Greetings from Portugal
Grab a glass of Port and let me fill you in on the most recent excerpt of “A girl and her hubs gone wild”, otherwise known as -A girl, her hubs and a suitcase. After 24 hours of torturous air travel surrounded by hacking lungs, germs and exposure to possible future Ebola carriers we picked up our adorable black and white Euro car, a 5 speed with just enough room for one of us to rest an arm between the seats. The sky was a dreary scene with pockets of torrential rain storms plowing through. Frank had every possible deficit thrown at him: lack of sleep, jet lag, an unfamiliar car and country (oh and language), terrible visibility, a cranky wife and a temperamental navigational system. Despite all that we made our way through the city center of Lisbon in bumper to bumper traffic without incident.
After many U-turns, mismanaged roundabouts and crisscrossing missed exits, turns and stops we made our way to the address in our Tom Tom. We arrived at many big, tall towering high rise tenements circa 1973 covered in graffiti and according to the navigational system this was our hotel. Ready to run in with our bags I was stopped by Frank announcing –“this is not it!” But-yet the address matched the confirmation. He then entered the name of the hotel. This took us in a different location buying us another 25 more minutes of travel. We later found out by the hotel clerk that there are 3 other locations in Sintra-all with the same address!
Entering the town of Sintra, I now understood the confusion on Frank’s behalf. It is a beautiful, tight wound labyrinth of streets configured in dizzying crazy eights and loopy turns. The roads are narrow and wind up in a vertically challenged 90 degree fashion. There is Moorish architecture, dotting the tangle of lush greens, ample plush growth, fertile and pungent of rain and earth. Castles play hide and seek in the distance, as if they are a giant peering its intimidating head. A random waterfall on the side of the road stands out like an overdressed girl on a casual date. 12 foot stone walls bookend the slender streets forcing cars to almost hold their breath as they pass each other. Thick, square rocks create a cacophony of sounds as car wheels clunk over them, pedestrians plod their way down them and bicyclists daringly propel down them in whirlwind speed. At one point- we hugged the stone walls as pedestrians, cars and buses all negotiated for equal space and right of way. An impossible situation that only one person ever wins. Our hotel http://www.tivolihotels.com/en/our-hotels/sintra-hotels/tivoli-palacio-de-seteais/the-hotel.aspx off to the side of one such narrow road – is a delightful surprise, mammoth in size, screaming grandeur and timeless elegance. A pleasant doorman ran to my attention, umbrella in hand eager to help in any way as we drove up. The hotel is an 18th century palace with fine furnishings, antiques, and impressive art and décor. We were greeted by a complimentary bottle of Port and some authentic flaky Portuguese pastry that was waiting for us in our beautiful room which had stunning views of the castle. Fighting the overwhelming urge to nap, we instead showered and took advantage of the weather turn as the sun began to emerge. We set out on foot –the weather was mild, with the smell of rain and wet soil in the air. We made our way into the main village took in the scene and just people watched.
We settled on a restaurant called Laurence http://www.lawrenceshotel.com/ . As far as food goes in Sintra, it tends to be rather touristy and overpriced. This restaurant is part of a hotel. The hotel is nestled in a lush forest with beautiful gardens. The building is well preserved and is full of character. The service was good. The portions were somewhat on the measly side. I had gazpacho, which was spicy and could easily pass for V8, if not in a soup terrine. Frank had a fish soup, that appeared a little on the watery side. My meal was a very unmemorable tortellini dish. The vegetarian options were disappointing and few to choose from. Frank had a fish dish that he seemed quite pleased with. Unsatisfied with my meal, the restaurant did redeem itself with a lemon tart and lemon sorbet that was sublime.
We made it back to our room, just in time as the heavens opened and the rain down poured all night.
This morning we awoke with the faintest of birds singing and sun streaming through our floor to ceiling windows. This room is so spectacular that it not only has 1 but 2 showers in the bathroom and 2 sinks. Pretty swanky, huh?
