Lisbon Part II: …Must also go down.

Lisbon Part II: …Must also go down.

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Praca do Comercio & Rio Tejo

What goes up, must at some point go down and then up again. It may as well have been Lisbon’s theme song.

Day two in Lisbon (hello, sun!) started with a descent on Rua Augusta, down to Comercio Square through the famous triumphal arch. Praca do Comercio is an imposing plaza with the kind of arcade galleries that I like so much -reminded me of Venice-, with mosaic pavements and outdoor market shops ! As we walked to the shore of the Rio Tejo, the crisp scent of sea prickled my nose and I was greeted by the sound of happily chirping seagulls. But when I looked to my right, I was slapped in the face by a massive déjà-vu. Briefly thought I was delusional but it turns out that Lisbon has the somewhat perfect copy of the San Fransisco Golden Gate Bridge !

After some research (bless smartphones), I found out that this bright red suspension bridge is called the Ponte de 25 vinte e cinco Abril, and is even close in size to her twin sister in SF: 2,277m across the Tagus River – 2,737m for the Golden Gate Bridge. Wikipedia claims that both bridges were built by the same company of architects, which makes a lot of sense, right? 🙂 It’s not actually the only thing both cities have in common. They both have a history of destructive earthquakes, they both have the quirky street hills and both are navigated by bright yellow trams ! Connoisseurs add that both have a thriving coffee and pastry culture and that in winter you can even compare both of the city’s climates. What are the odds ?!

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After soaking up some vitamins D in the Portuguese winter sun, we continued our journey to Caís do Sobre, and took the train to Bélem! It’s probably what I was looking forward to most of all. As a kid, I have always been fascinated by the age of discoveries and I loved epic stories with Vasco da Gama and Magalhães. I would even dare to say that it’s the only bit of history featured in primary school I actually remember. I was hoping to be teleported straight back to my childhood heroes. That didn’t happen, but I found something else that blew me off my socks (and I don’t mean the custard tarts!).

 

Belém

I don’t think anyone had the mental orgasm I had after getting off the train and spotting the insanely beautiful Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

This early 16th-century monastery is a masterpiece of Late-Gothic Manueline architecture and I could probably have spent a whole day just looking at the exuberant details of the many decorative elements, religious and nautical. Commissioned in 1501 by King Manuel I on the site of a church founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, the monastery was meant to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for his success. His crew spent their last night here in Belém in prayer, before leaving. Their prayers weren’t in vain, as his voyages initiated the lucrative spice trade which made Portugal one of the wealthiest maritime superpowers of that century. The monastery was given to the monks of the Order of St. Jerome, whose spiritual job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul. Today, it is admired not only as a remarkable jewel of architecture but also as integral part of Portuguese culture and identity.

I was kind of surprised that my colleagues didn’t feel much for spending 10 euro to visit this truly unique piece of UNESCO World Heritage on the inside but then again, there was more sunshine to be soaked outside 🙂 I decided to go in alone. Kind of gutted at the time, as it meant I somewhat had to hurry, to not have them wait for several hours. But it’s like walking past the Sagrada Familea in Barcelona and not looking inside. Honestly, it’s like having a bit of your soul chipped away if you don’t – and I prefer mine to be intact.

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The arcaded cloister on the inside is even richer in ornaments. Each column is differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs. This style of architecture is known as Manueline, a typically Portuguese style of art that served to glorify the great discoveries of the age. On the outside is a garden consisting of hedges cut in the shape of various municipal coats of arms of Portugal. A highpoint, quite literally, is the spectacular church nave and its vaulted, spider web-like ceiling supported by columns resembling twisted rope. The tomb of Vasco da Gama is located near the entrance.

There were exhibitions as well ! A permanent one (I think) giving 5 centuries of history about Portugal and the Monastery itself, a Royal Portrait Gallery and another exhibition on the persona of Alexandre Herculano; a homage to his achievements in literature, history and politics. Had no clue who this person was, but now I obviously do!

