Lisbon (Cruise 2008 pt 3) - Andrew, Jacqui, their Mums, her Aunt & Uncle - 2008
Portugal is the westernmost of all Europe's "mainland" countries (i.e. excluding Iceland). Its culture is superficially similar to its neighbour, Spain, but there are a number of key differences that set the Portuguese apart.
The capital is Lisbon, one of the trendiest of European capitals at present. Other important towns include Porto (Opporto) in the north and Faro on the famed Algarve coast in the south.
Portugal also has two Atlantic island territories: Madeira and the Azores.
Lisbon - Cruise 2008 Part Three - Andrew, Jacqui, their Mums & her Aunt and Uncle - 2008
We were barely awake when Jacqui looked out of the window and saw we were passing under the 25 de Abril Bridge which marks arrival in Lisbon. I sped out of our room and found myself at the back of the ship, amidst crew members but no other guests as we passed underneath and headed towards the Dock. The Bridge is based on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and is one of those odd instances where the old world has copied the new world. This is emphasised by the large statue of Christ on the opposite bank which is not entirely dissimilar to the larger version in Rio de Janeiro.
The combination certainly makes for a dramatic entrance into Lisbon.
We had decided to try to make the most of our time in Lisbon by taking one of the excursions. This was a three-part excursion, the city centre a tram ride around the Alfama District and a visit to the Belém area of the city.
After an initial drive up and around the back of the city, which offered some extensive views down to the harbour and gave a good idea of the scale of Lisbon the coach circled around and parked on Rossio Square. This Square is at the very heart of the New City (i.e. the bit that is only five hundred years old or so). It is a long oblong block which separates the lower town from the upper town. From the bottom end the remains of the Igreja do Carmo (the Carmelite Monastery) overlooks the Square whilst around the other three sides are grand buildings.
At the time of our visit the Jacaranda trees lining the Rossio which had been brought to Lisbon from Brazil were blossoming in dramatic blooms of purple adding yet another dimension to the elegance of the Square.
Castelo de São Jorge
Backing onto Rossio Square is another square, Praca da Figueira. This is presided over from afar by the Castle of St. George, Lisbons large castle whose walls snake along the highest part of the City. We never got a closer look at the castle, but the view from here must surely be the most dramatic.
Here Jacquis Mum was delighted to find saltfish dried salted cod for sale, making her all nostalgic for Guyana for a while. In her book Lisbon got a definite tick for this foodstuff alone!
After an all too brief walk around the New Town and popping into a shop or two we had to catch our tram. The tram was one of the old trams for Lisbon that had been renovated and put into service purely as a tourist tram (other trams in Lisbon still operate as a proper public service). Initially the ride seemed to be nothing more than a novelty. We were served a glass of port (naturally) and a pasteis de nata (a kind of custard tart). Then the tram began to chug up the hill into the ancient warren of streets which is the Alfama District.
The Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon and the only one which was relatively unharmed by the great earthquake which hit the city in 1755. Many of the houses here are clad in the famous Portuguese tiles the tiling of the exterior of houses being one of those things which could be described as typically Portuguese.
The tiling gives Alfama a novel look which sets it apart from other old towns elsewhere. Whilst the tiny roads are not unusual the décor is, as indeed is the steepness of this area. We were very glad not to have tried to walk it as the streets weave up and down some quite alarming hills, making Lisbon once again very reminiscent of San Francisco or should that be the other way around?
Hidden amongst this maze of streets is the Sé the Cathedral of Lisbon a neat if not particularly large church with twin towers that sits on the bend of a road with a small open area in front of it. Andrew was very lucky to snatch a picture from the tram window before it disappeared around the corner.
After a few more bone-rattling miles the tram suddenly drew up out of the little streets of Alfama and onto larger roads, passing by what I seem to recall was the old Parliament Buildings (or might still be the Parliament Buildings) before coming to a halt underneath the Basilica da Estrela, a large rococo church.
Here we were met by our coach which would now take us across Lisbon to the area of Belém, back down by the River Tagus where we had docked. As we travelled the weather suddenly began to change, rain set in and the clouds lowered threateningly.
Belém is mostly known for three things the distinctive monument to Henry the Navigator which we only saw from the coach window
We pulled up by the second of the three, the Belém Tower. This is part castle and part look out tower, built around 1514. It is a neat little tower, looking a bit like a toy castle, particularly when decked out with orange buoys dangling from it. I was the only person to brave leaving the coach to go to the Belém Tower because just at that moment the skies decided to open and rain crashed down giving me a good old soaking.
Dripping wet I climbed back inside and the coach moved the short distance to the final of the three, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery). This is a very large monastery complex which dates to 1501 and has a very elaborate carved exterior and interior. It was one of the richest monasteries in Europe and as such was able to afford the greatest craftsmen to work on it over the centuries.
Only a few of us braved the weather to go and see the interior of the monastery. Inside every available surface seemed to be carved or decorated, which actually made it all a little overbearing.
Back on the bus, as the weather slowly cleared, we headed back to Brilliance of the Seas having had an excellent taster of Lisbon a city we would all certainly like to return to.
Go to Cruise 2008 Part Four - Tangier, Morocco
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