We arrived for breakfast in the large open dining room, with a beautiful spread of delicacies. There were tantalizing sliced fruits in every shape, color and size, exotic and indulgent, mouthwatering pastries and hot filling eggs, bacon and breads. No one else was there yet and the waiter treated us like royalty, awaiting our every need. From there, bellies full we took a hop on-hop off bus to The Castle of the Moors http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/parques-jardins-e-monumentos/castelo-dos-mouros/ . Perched up on a mountain top are 1000 year old ruins of a Moorish castle. Now, I must admit, although I have a lifetime membership at LA fitness and may even walk that treadmill 4 times a week like it is nobody’s business- these hills have really challenged my endurance . My belief was that the bus drops us off at the top of the mountain. WRONG! The bus disembarks you at the bus stop, and then it is quite a walk up jagged rocks and uneven stone, with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean all along the way. Old people, smokers and mothers pushing strollers passed by me as I gasped my way up to the top.
Next, we took the bus to Pena Palace http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/park-and-national-palace-of-pena/ . This was even higher and more strenuous to walk than the castle. It’s a “Disney-esque” palace built by “crazy” King Ludwig’s cousin. Nestled high up on the mountain, so high it has its own weather system. Bright sunshine, clouds so close you can almost touch them. The views from there are spectacular. Again, getting there was taxing on the joints, straining on bones and a lesson in persistence for me. As expected, I may (or may not- you decide) have complained the entire length of the walk. But, the moral of the story is- all good things must be earned. This I did in fact deserve. Once up there, we took a self-guided tour through the palace. On our way down we sat at a picnic table in the shade and enjoyed a light sandwich we had packed.
Our next stop was the National Palace http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/national-palace-of-sintra/ . An 18th century palace with your usual set of suspects, ball room, chapel, gardens, etc.…. By this time, I was all “toured” out, a full day of walking, climbing “oohing and ahhing.” My brain was mush, my feet shot.
We worked our way back to the hotel and along the route was a place called Cintra Magic http://taylormoorephoto.com/new-works/ . A photo gallery comprised of all photos of Sintra from a very pleasant gentleman who left Canada to live his dream of photographing Sintra in all its beauty. A pretty gutsy dream if you ask me. His studio was situated around beautiful greenery and abundance of vegetation and foliage. If nothing else, he and his assistant were a friendly bunch and good conversation was had.
We made it back to the hotel, rested a bit and decided to have dinner at our hotel. http://www.tivolihotels.com/en/our-hotels/sintra-hotels/tivoli-palacio-de-seteais/the-hotel.aspx was a true dining experience. Once again, the service was impeccable. That 5th star really makes all the difference here and they go that extra mile that most places don’t. A gentleman was playing beautiful melodies on a piano as we dined by candlelight. We were given a complimentary bottle of Portugal red wine which made the meal all that more enjoyable. I had a Caesar salad with all the right components-creamy dressing, buttery croutons and crisp lettuce. Frank enjoyed a creamy oyster soup, presented to him in a dramatic way, as the waiter poured it to him over one sad and lonely-but yummy little oyster. This was followed by an amuse buche- a teaser of sorts. Nothing all that impressive for me, but Frank had some interesting indulgent items on a spoon. Next course was a special made vegetarian risotto for me. It had crunchy, neon green asparagus and a sinfully creamy texture. Bravo, Bravo! Frank had duck. He said Portuguese duck tastes different than USA ducks. Hmmmm, makes sense. We ended on an interesting note recommended by the waiter of pears poached in Sherry and Star Anise; pretty in presentation- again interesting. The verdict is not out on this one. Still debating….
Well, that’s it so far.
Tune in for exciting travels ….
Portugal Trip Report 2014
This morning we awoke to gloomy skies and the pelting of continuous rain. Last night, we had the “pleasure” of hearing our neighbor- I like to lovingly refer to her by “Typhoid Mary”, hacking her lungs out into the wee hours. This same delightful germ carrying gal accompanied us to the breakfast bar and proceeded to touch every item. With the fear of Ebola and the constant threat of maintaining a healthy environment within my system- made this that much more concerning. I also found out that she will be here until tomorrow. So, note to my fellow traveling peeps out there and just people in general…. There is a common courtesy in which should be practiced—when you are sick, send the hubs for your breakfast. Sequester yourself from my presence. In fact, let’s just quarantine you. I was quite tempted to leave her a complimentary face mask, but I felt the damage was already done.