When I got back out, my colleagues were queued at the famous Pastéis de Belem bakery. I worked up quite an appetite so the custard tarts worked wonders for me! They don’t even look any different than our ricepudding tarts but one bite into that crunchy, creamy, flakey perfection and you’re instantly sold. It’s like an angel crapping on your tongue. They’re said to be made from a secret recipe, but the “Pastéis de Nata” that you can find in every supermarket …. they taste just like the first ones, with a bit less crunch perhaps and without the secret. If I had not brought all them clothes I didn’t wear, I’d of stuffed my bag with pastries!

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After that extra boost of energy, I was ready to tackle an afternoon of walking and soaking up the athmospere on the banks of the Rio Tejo. We walked past the botanical garden but it looked a bit dread so we moved on. Instead walked to the Discoveries Monument, past the Berardo Museum straight to the Belem Tower with a little break at a lovely salad bar for lunch.

Funny timing as well, the Portuguese people celebrated carnival that weekend, and we saw a colourful joyful bunch of children doing exactly the same 🙂

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The discoveries Monument is basically a large statue of the world’s explorers set in stone with beautiful water scenery and the Golden Gate twin on the background. It represents a three-sailed ship ready to depart, with sculptures of important historical figures such as King Manuel I carrying an armillary sphere, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Cabral, and several other notable Portuguese explorers, crusaders, monks and cartographers following Prince Henry the Navigator at the prow holding a small vessel.

The pavement in front of the monument is decorated with a mosaic showing a compass with the map of the world.

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The Belém fortress tower was built to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor and was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery. It’s also built in the Manueline style just like the monastery while UNESCO says… “Belem Tower was declared a World Heritage monument because it is a reminder of the great maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world.”

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On the way back, I really would have loved a peek inside the free galleries of the Berardo museum for modern and contemporary art but since I traveled in company, not everyone necessarily shared my thurst for artistic enrichment, so I didn’t insist. I guess I had no reason to complain because at that point, I had seen everything I wanted – benefit of being the one in charge of the planning 🙂 It is said that the Berardo Museum has one of the world’s most acclaimed modern art collections, with works by Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Magritte, Miró, Bacon and Jackson Pollock. They are all artists  I have a deep awe for, _especially_ Francis Bacon. Oh, and Roy Liechtenstein! There is always next time.

More or less the same story at the Museu da electricidade, Lisbon’s Electricity Museum found in a large industrial building by the river. Built in the early 1900s as a power plant, it now explains the evolution of energy in a permanent exhibition showcasing the original machinery and also hosts diverse temporary exhibitions (photography, painting, sculpture) in its vast interior. It has a very classy exterior, which I was fortunate enough to have a good look at, but it also had a rather long queue to enter on this sunny saterday afternoon. So we skipped that as well.

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It felt like a good time to head back homewards and prepare for a nice dinner with a glass of Sangria on one of the sunny porches on the Praca dom Pedro near Rosso. Except… we had to wait for a spot. And the sun was starting to set so it got quite chilly. When we did find a spot eventually, there was no Sangria. There was Porto though who would have thought? :). And Vino Verde which no one wanted to even try – I would have tried the typical Portuguese specialty made of green grapes if I liked the taste of wine but I don’t. We headed home, scored a whole jug of sangria in the local supermarket and drank it all !

On a sidenote: homes in the mediteranean … no central heating. I know it’s Portugal and all, the country of the eternal blue sky… but it’s still pretty darn cold at night!!!  Judging by my companionship, I wasn’t the only one happy to have found spare blankets in the wardrobe 😉

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That same evening, we settled for a meal in a small but very atmospheric little restaurant just one corner down our street and the food was no less than delicious ! In Lisbon, I learned that just because it’s on the table, it doesn’t make it free. Entradas are appetizers placed on the table that you didn’t order. It’s a common practice, and the warm crunchy bread with aioli looked so inviting that we happily ate it all. I then had a Saltimbacco chicken dish with crisp bacon, sage and sauteed potatoes. It was a bit on the salty side for my taste, but that’s what one can expect when ordering bacon duh. It was such a nice portion that I didn’t even manage to finish my chocolate carrot cake! The other dishes looked equally delicious. Success !

