On our drive home from Lisbon, Portugal, we stopped in the small town of Évora. The old village of Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We wanted to stop for two reasons; to get an up-close look at the cork trees we saw from the highway and to see if we could buy a raw piece of cork.
We parked within about 200 meters of the central town plaza. We walked to the square and saw that it was already bustling with activity. On the north end of the plaza was St. Anthony’s Church, built in the mid-1500s. I went inside to take some photos, a little older man stopped me and said I had to buy a ticket to take pictures. The cost of the ticket was only 50 centimos (US$0.61)! I bought the ticket and took several photos.
A man crossing the street at the main plaza in old town Évora. St. Anthony’s Church is in the background.
When I came out of the church, I joined Leslie and Tyler at a table in the plaza for coffee. As I noted, there was already a great deal off activity. In one sunny corner of the square were numerous older men. They were all talking up a storm. Not far from them was a vendor selling roasted chestnuts.
After our coffee, we walked along a small side street toward the cathedral. Along the way, we were able to buy a piece of raw cork. It looks like it had been over a knot in the tree, so it is sort of in the shape of a shallow bowl. When we arrived at the cathedral, we found it to be awe-inspiring for a structure built in the 1100s.
Not too far from the cathedral are the ruins of the Roman temple to Diana, built in the 2nd century AD. The town supposedly grew up around this temple. There is also a well-preserved aqueduct. It is not as striking as the one in Segovia, but it was still a fantastic feat of engineering.
As we left the city, we stopped at a grove of cork trees beside the road. It was interesting to see and touch the trees. We tried to get a piece of the bark off, but we were not able. As neatly as the trees were cut and as tough as the bark is, we surmised there must be some unique tool designed for just that purpose. Where the cork bark was missing, the tree trunk was a dark coffee brown. I don’t know if that was natural or if they painted something on the tree to protect it after removing the bark.
A Portuguese man told us that once harvested, the bark from a cork tree takes nine years to grow back to a thickness worth harvesting. The numbers painted on the trees refer to the year in which the bark was last harvested. For example, in the photos I took, one of the trees had the number 1 painted on it, which stands for 2011. It will not be ready for harvest again until 2020. He also stated they do use a special knife to harvest the cork bark.
On the ground beneath the trees were numerous acorns. That somewhat supports my theory that the trees look very similar to oak trees.
We got back in the car and found ourselves back at home in four short hours!
As I prepared for the day’s activities, I thought about my perceptions of Lisbon so far.
Two things strike me about Lisbon, Portugal, the colors and the abandoned buildings. The predominant colors are white buildings with red tile roofs, a real clean simplicity to that palette. Interspersed among the white buildings are buildings with amazingly beautiful ceramic tile façades. The second thing that struck me is the number of neglected and abandoned buildings. One can only wonder if this is a result of the current economic situation in Portugal. On second thought, I don’t think so. Many of the abandoned buildings are very, very dilapidated. For example, a roof may be caving in; an exterior stairway may be falling off; etc. That indicates the buildings were unoccupied much longer than just during the economic situation. It is too bad. If more of them were kept up, this would be a fantastic city.
Since Tyler was still feeling under the weather, Leslie and I went out by ourselves today.
After breakfast, we headed to the Martim Moniz Metro stop. When we came back above ground, we found ourselves in a charming plaza. Near a water fountain in the square flew three flags; the Lisbon city flag, the European Union flag, and the Portugal flag.
The plaza at Martim Moniz.We planned to take Tram 28 up the hill to a point near the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George) and then stroll through the Alfama neighborhood to the castle. It took a while, but we finally found the correct stop to catch Tram 28. The single tram car dates from about the 1920s, made mostly of wood. I believe the capacity of the tram was only 20 people. It very much reminded us of the small tram we rode in Port de Sóller. I found it interesting that inside the car was a reasonably large sign warning one to be on the lookout for pickpockets.
The tram wound its way through some incredibly narrow, steep, cobble-stoned streets. We were both delighted to have taken the tram because of the inclines. Walking that route would have been a real challenge. We got off of the tram at the Graca stop. From there we could begin to see the fantastic views of Lisbon.