After our antibacterial laced breakfast, we drove to Monserrate http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/park-and-palace-of-monserrate/ . Monserrate is an exotic botanical gardens and palace. Visiting this place is an experience that truly incorporates every sense. The greenery is rambling with colorful and ample lush plants, trees and flowers. We started at the top and worked our way down, level by level. As one descends this magical wonderland, every turn brings out a new visual delight. There were so many different species of plants and trees that at times I felt I was in an enchanted rain forest. The air was damp, the rocks were treacherous, and navigating the jagged stones was a precarious undertaking.
We were there with maybe a handful of other tourists and pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. The path took us to a palace built in the 19th century, with unique Moorish details. The whole excursion, including numerous complaints from yours truly was roughly 3 hrs. I must admit this was one of my top 5 things I have EVER done in my travels. If I had brought a hair tie, it may have moved up a notch or two.
From there we drove over to Cabo da Roca https://www.visitportugal.com/en/NR/exeres/B1743B31-3190-4769-9EFD-9E911FF4C813 . It is the most Western part of Europe. Getting there was a nail-biting, holding your breath experience. First, the roads are so narrow that barely one small car can fit. Yet, these are 2 lane roadways. Speeding buses, trailers and cars zipped by us as Frank gripped the wheel scooting to an imaginary shoulder. Each side of the road is flanked by concrete walls, creating even more of an issue. As if that was not scary enough-our navigational system sent us on what I can only refer to as maybe a donkey path. Colossal, pointy shaped rocks piercing our suspension system, big gaping puddles, and nowhere to turn around. Once we chose this route we were fully committed. Some of you have had the pleasure of witnessing my anxiety infused video.
The pathetic “road” spit us out onto a major thorough fare that had us praising hallelujah! We walked up to the edge and took all the splendor of the Atlantic ocean in. I find a certain romance in the notion that just on the other side of that glorious ocean is my homeland. We were perched high up on a perilous cliff, with only the support of an anemic looking fence that would give way with just the slightest effort. The die-hard tourists clung to the fence, dangling dangerously for that perfect selfie.
We had a small treat in the café and a light lunch overlooking the impressiveness and awe of that great big body of water. We safely made our way back to the hotel and had a much deserved nap.
When we awoke, hunger had settled in and we did some research for some fine food in Sintra. Sintra is a tourist destination and is known for lack luster food and overpriced meals. We drove a short distance to a lovely establishment Nau Palatina http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g189164-d5111405-Reviews-Nau_Palatina-Sintra_Sintra_Municipality_Lisbon_District_Central_Portugal.html. It is a darling little Tapas restaurant operated by Joyz and Yolanda Vieira. We were the only patrons in there as it was later and a weekday. Joyz was eager to accommodate my vegetarian requirements and suggested many unique authentic Portuguese delights. We had a tasty garbanzo bean soup followed by a cheese platter consisting of sheep’s and goat cheeses with quince marmalade, exclusive only to Portugal. This was served with homemade bread full of texture and full yeasty nooks and crannies. Frank had some shrimp with a pumpkin chile sauce and I had a mushroom omelet, unlike any mushroom I had tasted before. We ended with a small sweet treat unique only to this region that was made with lemon custard and cinnamon.
After dinner, Joyz sat and talked with us sharing interesting stories about his proud culture. It was a cozy meal and felt as if I was in this couple’s dining room of their house. The best part was it was affordable. No hidden fees or “covert” charges for bread. It was a truly enjoyable evening and being it was our last night in Sintra I was glad we did our research.
So, that’s it for tonight. My hubs is snoring next to me, and in a few minutes I will be doing the same. Stay healthy, wash your hands, take your airborne and stay away from disease carrying individuals that spread their germs.
Portugal Trip Report
Day 4 &5
Up & awake bright this morning to pack and move to our next location. We enjoyed our last breakfast at the hotel and the waiters and staff treated us in a fashion I had never been treated before. We took this time to take advantage of exploring the grounds and gardens at the hotel. They were beautifully, skillfully trimmed topiary and the hotel backs up right into a national forest. Modern art is placed randomly throughout the gardens-out of place, but strangely fit right in. We bid our goodbyes and me-silently cursing Frank for setting the bar so high. How can I ever go back to a Days Inn after luxuriating at a Palace!
