After Breakfast, we headed out on a guided coach tour of greater Lisbon. I think the local guide we had this time was the same woman we had before; a fiery little dark-haired woman called Ju. We took quite a different route than the night before – and I tell you I am so glad we are taking a tour because driving here would be quite an adventure for me – possibly of heart attack proportions. João however, seems totally unruffled at the shocking way some of these little cars seem to dart in front of this massive tour bus.
Anyway, it was really interesting to see some of the parts Mom and I had walked through, essentially from above, since we are so much higher up in the tour bus. Construction in Lisbon is limited by the fact that they have to keep the facades (much like they do here of heritage buildings) in order to maintain the esthetic look that keeps the tourists coming back. To that end, from the street you can’t see much because the site is always hidden behind drop cloths of a sort. From the bus though, one could see right inside. I must say I have never seen such a tiny backhoe before – though I suppose in such narrow spaces it’s necessary to have.
Lisbon is a city of poets. I say this because the people have a romantic view of their land and I can’t blame them – there is so much history in it. Ju told us about the seven hills that make up Lisbon that surround the Baixa and how the Castelo at the top had been a fortress for as long as there have been people living in the area. The name Lisbon/Lisboa is said to come from either a Phoenician word meaning ‘quiet bay’ or from the name Ulysses:(Latin Ulyssippo) and/or Roman Olissipona, for the name of the Tagus river. Romans, Greeks, Arabs all lived in the area until it was conquered by the first king of Portugal in 1147.(Afonso Henriques I think, but don’t quote me.)
Our first stop was at Belem, which is a tower that used to be situated in the center of the river, but over time and because of the earthquakes the region has experienced, the river has silted up and changed positions. They have built a little ramp that goes inside the little tower but we didn’t go inside, choosing instead to inspect the beach and the decorative stonework on its outside.
Ju talks a lot about the Age of Discoveries, which spans the 15th to the 18th centuries and is characterized by all the travelling and exploring done by the Portuguese navy. This tower at Belem was built during this era as part of a defense system and as a ceremonial entrance to Lisbon. Belem, and the monastery nearby, the Jerónimos Monastery are decorated in the Manueline style: which is essentially nautical in theme – and very intricate. One of the key features is the appearance of little flower-like pieces which represent the artichokes the sailors used to prevent scurvy on long journeys.
Ju then showed us the Monument to the Discoveries, which is sitting at the current riverside. This monument was built in the 60’s and depicts all the people involved – both physically and symbolically – in the Age of Discoveries. Henry the Navigator is at the top, his Brother (Edward?), a priest, a poet and two men bearing a pole with the arms of Portugal, among many others.
In front of the monument was a map made of marble that showed all the places Portugal had influence during the Age of Discoveries. Our guide gave a French guide crap for letting his group stand right on the map so we could not see it while we clustered around the edge like school children and she asked us all where we were from and pointed out how Portugal had some influence on our history. I did not get a picture this time because of that, but there were sea monsters and mermaids around the outside, and some symbolic images of the winds. Very pretty.
We went into the monastery which was extraordinarily spacious. Apparently the monastery had been occupied by the military religious Order of Christ who were to assist seafarer’s in transit. Henry the Navigator was Grand Master of this order. This is the place that Vasco da Gama prayed the night before setting off on his global adventures. Vasco da Gama is also buried here, as is Camões, Portugal’s epic poet. The tombs of the Kings buried here rest on the backs of marble elephants, these two rested on the backs of lions. See how it is decorated with ropes and knots and wheels? Very cool.
When we came out, Pedro had been to a nearby bakery – apparently the only bakery that has the correct recipe for something called a Belem Tart. In order to make money later on in the monastery’s life, the monks took to baking and selling desserts – often for which they became famous. This is one of those desserts and omg… so delicious. They were still warm from the oven and consisted of a very particular custard-type filling in a crisp little pastry cup. There are shops in Lisbon that also sell “Belem tarts’ but none are like this, which are made here in the municipal region of Belem.
After this some of our number went back to the hotel, but the rest of us stayed on for the optional excursion to Sintra. We drove up the coast of Estoril, which is by turns Atlantic and rock and sometimes dune-y. We had lunch in the beautiful little fishing village of Cascais (pronounced Cash-kaish). We ate ice cream in Santini’s, which is said to have served ice cream to Royalty, both in exile and not. During WWII, Portugal was neutral so many royal families escaped to Cascais for the duration. There are photos on the wall of the famous people who have eaten there. I had a coconut milkshake and mom and one called Wild fruit. So very tasty.
After this we took a scenic drive up the mountain to Sintra, said to be named after the Greek Moon Goddess, Cyntia (An alternate name for Artemis/Selene) . The King built a summer palace in the area to take advantage of the hunting there and a town sprang up around it. We went into the palace and through all the intricately decorated rooms. I did not take as many pictures as I should have because I was just blown away by how much stuff there was to look at on the walls and the ceilings. One ceiling was covered in swans and another a pattern of magpies and Ju told a story about how the King had been seen to kiss a lady that was not the Queen and how all the ladies gossiped and so he had the ceiling commissioned. There was more to that, and I shall have to look it up. Mom and I then explored the narrow streets and again mom was drawn up the one street that lead to the top of the mountain and the fortress wall – the same wall that her grandparents had taken a photo from on their honeymoon.
Then we headed back to Lisbon for our second optional of the tour: a Fado night. Our driver dropped us off at the viewpoint in the Barrio Alto and then we had the fortune to have a look inside a little church nearby where everything inside had been made and then consecrated in Rome and then shipped to Lisbon – that’s every block of marble, gold leaf and painting. It’s apparently a museum now, but it would be a bit astonishing to have gone to church there I think. Then we walked through some of the more twisty streets to the Fado district and went into one of the Fado restaurants for dinner. The food was lovely and the singing tugged at our heartstrings yet again.