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Portugal: A Photographic Trip Album

Old May 14th, 2020, 05:11 AM
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Jeffergray
I have thoroughly enjoyed your photographic album and historical descriptions of Portugal and it makes me more determined to visit there when this shut down lifts.
Thank you so much for sharing
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Old May 14th, 2020, 05:27 AM
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Sadly, I had to cancel our trip to Portugal (which was a substitute for our canceled trip to China!), and your photos were part of my inspiration for the trip. I hope to get there sometime in the not-too-distant future!
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Old Jul 10th, 2020, 01:24 PM
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Thanks, Rasputin1! You won't be disappointed,

Last edited by jeffergray; Jul 10th, 2020 at 01:33 PM.
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Old Jul 10th, 2020, 01:35 PM
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I hope you're able to get there soon as well (and to China, too!).

P.S. I enjoyed looking at your Italy trip photos.
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Old Jul 29th, 2020, 07:03 PM
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Trip Journal Continued: Arrival and Day 1 Sightseeing in Lisbon

Although it will certainly be a while before many Fodorites will get the chance to go to Portugal, there will someday be a time when things return to normal, and perhaps finishing this trip report will provide some pleasure to currently home-restricted and increasingly restive travel bugs.

My flight out of Baltimore for JFK didn’t leave until 5:15, and my departure day was a Saturday, so I had time to do some things around home earlier in the day. When I first turned on my computer this morning, the image that popped up on Bing was, of all things, a stunning overhead view of an eroded limestone cliffs and a small sandy beach near Portimao on Portugal’s southwestern Algarve coast! (You can find the image here: https://www.bing.com/images/search?q...mageBasicHover. ) Barely ten days later, on Wednesday, May 8th, I actually was in Portimao and took a tour along the cliffs east of the town, both by road and by sea, but I didn’t see this precise spot (it’s apparently along the coast a short distance west of Portimao). Still, it further fired my enthusiasm for the trip ahead.

My Delta flight from JFK to Lisbon was on a Boeing 757, only 6 seats across, the smallest plane I had ever taken across the Atlantic. This reflects the lesser demand for both business and vacation travel to Portugal, which also isn’t a place many people go through on their way to somewhere else. The food was fine, as it is on Delta international flights, and I managed to get about four hours of sleep.

We landed in Lisbon on Sunday, April 28th, at about 10:00. It was a beautiful day, and I rode into the center of Lisbon in a taxi with a talkative young driver who spoke excellent English. (I realized over the course of this trip that even beyond the fact that Portugal and England have been military allies since the late 1300's, and also had strong mercantile ties for centuries because of the Port wine trade out of Porto, the southern coasts of Portugal and Spain today function as England’s answer to Florida – the place where everyone flees for sunshine during the months of cold and wet. Thus, you will almost never have a problem finding fluent English speakers anywhere you are likely to be.)

I reached my hotel, the Santa Justa, in downtown Lisbon’s Baixa district, just south of Rossio Square and the Praca de Figueira. This district was totally flattened by the terrible earthquake of November 1755, and then rebuilt by the Marquis of Pombal, the king’s chief minister at the time, on a regular grid plan. The Rua Augusta, the Baixa’s main artery, is a broad pedestrianized thoroughfare, as are many of the east-west streets, and the other north-south streets are relatively narrow and easy to get across when walking.

Baixa is a great base for touring Lisbon – you’re in the center of everything. The districts of Chiado and Bairo Alto, with their shopping and restaurants and fado music venues, are respectively about a 5- and 10-12 minute stroll to the west. Rossio station, your jumping-off place for the palaces of Sintra, is about an 8-10 minute walk to the north. You can get to the Castelo Sao Jorge to the east (with the Alfama below it) on foot in about 15-20 minutes. The Praca de Comercio, the huge square on the waterfront that marks the site of Lisbon’s pre-earthquake royal palace and later the seat of its main government ministries, is a 10-15 minute straight walk to the south.

Because of the advantages of its location (and the inexpensiveness of many of my other hotel accommodations), I was willing to splurge on the Santa Justa, which, with taxes, cost me around $250 a night for my room. It’s at the intersection of the Rua de Santa Justa and the Rua dos Correeiros, both of which are pedestrians only, occupying buildings on both sides of the latter, and was one block south of the Praca de Figueira (which has an underground parking garage that you use if you have a car). It presently ranks 19th out of 289 hotels in Lisbon on TripAdvisor (with current rates in the low $200's).