We drove into town and did my favorite thing that I love to do on vacation—LAUNDRY! Yes, you heard me right. I love me a good suddsing. Packing for 10 days is problematic and difficult to get right. We went to the Lavandaria Self-Service Laundromat and truly immersed ourselves as locals. We witnessed a lively debate/argument/ altercation all in Portuguese over a dryer. In the end, someone had to take out there wet clothes and loud murmurings, eye rolling and Portuguese cursing in full force. It was a Portuguese soap opera. I tell you, where can you find entertainment like that? Clean clothes in tow we left the lovely city of Sintra with mist in our eyes and love in our hearts for such a captivating town.
We drove approximately 2 hrs. to the town of Fatima. Now, this is quite an interesting story…. Here it is in a synopsis- The Virgin Mary appeared six times to three peasant children between May 13 and October 13, 1917. On her last visit she disclosed to the one child that three things will happen- (1) Communism in Russia will end and they will worship religion again (2) She recounted visions of hell and made references to World War II (3) The third revelation was not made public until years later, but it was the attempted assignation of Pope John Paul II.
The area we visited consisted of a sanctuary and a cathedral placed on the grounds where the last encounter was. It is a pretty big widespread area-even larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome! Driving up to the place the sky was grey, raining and cold. I made a vain prayer aloud asking GOD to shine some sun on us during our visit. Within minutes, sun erupted warming up our faces and a cool breeze blew through the air. The remainder of the day stayed in this fashion. Coincidence? I think not.
There was a mass going on in Portuguese and a woman was saying her “Hail Marys”, except it was called “Santa Marias”. Rhythmically she began each line the same, hypnotizing me into a meditative state. Individuals crawled on their knees, a common practice to show devotion. People with true medical afflictions hobbled there way faithfully to light a candle. Just 2 days before a pilgrimage had occurred bringing out the most devoted of worshippers for the anniversary of the last appearance of the Virgin Mary. A certain somnolence and peacefulness hung over the air. It was an enjoyable journey and well worth it.
From there we traveled another hour to our hotel in Coimbra http://www.quintadaslagrimas.pt/ . It is a lovely resort with numerous amenities such as golf, a spa, a Japanese garden and sprawling grounds in a pretty congested city-none of which we took advantage of since we were only spending the night. We settled in and around 8pm and ventured out. The weather is very similar to Florida with a nice breeze. We walked to our destination Acapella http://www.acapella.com.pt/ , where we would be enjoying a Fado concert. Fado music http://www.portugal.com/information/fado is a soulful melody, full of emotion and expression. It is sensual and melodic. The music is further complimented by evocative guitar playing. The concert was in a dimly lit church- an intimate gathering of rather enthusiastic sophisticated people. The church was perched high up on a 90 degree angle and took some major calf action to get there. We sat rather closely to the stage and ordered some lovely light Tapas and wine. They were very obliging to invent a vegetarian meal for me which was superb. We had an amazing bowl of flan to end the meal, crispy burnt sugar tantalizing our taste buds.
The music started during dinner service and it truly is an experience. The mournful serenade in combination with the sublime food made for a very memorable evening. The concert was roughly an hour and a half, so it was after midnight before we even made our way back to the hotel.
Now, let me mention Coimbra is a major college town! It is known for its university http://www.uc.pt/ , being it the second oldest university in Europe (Bologna is the oldest). Having said that, we all know what college kids like to do….
So, you can just imagine the madness we walked out into at midnight-traipsing through the streets of Coimbra. These guys seem to have partying down to a science. My 40 something year old bones felt very old, as we maneuvered our way through screaming, screeching girls, testosterone infused boys and the thump of loud music echoing through the streets. Youth and endless energy permeated the air.
We came back to our room exhausted, after 1 am and so ready for sleep-except our room was pouring out heat through the ac system. We were drenched in sweat and fatigued from all the walking. Fortunately, the gentleman at the front desk moved our room to a deluxe suite with working air and off we slumbered for the next 8 hours.
