are no ceilings in this space, just the chimney. 

The palace was amazing, as they tend to be. I won't add photos here because the professional ones are better than any I could take.

I wish I had more time to walk around Sintra and see some of the other sights, but the rain really did me in. It has beautiful small streets:

Although I was kind of surprised to see a tile store "bragging" about being there "since 1988"

Sintra is easily accessible from Lisbon by train from the Central Station at Rossio:

 which looks a little different that Penn Station in NYC.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

We all need a place to slow down

Forcing myself to take a break in my hike through Bairro Alto, I choose the outdoor cafe at Miradouro de Santa Catarina. Sitting above the riverfornt looking down on Cais do Sodre, I am rewarded with a panorama of the Tagus River.

To my right is the April the 25th Bridge. this bridge was designed by the same company that built the Oakland Bay Bridge (see here) but it painted to resemble the Golden Gate Bridge. Originally named after the dictator Salazar when opened in 1966, it was renamed after the Carnation Revolution that removed him in 1974. The name now commemorates the date that the revolution started.

April the 25th Bridge

I am struck here in Lisbon, as in many European cities, by the space given to just sitting, thinking and talking. Plazas, squares, overlooks, all were and are considered an important part of civic design. A place to slow down, have an coffee, relax and catch your breath. Visit with a friend. Spend some time people watching.

This whole idea is an anathema to the Puritan work ethic that drives the United States. We can't have places like this because, god forbid, someone might actually take a break, "stealing" good money from his employer.

In fact it was only a monetary inducement, tax breaks, that got real estate developers to build the open spaces that in mid-town and downtown New York today. I will give former mayor Bloomberg one tip of the hat - he looked for space to turn into plazas where someone can just sit, talk and people watch.

Anyway, back to Lisbon. This city is filled with places like this. Benches line every open space and plaza. Life can slow down for a cafe espresso. And I can rest my tired feet.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Belem - riverfront history and art

Today I went to Belém, a neighborhood along the Tagus River. Belém has many reasons to visit, both old and new.

Belém is the area from which many exploratory ships left Lisbon. It sits near the mouth of Tagus River. For that reason King Manuel I built the Mostiero dos Jerónimos (Hieronymous Monastery) in 1501. The Monastery is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was meant to impress all those who were arriving in Lisbon by boat. The church at the monastery contains the tomb of Vasco de Gama along with some beautiful stained glass. 

In addition to wanting to impress visitors, King Manuel I also understood the need to impress vistors and sailors so he built towers on both side of the river welcome sailors back with goods from colonies and trade around the world. The Torre de Belém has survived. It sits over-looking the river. 

Belem Tower

April 25th Bridge from Belem Tower

Up close at the tower

The area also includes many museums (see the entire list HERE). I really enjoyed the Museu Berardo. Located across the street from the Monastery in the Belém Cultural Center, the Museu Berardo has a very good collection of modern art from 1900 to today.

My final stop was at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. This tower was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Seafarer.

a lighthouse along the Tagus

To get to Belem take Electrico #15E from to Cais do Sodre. If you walk a little bit away from the Monastery in either direction there are good restaurants in many price ranges, so don’t feel like you have to pay top Euro in the museum coffee shops.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A rainy trip to Cascais

Today I decided that, since museums were closed, it would be a good day to get out of Lisbon and visit the town of Cascais. Cascais is a small seaside town about 30 Km east of Lisbon. So I went Cascais to find water, and boy did I - It rained almost the whole time I was there.

  Cascais was one of the tour options on the GreyLine bus tour. So I took the morning bus (1000) from the bus station at Marquis de Pombal. Before leaving the city of Lisbon the bus took a little tour which went past to aqueduct that brings the drinking water into the city.

Lisbon Aqueduct

The Tagus River

It then followed the Tagus River and the coast through the towns of Carcavelos, Parede, and Estoril, to Cascais. I got off of the bus at Boca de Inferno (Mouth of Hell). The Boca de Inferno is a 65 foot tall hole in the stone at the water’s edge. When the waves are big, they come crashing through and spray up the sides of the crevice in the rocks. There are several food and low key souvenir stands nearby.

Boca de Inferno

The Boca de Inferno is about 0.5 miles from the center of town. It is worth walking to and/or from. It was a beautiful walk, even in the drizzle that was falling. The base rock is Limestone and so it fractures over time leaving and amazing landscape along the shore.

You will also see the use of decorative tiles through out the town, on the walls of museums, town hall and houses.