I had requested a room with a view when I’d booked my reservation a couple of months earlier, so they put me in a corner on the top floor of their annex building across the street from the main lobby. There was a bit of the “be careful what you wish for” about the management’s gratification of my request, because this was a garret-level room just under the roof, with slanting ceilings and projecting beams, and I am 6'2'’. Yes, there were a few head-bumps in the early going until I got accustomed to it. But: it had doors opening to small balconies (with room for just two chairs each) on both the Rua Augusta and the Rua Santa Justa side. From the latter, I could look west a couple of blocks to the elaborate fin de siecle ironwork of the Santa Justa elevator and its observation platform, which was designed by none other than Gustav Eiffel. (I loved being able to see it illuminated by night.) To the east, I could see the walls and towers of the Castelo Sao Jorge crowning its imposing bluff, where the original Moorish settlement had been located. And in front and to the sides of me of me were lovely nineteenth century buildings painted in an array of pastels – peach, flax, rose, pearl gray, cornflower blue.

Here is a picture of the view from one of my room’s balconies:



It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, with blue skies and the temperature in the low seventies, with a bit of a breeze. I was excited and eager to be out and touring, so I changed into a polo shirt and a pair of shorts and set off – making two mistakes as I did so. First, I raced off without my guidebooks, although I did have a map. Second, probably in part because I needed to get more Portuguese currency, I didn’t leave my wallet behind in my room safe. More about that later.

My objective for the afternoon was the Belem district, about 2-1/2 miles west of the downtown area on the Tejo (Tagus) waterfront), because I’d read that a number of the main sites there (including the Belem tower and the Jeronimos monastery) were closed on Mondays. (This is actually pretty common in Portugal.) I caught the famous # 28 tram from a corner of the Praca de Figueria, and once I took my seat and stopped rushing around, I realized I’d forgotten my guidebooks. But I shrugged it off, figuring I’d read enough about the places I’d be seeing that I could get by, and then fill myself in on the further details that night.

When I reached Belem, I passed by the legendary pastry shop called the Pasteis de Belem, celebrated for making the small custard tarts known as Pastel de Nata, and which had been highly recommended to me. But the lines were down the block, and I didn’t feel I could spend the time to wait. So I continued on to the famous waterfront tower of Belem, which may be Lisbon’s best-known landmark. This was built as a look-out and cannon platform at the western entrance to Lisbon’s shipping basin in 1515-1520, but it is far from a grim fortress. It was constructed by the architect Francisco de Arruda (whose work I would encounter again later on at Tomar) in the fanciful Manueline style named after King Manuel I (1495-1521), which typically combines Muslim decorative influences (such as double-arched windows and elaborate Moorish canopied balconies) with organic marine and nautical (especially ropework) elements. Here, even the most functional defense elements had decorative touches – the shield of Portugal’s crusading order, the Order of Christ, was embossed upon every battlement; the sentry boxes were crowned with segmented domes reminiscent of a citrus fruit; and the posts at the top of its towers were each capped by small pyramids.

I had plenty to time to contemplate this architectural fantasy – which reminded me of an elaborately decorated rook that had escaped from a giant chess board – because the Mother of All Lines snaked away from it, commencing at the end of a bridge crossing over the surrounding low-water mud flats and then wending its way along the sidewalks of the adjacent park. Eventually, I learned that this line was a function of the upper limit of 120 people who are allowed into the tower at any one point in time. I had some time to spare, so I waited, and then at about 2:40 p.m., the line suddenly lurched forward and filled up the bridge, and it looked like we were getting somewhere – until I noticed a sign at the water’s edge indicating that the last admission was at 2 p.m. today. I then realized that although people were still periodically exiting the entrance, it didn’t seem like anyone was being admitted.

Being a pushy American, I crossed the bridge, rapped upon the door, inquired, and established that, indeed, no one else was going to get inside today. Given that there were still several hundred people waiting patiently – or perhaps dumbly – in line, I shook my head in disbelief that no staff member could be bothered to take a moment to step outside and make an announcement to this effect. So on my way back across the bridge, I announced “closed” in every European language in which I knew the word. A few of those waiting peeled off in response to this, but not many. As I worked my way around the land side of the tower taking photos from the waterfront park, they recorded a still-lengthy line of hopeful visitors waiting patiently but pointlessly in line. If nothing else, I felt I’d gained an insight into both the arrogance of Portuguese officialdom and the stolid mentality of too many native and foreign tourists.