When we awoke- we made our way to a lovely breakfast, refueled our bellies and set off for the day. We went by taxi up to the University to view the library, which is what it is most famous for. The university, which was founded in 1290 hovers over the city- a mammoth group of ancient buildings. We toured the elaborate library ornate with gold and a massive volume of books. We were limited to where we could go and no pictures were permitted-so that was a bummer. We then went to the academic prison that was active back in 1974 during their revolution. This was very interesting. You could be placed there with the mere infraction of asking too many questions! Boy, do I know some past fellow students that belong there! Then, lastly we made a quick pit stop in the cathedral. There were massive throngs of annoying tour groups that littered the complex which was a bit of a kill joy.
We made our way slowly down the high elevation by steps, with a few interruptions of me complaining and intermittent bursts of shopping. Eventually, we made it back to the car and ventured off for our last stop- Lisbon.
We are staying at the Torel Palace http://www.torelpalace.com/ -a darling periwinkle colored real life looking dollhouse. We have sweeping views of the whole city. The clerk met us at the door, gave us complimentary drinks and helped us get a lay of the land. Our room is very nice, with beautiful views and all the comforts of home.
Well, that’s it for now….
I will leave you with this random Portuguese proverb…
A good word quenches more than a cauldron of water.
Portugal Trip Report 2014
Last night after arriving at our hotel, the lovely Torel Palace, we went for some unmemorable Indian food. We went by taxi, as we were unacquainted with this overwhelming city. The restaurant was located in a hopping area, crowds of people everywhere. The energy was high and almost palpable, 20 “somethingers” drinking alcohol right on the street, cabs and cars fighting for space, drunks loud and spilling out into the streets.
After dinner, we walked a bit. The farther away from the center we got, the landscape of individuals changed to a more composed population. We took a taxi back to the hotel and tucked in bed by 1am.
This morning we had a pleasant breakfast provided by our hotel consisting of pastries and fresh squeezed orange juice. Then we made our way down the many steps that descend down into the city http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g189158-i18225866-Lisbon_Estremadura.html . A thing or two about Lisbon….It is a large city that is intimidating with its many levels of streets. In a book or even on screen, the depth cannot be translated. Our hotel is sort of nestled up at the top, like a cake topper on a multi-layer cake. This is good for aesthetics, but for practical purposes for a novice to this area-it does create some strategic planning. Fortunately, we are steps from the “elevator” / funicular http://www.lisbon-tourism.com/en/lisbon-attractions/historical-edifices-and-monuments-in-lisbon/funicular-system-of-lisbon.html . There also is a great subway system, easy to understand. But, what Lisbon is famous for is the tram system. Later on you will hear about this adventure…
So, we purchased a 3 day pass for all the public transportation and made our way to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian http://museu.gulbenkian.pt/Museu/pt/Inicio .
It is a lovely museum full of priceless brick- a- brack, prolific artists such as Rembrandt, Monet, Manet and a Sargent that I wanted to take off the wall and bring home. It is a manageable museum that moves rather easily and was not too congested. We spent roughly 3 hours there and then dined in their restaurant https://www.zomato.com/pt/grande-lisboa/cafetaria-do-museu-gulbenkian-praça-de-espanha-lisboa . We sat on the patio and had a delicious meal as the sun made its midday appearance after a gray, humid morning. Feisty birds hovered over us as they waited anxiously for morsels of food. The terrace was situated in a charming park, which we later walked as we exited the grounds.
We walked a bit further and we stumbled upon an energetic area called the commercial square http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/comercio-square.html
Throngs of lively people were out enjoying the afternoon sun. Gargantuan cruise ships were docked; school age kids were up to hijinks, while couples smooched. There was an entertaining man singing Bob Dylan and the like on guitar as people sang along and swayed to the soulful melody. Seagulls and pigeons fought like unruly siblings over miniscule scraps of edibles. We stayed there taking it in for a while, offering a well- earned respite from the morning’s activities.