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After a satisfying meal, my colleagues headed back downtown where more drinks and more fun were to be had, while I had a little craving for sketching instead. I had picked up some material in a local Tiger store earlier so I stayed in, enjoyed a long shower, got ready for a cosy sketching session in bed… and fell asleep on top of my sketchbook after only 4 minutes tops 🙂

Lisbon… very tiring – take 2 !

Tram 28

I’m a number one fan of public transport whenever possible, especially with the historic electrico (tram 28) taking you up into every little nook and cranny of the city and giving you an extra little window into the local life. Experience says: traveling with people who run/ran marathons and a have slender physique, is a bit out of my league. There were times I don’t think they could have slowed down any more than they did, they’d of been going backwards instead lol! Yeah, stairs aren’t exactly my forté. But I’m cool, it could be worse… I would by far prefer to be physically limited than intellectually impaired. I was super thrilled when we chose to ride the electrico on sunday morning. If there’s something that I DO know how to navigate, it’s a public transport map!

We heard the horn of the tram so very often the past days, while walking around Lisbon. When it just appeared from behind a corner out of nowhere like a wild Pikachu, it always made me smile. That quirky bright yellow tram is such a photogenic, familiar item in the city. It was so much fun to ride it ! And it allowed us to see much of the old town from our window seat.  My heart struck out of my chest a couple of time as the tram climbed up the very narrow hills, steep and winding alleys snaking around Alfama like a tagliatelli, honking before each perilous turn and leaving no room for even a pedestrian on neither side of the vehicle. There were times were I thought to myself whoa, if I were standing here I’d of been squished like a sardine in a can.

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More authentic views (over the Monastery of Sao Vicente de Fora -which we didn’t visit), past the Sé Cathedral and through the medieval maze.

We drove past the Saint Anthony’s church. It wasn’t anything special in comparison to what I had seen the past few days, but then I read its full name: Santo Antonio of Padua. Of course! “Saint-Antoine de Padou, vous qui trouvez tout!”  It’s a miracle phrase that my grandmother would always mutter when she had lost an item and needed to find it back. It’s actually quite funny, because this little bit of superstition has carried forth through the years – I still say it out loud when I’m getting to the “desperately (I need some supernatural help from above!)” level of lost. Like the housekeys at 7h03 in the morning when your bus leaves at 7h05.
And indeed, Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of the lost and found and was actually born in Lisbon, on the site of this church. Freaky coïncidence? It was my grandma’s birthday 2 days later.

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The tram took us to Martim Moniz, a place that somehow remains unmentioned in the tourist guides I read. It’s a neat and new square in a district that locals call the multicultural melting goblet of Lisbon. Down the big Avenue where we got off the tram, I saw a lot kebab houses, Indian restaurants and african stores but it was the smell of Chinatown I remember best. The three ladies wanted to walk back up to the flat, but I wanted another ride with the tram ! Like a kid on the carousel, I know 🙂  While waiting to board the electrico in the opposite direction, I checked out the window of a local spice shop right behind me: fresh saffron, cardamom, ginger, tamarind, coconut milk and lots of names I would probably not be able to write correctly if I tried. God, my curries would be so freaking amazing here.

I got off the tram, straight into the Sé Cathedral while others were doing their little souvenir shopping. It is Lisbon’s oldest building and from the outside it compares more to a heavy medieval bunker, but inside it’s very typically Romanesque. Roman and Baroque architecture don’t usually pack a punch for me as much as Gothic does.

All good songs come to an end. And so did my time in Lisbon unfortunately.

We took a taxi back to the airport, where I _almost_ managed to shake off the tail of my company (the bouncer split us up) and found myself quite lonely at the border security control. Common thing in an airport is that all the streets lead back to Rome, so we ended up meeting each other again in the plane. Almost as if we were destined to meet again 😉

Quite happy though to return back to my own nest, with my little Snuggles and an amazing pasta that my parents left for me on the kitchen sink.

So, any ideas for the next city trip? 😉

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