Here is one of the photos I took of the Belem Tower:




I made my west along the waterfront to the giant and striking “Monument to the Discoveries,” erected by the fascist Salazar regime in 1960 on the 400th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, whose school of navigation, commerce, and diplomacy at Cape Sagres (the site of which I visited the following week) did so much to spur the Age of Discovery and the onset of Portugal’s 16th century Golden Age. In form, it takes the shape of the high, jutting prow of a ship, lined on each side with thirty-plus statues of the great figures of Portugal’s Age of Exploration, with Prince Henry at the apex and Luis de Camoes, clutching the text of Portugal’s national epic, “The Lusiads,” prominent amongst the figures on the right side. Above them looms a tall stone tower crowned by an observation deck with views over the Tejo estuary and representations of billowing sails on each side. There was a line to go up to the top, and while it wasn’t all that long, I felt I didn’t have the time. Afterwards, though, I read in Rick Steves’s Portugal guidebook that the view of the estuary from the top and of a giant mosaic pavement in front of the monument that depicts Portugal’s great voyages is worth the wait if you can be patient.

It was only as I walked away from the monument towards the Jeronimos monastery that I noticed that the monument has a giant representation of a cross-like sword on its narrow landward face. When I read Roger Crowley’s “Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire” after my return, I felt that was an appropriate representation of the mix of motives and means that characterized Portugal’s amazing outward expansion in the first half of the 16th century.

Here are two photos of the Monument to the Discoveries:







The Monument to the Discoveries stands where it does because this was the point of departure for Vasco da Gama’s fleet on July 8, 1497 and of the return of its survivors from their earth-shaking voyage to India two years later. It’s worth taking a moment to imagine the scene in your mind. The bay is pretty shallow at that point, and boats passed to and from the four ships standing offshore carrying provisions, needed equipment, and crew. When the ships stood out to sea, a crowd that included the family members and friends of those aboard lined the beach and waded out into the sea to see them off, doubtless with great anxiety as to the likelihood of their safe return. In the end, barely a third of them did.

King Manuel I started construction of the Jeronimos Monastery three years later in thanksgiving for the safe return of Da Gama and his last two ships, which had opened up an arduous and lengthy (round trip: 18 months) but immensely lucrative trade route to the east that allowed the Portuguese to cut Venice and the Mamelukes of Egypt out of their roles as the middlemen in the spice trade. The Jeronimos complex consists of the massive church, with an elaborately decorated south facade facing the bay, and an elegant two-story cloister on its north side. The church is imposing, with six relatively lean and tree-like columns carved with vegetal motifs that shoot up 80 feet above your head to the springing arches of the vault. Two Portuguese kings - Manuel I and his successor Joao III (1521-57), along with their queens, are buried in the church’s choir in tombs mounted on elephants, while Vasco da Gama’s tomb is in a small and easily overlooked (at least amidst the Sunday crowds) chamber off to the left when you enter the church’s western portal. Luis de Camoes, whose actual burial place is unknown, rates an empty tomb in another small room to the right of the entrance.

Here is a photo of the interior of the Jeronimos Church:



I liked the church, with its lofty columns and vaulting, but I thought the cloister was the highlight of the Jeronimos complex. It is an exercise in full Manueline exuberance, with elaborately filigreed arches, decorated columns and pinnacles, and abstract designs and representations of vines and flowers that cover almost every inch of its surface. And the tawny color of its stone was beautifully set off by the blue sky and its grass lawn basking in the Lusitanian sun.

Here is a photo of the Jeronimos cloister:



By the time I finished with the Jeronimos, it was pushing 4:10. I knew I’d need to scramble in order to catch the 4:30 walking tour that I’d booked with the Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour company. It started from the Praca Luis de Camoes, which is on the southern edge of Bairo Alto and just west of Chiado – a couple of miles away from where I was then. I was able to grab a taxi in front of the Jeronimos, and the driver took me speeding and swooping across Lisbon’s hills like a Swift before depositing me where I needed to be with just minutes to spare.

The Lisbon Chill-Out Free Tour company is a small, locally-owned enterprise with an interesting business model. They have no set charge for their tours; you pay what you want to or can at the end. Pretty much everyone does, based on the quality of the service provided, so it seems to work. TripAdvisor gives it 5 stars based on 5,253 reviews.