We then took the #28 tram in hopes of getting up to the pinnacle of Lisbon’s city center to view castelo de sao Jorge (the castle) http://castelodesaojorge.pt/en . Well, we never quite got there….For those of you not familiar with riding on a tram in Lisbon, it is similar to being stuffed in a clown car, except with stinky armpits in your face while clutching onto a stranger’s belt loops so you don’t propel face first into the driver as he is negotiating a steep 180 degree incline. I was under the naïve impression that I would be leisurely sitting in the seat, breeze blowing my perfect curls (my fantasy-leave me alone) as I view all of Lisbon’s finest sights. At one point as we were piled in this sardine can, feet plastered to the floor to steady myself, I thought certainly not one more person can fit in this claustrophobic germ mobile. But, yet alas, 30 more people would pile on-wedging me between a 92 year old lady barking at the driver and a bunch of oblivious generation Y’ers . I would love to have showed you visual footage of this but my hands were zealously gripping the MRSA laced pole.
In the confusion we missed our stop, got off, disinfected ourselves and re-embarked the other direction just for “fun”. Finally, we got off having really not accomplished much –although I must mention- the husband had a grand time. Traveling takes a certain flexibility and “when in Rome” attitude that as I “age” becomes more of a challenge. So, please don’t let me shade your judgment on this activity. These in the end, are all my subjective views and it is meant in good fun.
We came back to the hotel and sat on the terrace with a mouth puckering glass of lemonade from the hotel. The sun was setting and into a picture-esque “gone with wind” sunset and all the day’s activities were all just a distant memory. It was nice to have nothing to do, and no one to see- just a cold glass of lemonade and a sunset.
Dinner was recommended by the helpful girls that man the desk here at Torel Palace. We dined at a cozy place that mainly the locals go to called 2 A Esquina https://www.zomato.com/pt/grande-lisboa/bica-à-esquina-bica-lisbon/menu . It is a delightful place with a friendly owner who was extremely accommodating. The meal starts with an artesian cheese plate, gourmet mustard and fresh bread. My main dish was a bit of an oddity for me, but I was being a risk taker and had an item called green eggs. I can’t even begin to explain this creation but essentially it is a hardboiled egg that has a crispy coating on top. It was good, but must be unique to this restaurant because I wanted to explain it better and can’t find anything on it. The vegetarian items were few, as this was actually the only option, otherwise I may have thought twice. With this I had a side of tempura green beans that were yummy. Frank had a Portuguese sausage spinach concoction that seemed like an odd combination. His main dish was a meaty, very rare, grisly steak. It was mainly left untouched. The atmosphere was enjoyable and festive, the prices were reasonable and the owner was very friendly.
Following dinner we schlepped our full bellies up the inclines, fighting gravity back to the hotel.
Tune in tomorrow for more Lisbon tales of mayhem…….
Portugal Trip Report
Each morning it is harder to rise, burning the candle at both ends… But, before we know it the trip will be over, just a distant memory and we don’t want to waste it sleeping in. Having said that — here are some tips from Big Momma while travelin’….Have a pen, are you ready? I will wait – because this is good stuff!
• ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS wear comfortable shoes.
• Always have a camera (or 2) available. You never know when that amazing shot will occur.
• Respect the culture. Sometimes, you cannot believe what is going on, and understood what is perceived as rudeness. But, just remember you are a guest and should act as one.
• Do your research people. Please. Know something. I have made the mistake of thinking Frank will teach me everything. It is good to have a minimal baseline of knowledge. It will enhance your experience while you are there.
• Always bring snacks, tissues, hand sanitizer, band aids and scissors. (For example, on our way from Coimbra to Fatima we stopped at a rest area to use the bathroom facilities. The woman’s “bathroom” was literally a hole in the ground. No TP, no soap. Do you see what I am saying? We are in the year 2014 and we are peeing in a hole in the ground, really?)
• Don’t pack more than you can lift. This can really be problematic when you are going through subways and small hotels with no lift. Keep it simple, plan on laundry, etc.… So, remember me when packing….
These are just a couple of tips that I have learned the hard way…by making all these painful mistakes. I am certain the husband has a list that he could rattle off in a minute. Again, I have learned along the way, but still continue to screw up. Aww, the joys of travel.