Museu Condes de Castro Guimaraes

Cascais town hall

As you come in to town you pass several museums and the beautiful Parque Marachel Carmona. Continue past the Marina, and the Citadel and you will get to the Praia de Ribiera (Ribiera Beach). This little gem is surrounded by the patterned sidewalk and also houses working fishing boats.

Ribiera Beach

Ribiera Beach

Boats at Ribiera

Wavy paving stones throughout the town

You then have 2 choices. You can continue along the water front for some amazing views or wonder up into the shopping and restaurant area of town. I had a wonderful shrimp with spaghetti is a creamy tomato sauce at a restaurant called Marisqueira Camões.

At that point in the day the skies opened and the rains came. So what is a traveler to do? Invest €5 in an umbrella and keep going. The streets are full of little shops and fun juxtapositions of old and new. Spend the afternoon wandering through the town.

If you want to get to Cascais from Lisbon without the tour bus there is a commuter train from the Cais do Sodre station for about €5 round trip. It takes about 30 min to get there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Taking the tourist bus in Lisbon

What do you do when you land in a city where you have never been and don’t know anyone and it is 6 in the morning? Well for me that is a signal to slow down, because you are not going to be able to rush through anything.

My flight left Newark Airport 1 hour late after de-icing (don’t ask about the weather in NYC this winter).  I will say this for TAP Portugal Airlines. They moved that plane across the ocean. They had a nice selection of movies, and their Airbus 330 had this cool camera in the nose so you could watch the takeoff and landing from that point of view.  I really like the Airbus wide bodies. They are much more comfortable than the Boeings.

My flight landed at 6 AM and even taking my time I was still through passport control and customs before 7. You have to love the EU – 2 lines at customs – “something to declare” and “nothing to declare.”  The later just takes you right out to waiting crowds looking for their family. So I got some Euros and sat down and had breakfast. Then on to the Metro and off to my hotel. All in all I checked in by 8AM. The only problem? My room wouldn’t be ready until 2 PM. Again – the world was telling me “This is a vacation, SLOW DOWN”

My decision – Walk over the bus station at Eduardo VII park and take the double decker tour bus. “What!” I hear you say. “You claim to be a traveler, not a tourist! How can you do the most touristy thing in a new city?” Well, as a traveler, I haven’t found a better way to get the lay of the land in a city I don’t know. The buses go by all of the major tourist attractions and give me a feel for what else is in the neighborhood. Are there restaurants? Can I walk, take the Metro or do I need some other method? What do I see in the area I want to go to that is not in the book, or on the tourist spiel? So, if I have the time and I am not sure exactly where things are – It is on to the big red bus. Here is was the GreyLine. Their ticket was good for 48 hours and included a trip to the town of Cascais, where I am heading tomorrow. All for only €25 at their most expensive. See Here  

Belem Tower and a monument to the first flight from Europe to Brazil
Padrao da Descobrimientos
Grey Line has four bus routes – Belém. Oriente, Castle and Cascais. I started with Belém. This route went through downtown and then out west along the Tagus River. It passes through the waterfront park, and goes by several museums that I am looking forward to seeing on Tuesday.

I then changed to the Oriente line. Oriente is an interesting neighborhood. It was developed for the 1998 World’s Fair -  Expo 98. The Fair was built along the riverfront . Today its buildings have been repurposed. The main exhibition hall and park has been reopened as The Park of Nations (Parque das Nações) with an exhibition hall, aquarium, the Vasco de Gama tower and the Vasco de Gama Center – a large mall. There are a lot of restaurants in the area, but truthfully, you could do worse than some of the restaurants in mall’s food court. Today I ate from a stand called Meta dos Lietãos – a pork restaurant. For €6.95 I had a lechon sandwich, 2 kinds of ham (iberico and smoked) resóis de leitão – kind of a pork arepa, and something called caramujo which was sublime. A wafer filled with what I think was a sweet potato filling. All this and 2 cups of wine.
In front of the Centro Vasco de Gama

Centro Vasco de Gama

Building at centro Vasco de Gama

Statues in the Park of Nations

One of the exhibiton buildings

Fountain in the Park of Nations

Vasco de Gama tower

I walked along the river towards the Vasco de Gama tower. The River front is still a park with beautiful trees, paths through developed gardens and a walk right along the riverfront.

Then back on the bus to Parque Eduardo VII and back to my hotel where I could finally check in shower and relax.