Our tour was led by a young woman named Ana, who also had a trainee in tow. There were about 15-20 people in the group, and a diverse crew we were, including a trio of American girls, a young Brazilian woman, and an older British woman, and a young couple or two.

Ana was great: personable, engaging, and knowledgeable, as well as possessing the necessary skill at cat-herding that is also vital for a tour guide. The tour ran a solid three hours, and Ana did it in an urban setting with some level of street noise much of the way with no microphone, and I never had trouble hearing her. (I give walking tours in my own city, so I know just how challenging that can be.) She kept us on the move, and her tour was filled with solid content and provided a good initial overview of much of downtown.

We started out by making our way through the Chiado, showing off the entertainment, restaurants, and shopping it has to offer, and then arrived at the Largo da Carmo just in time to catch the lowering of the flag at the National Guard headquarters, which is carried out with a degree of pageantry and does attract a crowd (at least on Sundays). This was also where the Portugal’s last dictator, Marcello Caetano, was cornered and captured during the“Carnation Revolution” of April 25, 1975. We were there only three days past the 45th anniversary, and the square featured several large black-and-white blow-ups of photos taken that day. One of them showed a boy, perhaps 10 or 11, with round, dark eyes holding the hand of a soldier; it was odd to think that he would now be a man in his mid-50's, deep into a life and career.




The ruins of the 14th century Carmo monastery, which was partially wrecked during the Great Earthquake of 1755, abut the National Guard headquarters, so Ana took that as an opportunity to brief us on the most traumatic day in Lisbon’s history. From there we walked down to the vast square of the Praca de Comercio along the waterfront – once the site of Portugal’s pre-earthquake royal palace and later of the great government ministries – and then east to the Alfama, the old neighborhood that was once the Moorish city. Along the way we passed the striking 16th century Casa dos Bicos (“House of the Facets”), once the home of the Albuquerque family and today a foundation honoring Portugal’s Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, Jose Saramago.



We passed close by Lisbon’s Se, the city’s 12th century Romanesque cathedral, but didn’t stop. Instead, we worked our way up through the narrow and winding streets of the Alfama (with a stop to sample Ginginja, the traditional cherry liqueur served in small chocolate cups) to the Largo St. Luzia, a plaza/overlook next to a small church that commanded a spectacular view of eastern Lisbon, the Alfama below us, and the bay beyond. The tour ended there, and I made my way over to the railing along the overlook and started taking photos by the lovely late afternoon light. This is the Church of Sao Vicente de Fora (1582-1627), which serves as the mausoleum for Portugal's last ruling dynasty, the House of Braganza:



I got some very nice photos – and I also got my pocket picked while I was concentrating on the view in front of me, rather than who was behind me. For a more detailed account of that (mis)adventure and the lessons I took from it, see my post below:

Pickpocketed in Lisbon: A Memoir

After I finished reporting the crime to the police at an office near the Rossio station, I ate a late dinner back at the Santa Justa, but was in no mood to enjoy it. The waitress did her best to jolly me up, however, and her vivacity did help lift my spirits -- as did my view by night of the Elevador Santa Justa after I returned to my garret room:

Aside from the big lesson – don’t get your pocket picked! – I would say my main take-aways from Day 1 were that (1) Sunday’s not a great day to go to Belem: it’s just too crowded; (2) whenever you do go, try to do it first thing in the morning, when the crowds hopefully haven’t yet massed and the lines formed; and (3) remember that there’s also a quintet of museums there – of archaeology and ethnology; military history; maritime history; popular and folk art; and a unique one that houses the ornate horse-drawn coaches of the Portuguese royal family, which seems to offer something for everyone. Oh, yes, and many people do not regard as trip to Portugal as complete without visiting the Pasteis de Belem.


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Old Jul 30th, 2020, 01:15 AM
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Thanks Jeffersgrey. I have planned four nights in Belem so that we can see each of the museums and have time to wander.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2020, 06:11 PM
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Glad to hear it, Rasputin!

P.S. I have been enjoying reading your Trip report from your 2016 visit to Sicily. My wife and I went there on our honeymoon -- back when it was possible to climb up to the ampitheatre at Segesta and see the view of the temple from up there.
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Old Aug 4th, 2020, 06:17 AM
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I'll be back to read your report and look through your albums! Proof that iPhones take great photos.
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