So, today was one of the most physically challenging days of my life. I went through every emotion from elation and joy to hopelessness and despair. A see-saw of “I can do this” to “I am never traveling again”. Let’s rewind, and I will take you through the excruciating details, so you can understand….
Crawled out of bed, hunched over like an old man, knees crunching, back spasming-nothing that Motrin, a hot shower and a flaky croissant can’t remedy. After eating, we set out on foot down the many, many numerous steps that descend down into the city. After this, we walked to the metro subway, down the steps (many), and waited in the oppressive sauna- like atmosphere for the cattle car packed to inhumane conditions to arrive. We then propelled ourselves forcefully through the cluster of other passengers. We swayed clinging to anything we could- counting down the seconds until I could exit. I had to transport myself to my “happy place”, as the sweaty, uncomfortable reality was almost intolerable.
We plopped off the train, switched over to another train (last verse same as the first) for one more stop and then more steps, more heat….We then walked quite a bit until we got to our destination Grupo Amigos Museu Nacional de Arte http://www.museudearteantiga.pt/
The museum is an unintimidating gallery with some amazing pieces of art. The art spans from 14th century European works to late 19th century. It goes in order and is based on one floor. We spent several hours there, enjoying the art in silence.
From there, we took a cab to Jeronimos Monastery http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/jeronimos.html- an overwhelming architectural delight that was inhabited by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome in the 1500’s. The line was long and moved a bit slow, but was well worth the wait for the beautiful views inside. A huge open space awaited us, a cloister courtyard with ornate sculpture, decorative details and columns with elaborate carvings. We roamed around as the intense sun bore down on us.
We took a rest and walked down the street to a Starbucks. We enjoyed some delicious much needed drinks and ate some hot chestnuts from the vendor. We sat in the shade, right in the hub people watching. We stayed there for a while getting lost in the activities of the crowd’s pandemonium.
We walked across the street, right on the sea is the Monument of Discovery http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.pt/ .It is a large monument commemorating all the sea travel that originated from this very spot. At this point- the sun was at its most penetrating; as sunburn began to creep up our necks. We walked around took pictures and eventually found ourselves at a gelato shop. We enjoyed the cold creamy loveliness in sweet contrast to the burning glow of the sun. We savored the moment as well as the sweet gelato.
From there, slowly, we made our way back. Back to the many steps, back to the crowded tram, congested metro and up the elevator. Exhausted and out of the hotel for a total of 7 hours the thought of maneuvering down the hill for dinner was more than this tired gal could bare.
We reached the hotel chatting with the clerks who provided us with some much needed chilled water. They ordered a pizza for us that was delivered to our room. After a MUCH needed shower, we ate picnic style in our room watching the History channel (with Portuguese subtitles).
Now, we rest. We are in for the evening after a rather stimulating, action packed day. After what may sound like a gruesome tale of misery, I will say again-this is all part of travel. If I don’t want to battle the crowds, fight for a subway seat, run to catch a tram, trip like a fool on cobblestone, stand in lines for days, eat strange bizarre “green eggs” (what in the world was I thinking?) then I may as well sit home, turn on my “reality” TV, and let the world spin on by.
So, my point is-after a day of exertion, heat, sweating, hunger and bladder deprivation- there is also the joy I felt looking at a beautiful painting, the peace I experienced as I looked out at the same sea the explorers set out many centuries ago, the absolute gratitude I had for that first cold sip of water, and the appreciation that was felt as the taxi transported me and allowed me to rest my aching feet. Without all the annoying nonsense that accompanies travel, all those high moments would be lost. Make sense?
Tomorrow is our last day and then we leave bright & early, so this MAY or may not be my last entry.
Thanks for sharing the ride…
~B & F~
Portugal Trip Report
This is my last entry as it is our final day in Lisbon. After our yummy breakfast we headed towards our exciting plans for the day. We were meeting our guide Marta from Your friend in Lisbon http://www.yourfriendinlisbon.com/ for a private tour around Lisbon. (I must do a shout out to my dear pal Sarah –my lovely former neighbor who recommended this activity)
Marta met us in the commercial square with a big smile and hearty enthusiasm. She began by telling us some interesting history regarding Lisbon. In 1755, there was a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that essentially ruined Lisbon. It took 10,000 lives and leveled the city. But, in true Portuguese spirit they rebuilt the city eventually into the metropolis it is today. Marta was easy to understand, her English impeccable and answered our many questions as they popped up without hesitation.
