A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Portugal - the finale

Our last few days in Portugal were spent in Lisbon. A very big, mostly modern city. However, our hotel was close to "old town" which is where we spent the bulk of our time. A lot of this time was spent eating (there's a shock). There are little carts all around of roasted chestnuts. They come either in a paper cone or, at one enterprising cart, we got the chestnuts in a small paper bag which was attached to another bag for the shells! So good. Athough the guy on his cell phone did take away some of the "old country" feeling.

Another thing I really loved were these little custard tarts. They were in every pasteleria and many had huge window displays. We went for the ones in the inside cases where there were fewer flies (!!).

The main street in the Old Town heads down to the river. No cars are allowed on this street (and luckily we didn't still have our car or who knows what might have happened) and it is full of tourists, kiosks selling scarves and purses and lots-o-stuff, pastelerias, restaurants, beggers, musicians. At the end of the street is a huge arch and beyond that arch is the river that borders Lisbon.

At night the place feels a bit like New Orleans. Music everywhere, restaurants all lit up and begging for your business. No, seriously, they hawk their wares like barkers at a carnival. As you walk by a restaurant, one or two of the waiters will acost you, shove a menu in your face, and tell you why their restaurant is the best. There was one women we nicknamed Brunhilda because of her severe haircut, total lack of anything resembling a smile, and her determined stride when ambushing a potential customer. I think some went into her restaurant more out of fear than anything else!! All the restaurants had outside tables (except on the really windy days) and the atmosphere is very festive.

The musicians ranged from a guitarist with his trusty dog, to a man with a guitar and a harmonica strapped around his neck, to a man playing a washboard, to a woman singing off key, to the three guys with an accordian-saxaphone-tambourine band. The last one played around our table two nights in a row and we did give them a tip so they became our friends. So when we ran into them during the day, they actually came up to us and said hi!! Of course, we gave them another little tip - I mean, we're tourists after all.

We decided to do a walking tour and rode this funincular to the top of the hill. There is also a huge elevator you can take, but the funincular was more fun. At the top of the hill there were some awesome views.

But the BEST part of this walking tour is that we finally found a bookstore that had some books in English! You see, I'm one of those people who has to have a book to read at all times. When we take long trips like this, I usually take two or three extras. I cannot be without a book on an airplane. This trip I had finished my first book and was well into my second. Ed ran out of books and I graciously offered him my third, yet unread book. He said OK. AARRGGHH!! That left me with DaVinci Code which I've read and was willing to read again. But that book is a quck read and definitely would not last the next three days plus the long flight home. I was starting to hyperventilate when we happened upon an old used bookstore. With my limited Spanish I managed to ask if they had any books in English and they did! So I bought one and life was good again.
On another day we took the bus to Belem which is a little town about 20 minutes from Old Town. The bus was packed and Ed noticed a man next to him, looking like the rest of the tourists, who was helping people get on the bus. Suddenly Ed looked down and the guys fingers were sliding over his shirt pocket! Ed blurted out "Pickpocket"! Of course, he said it in English so hardly anyone paid attention. However, the guy must have seen the NCIS look in Ed's eye because he pulled his hand away and shuffled to the other end of the bus with his buddy. They perused the crowd, and got off a few stops later, but just stood in line with the other people waiting for the next bus! On the way back from Belem we saw his "buddy" with another cohort get on our bus. It wasn't very full so they waited until they found a stop with a large crowd waiting and they got off, crossed the street, and mingled in with that crowd. A little unnerving.

Belem is quite beautiful. There is a Monastery and Cathedral you can tour, a museum of old coaches, parks and fountains, and the Monument to the Discoveries. The Monastery is really big and awesome with a courtyard inside. And, of course, a gift shop. Even in a Monastery in Portugal they have the tour route arranged so you end up in the gift shop - much like Disneyland.

Inside the cathedral is the tomb of Vasco de Gama, another explorer. Plus a lot of stained glass.

But the best spot in Belem is the Monument to the Discoveries. It was erected in 1960-ish to honor the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator (there's your history lesson for the day). It is enormous and jaw-dropping. It looks like white marble and even has a visitor center in the base. The monument is on the river and in the distance there is a bridge that was built by the same person who built our Golden Gate Bridge, and on the hill beyond that is a statue of Jesus which is similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro. It was so windy that day we could hardly stand still, but we took lots of photos. Ed tried to do a little video, but it's mostly the sound of wind and a wobbly picture.

One of the things we've noticed in Europe is that they like to camouflage their construction projects. In Italy, we saw many painted covers showing how the building would look when done and until you got up close, you didn't even realize it was a cover! But in Lisbon, we found this. A scuplture of people standing on each other's shoulders trying to peek into a construction site. When you first see it, you have a total WTF moment. Then you just pull out the camera. It's on a small street leading to restaurant row so well traveled.

I leave you with two of my favorite shots of old Lisbon. One is a statue of a soldier on a horse with a castle in the background. We visited the area around this castle on one of our walking tours, but didn't get a chance to go inside.

The other is my Ed standing on the street, trying to not get blown away.

The end.


ba and the boys said...

so why did you come back home?

namaste said...

i love the pic of the tomb of vasco dacama. who knew when i was boredly learning about him in junior high that i would have a friend that visited his tomb!

i love all of the great pics you took, sandi. especially the fried tarts in the beginning. yummy looking!

and ed on the cobble stone street. nice tourist work you two!