We were not quite sure which way to go to get to the castle, but we finally stumbled across a directional sign. Of course, since the castle sits atop a hill, the direction we had to take was straight up! We finally approached one of the castle walls. It was there that I saw by far the most unusual sign I have ever seen. The sign was metal, flat, and attached perpendicular to the wall. The figure was of a little boy peeing! Below that was the word urinal. Sure enough, below the sign and behind two minimal panels, there was a urinal! In my mind, one must really need to go to stand there in public. Luckily, I had no need!
Nearing the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of St. George), we found the Arco do Castelo. This particular gate is at the southern end of the castle grounds. The date above the arch reads 1846, so, by European standards, the entrance is a mere architectural babe.
We continued around the corner and bought our tickets to enter the castle. They were discounted by 25% because of the LisboaCards we purchased when we arrived in town. We entered the castle grounds and immediately fell in love with the panoramic views. One could see the 28-meter-tall statue of Christ the King, the April 25th Bridge, the Praca do Comercio, and the Baixa District.
The Ponte 25 de Abril or April 25th Bridge looks very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. No doubt that is because the same company constructed the April 25th Bridge, completing it in 1966.
Many of the views from the castle vantage points include the Tagus River, with headwaters in the northeastern mountains of Sierra de Albarracín in Spain. Some 1,007 kilometers (626 miles) later, it empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon.
The Baixa District is a beautiful section of the city, laid out in a grid. That is new because of the extensive damage of the 1755 earthquake virtually leveling the town. Today’s estimates rate the quake between 8.5 and 9.0, very massive. The shake, accompanied by a devastating tsunami decimated Lisbon. The rebuilding effort settled on a grid system. Today, it is effortless to walk through the district on wide, boulevards; many of them pedestrian-friendly.
The castle itself is a ruin; however, there is a restaurant and a couple of museums. The overall castle site is quite large. Inside the castle, one can go up into and on top of the towers. As well, one can walk along the castle walls. From those heights, one can see virtually the entire city.
The Romans fortified the hilltop on which sits the Castelo de São Jorge as early as 48 BC. That was the point at which the Romans referred to Lisbon as a municipality. Some of the current fortifications date from the 10th Century. The castle may very well qualify as the oldest site we have ever visited.
Walking through the grounds, I went through an archway and saw the flag of Portugal flying on the wall. I stopped for a photo. Then I saw the flag of the City of Lisbon. I decided to take the stairs to the top of the wall to take some pictures. Once on top of the wall, I decided I would go to the top of the tower flying the Lisbon flag. As I looked up those stairs, I was surprised to see several people with what looked like some climbing gear. It looked like several ropes went over the side. I thought they must be repelling from the tower. I walked to the other side of the tower and discovered a tightrope stretched between two towers. Shortly after that discovery, a woman in her early 20’s clipped a safety line on the tightrope and walked across. I thought it was stunning. I went to a different vantage point and watched a man walk back in the other direction. As soon as he finished, they quickly dismantled everything and ran away. From that, I surmised their “show” was not legal.
We left the castle, but we were still within the compound walls. We were surprised by the number of feral cats that were there. We also saw a peacock and a couple of peahens. As we continued along, we came across a group of about 15 men and women dressed in medieval garb. They were waiting to enter a museum as part of a presentation. We would have gone into the museum and witnessed the show/performance; however, since it was undoubtedly going to be in Portuguese, we decided we would understand very little. For that reason, we opted out.
We then began to make our way to the exit from the castle grounds. Near the exit, we came across el Magnífico. The sign near him read “el Magnífico, Moedas do Mundo, Coins of the World.” His name was Flurin. He was about 30 years old. Beside him on a display board were numerous coins from which he had sawed out part of the design. For example, in a U.S. quarter, he would saw around the eagle, removing everything else. That would leave the eagle and the circular edge. We bought one for Tyler that Flurin made into a key chain.
When we left the castle grounds, Leslie and I began to wind our way through the narrow streets of the Alfama District. We have been to many places in Europe with narrow streets. However, I have to say these were the most cramped and most maze-like streets we have yet encountered.
On our walk, we found a store, Erva Loira. The name of this store translates to Blonde Herb. I don’t understand that since the vast majority of the store dealt in handmade jewelry. What was not jewelry was handmade clothing and belts. We went into the store. I believe Leslie looked at every single piece of jewelry in that store and she tried on most of them! The store was owned by and the jewelry designed by the young lady that helped us, Marta. She was a slender lady in her mid to late ’20s. She spoke excellent English. She said she had lived in Barcelona for several years before coming to Lisbon.