The beauty of this tour and having your own tour guide is the individual attention that was given to us. Marta, acting as our “Sherpa” led the way through the winding streets of Lisbon. On foot we slowly snaked our way through the city as she interweaved interesting details. She knew all the secrets and managed to get us up hills and massive inclines in the most mysterious of ways, taking an elevator from a train station then hopping over to another building and taking an escalator until before we knew it we were almost at the top.
No #28 cram sandwich, no hokey golf cart, no aching calf muscles….I could not replicate her unique navigational skills, but I was grateful for an activity that did not bring me close to tears due to exhaustion. We saw famous churches, historical squares, and interesting stories were recounted.
There were several high points of the tour but one very special thing Marta did was take us to Baltazar Castanheiro http://www.casabalthazarlisbon.com/en/confeitaria-nacional.html . This café decorated in ornate Art Nouveau is famous for their Pastel de nata, a custardy, flaky tart (that is unbelievably delicious). She treated us to coffee and a Pastel de nata as she continued to explain Portuguese culture.
Refueled and invigorated with a sugar high, we proceeded up the hill for amazing views, pictures and more info. At one point, we stopped in a store and she assisted in helping me pick out souvenirs for home. The tour ended in a wine store where she treated us to a glass of Tawny Port. The tour was 98 Euros total for 2 people, lasted over 3 hours and I feel was money well spent.
After we and Marta parted ways, we made our way to Starbucks. We had a light sandwich we had packed and some drinks. We rested our feet and planned the remainder of the day.
Cocky with our new found knowledge of the city, we found ourselves climbing the hill again. We did some economical recovery for the city of Lisbon, purchasing souvenirs and went on the hunt for some authentic Portuguese pottery. After some exploring, we finally found Santana http://www.santanna.com.pt/en . The factory that is off site in Lisbon has been making pottery since 1741. Finding the perfect piece and hoping it won’t be ceramic particles when we get home was nerve wracking. Eventually the most perfect piece was found-a beautiful, fragile bowl that is wedged somewhere between underwear and dirty jeans.
With a successful shopping expedition complete, it was time to wrap this baby up. Put a nice bow on it and bring it home, boys. By this time it was approaching dinner, and as lovely as Portuguese food as –we had a hankering for some good ole’ food from the USA. We stopped at the lively Hard Rock Café http://www.hardrock.com.pt/cafes/lisbon/ and enjoyed a nice happy hour with some beer and appetizers. Exhausted and having to pack for our flight back home tomorrow- we headed back.
B & F’s Portugal Top 10:
10. All the lovely hotels/palaces we stayed and the amazing people of Portugal
9. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
8. The many, many sweet treats in Portugal especially the Pastel de nata
7. Grupo Amigos Museu Nacional de Arte (The National Museum of Ancient Art)
6. Cabo da Roco (The most Western part of Europe)
5. Fatima experience
4. Friends of Lisbon personal tour
3. Pena Palace in Sintra/ Moorish Castle in Sintra
2. Fado concert in Coimbra
1. Monserrat Botanical Gardens in Sintra
Some last words on Portugal….
Portugal is a real experience. To understand this culture and country is to immerse oneself into it. The regions we were in- were physically challenging, but well worth every foot step and charley horse. Tackling the cumbersome terrain from the plush gardens of Sintra, to the windy zig- zag roads of Lisbon was monumental at times to the point of over whelming exhaustion. But, I pushed myself-more than I ever had. I may have complained (a lot). But-in the end, I climbed that hill, I went that extra mile (literally) , I made myself focus on that one “last” painting-even though I thought I couldn’t go on.
To quote our great guide Marta “The people of Portugal are resilient. They are a kind people, tolerant and accepting of all diversities”. I witnessed this first hand. The spirit of Portugal will forever stay in my heart.
Thanks for tuning in…..
Next on the agenda-
New Orleans Thanksgiving