Her jewelry creations were unique and colorful. Leslie ended up with a necklace made with a thin silver wire. At either end is a long silver bead capped off with a red bead.
A block or two past the jewelry store we found a restaurant, Bellissimo Cafe. We decided to sit there in the sun and have lunch. It was one of the best lunches we have ever had. We started with a plate of fried “stuff.” On the plate was some sort of fried pork in the shape of link sausage. Also, there was fried shrimp and fried cod, both of which had been finely minced, battered, and then fried. I liked all of them. Leslie only enjoyed the shrimp.
Following the “stuff,” we had a bowl of Portuguese soup. The soup had a light-colored broth and contained navy beans, two types of sausage, and some pork fat. It was delicious. For the main course, I had a sanwich mixto (ham and cheese sandwich), and Leslie had a BLT. Both of them came on giant slices of bread. They were both toasted much like a panini.
While we were at the restaurant, people of several nationalities stopped to eat; Great Britain, Finland, France, and Poland. The main waiter was able to speak to everyone in their native language. He was quite a character.
Enjoying lunch at the Bellisimo Café.
When we finished lunch, we hailed a taxi very near where we had entered the castle. We went to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum). The museum is in a convent dating from 1509, the Convent of Madre de Deus (Mother of God). The museum first opened in 1965. Our Lonely Planet guidebook lists the museum as a “Don’t Miss” site. WOW, is that ever an understatement! The vestry, upper choir, and St. Anthony’s Chapel are still intact and amazing to see.
We are fortunate to have seen many churches in our travels. St. Anthony’s Chapel ranks as the most ornate. The gold-gilded altar, the scale of the construction, the ceramic tile murals, and the numerous paintings mean there is hardly a piece of the plain wall visible.
Since the museum is noted as a “Don’t Miss” site in the Lonely Planet guide, my advice to visitors is not to try to cram it into a day with other sightseeing. To truly explore all the museum has to offer, one should plan to spend most of the day.
When we left the museum, we headed back to the hotel for a siesta.
For dinner, the three of us went to Pizza Hut of all places! Leslie and I enjoyed the wine we had, Vinha das Garcas, Vinho Tinto 2008. After dinner, it was back to the hotel for our last night in Lisbon.
Leslie, Tyler, and I had breakfast in the hotel this morning. When we left the hotel, we walked to the same Metro stop we had used the previous night, Terreiro do Paco. Even though it was about 10:00, the stop was closed. I do not know why.
So, we crossed the street and hailed a taxi. We needed to get to the station at Cais do Sodre. That is where we caught the train to Cascais. Once again, with our LisboaCard, we were able to hop right on the next train. For anyone planning to go to Lisbon, I would highly recommend this card. One can buy it for a 24, 28, or 72-hour period. The card has discounts for many of the local attractions.
Our train departed promptly at 10:20. We arrived in Cascais at about 11:00. It was a beautiful ride because the train hugs the coastline for much of the route. At first, the shore is that of the Tagus River. Roughly halfway through the trip, the coast becomes that of the Atlantic Ocean.
We got off the train and began walking in the general direction of the tourist information office. We ended up walking down Rua Frederico looking for the office. Along the way, we stopped in several of the tourist stores. When we finally arrived at the tourist information office, we found it was just as closed as the metro stop had been. We thought that was quite unusual for a beautiful Saturday morning.
Next, we walked to the fish market, which is, as one might imagine, right next to the dock. The fish market was also closed. We found out later that the market opens around 17:00 on Saturdays and the sale is an auction. Near the fish market was a huge stone building. I was not able to determine the use of that building. Jutting into the bay from that building was a cement pier. That pier is where the catch of the day comes ashore. I walked to the end of the dock and took several photos. The sunshine and the brilliant blue sky added to the scene.
We had been hunting for a restroom since we arrived. Finally, we stopped at the patio cafe of the Hotel Baia. We stayed there for a vino tinto and a Coke. Luckily, they had some immaculate restrooms. We lounged there for a while in the beautiful weather and watched the activity surrounding the bay.
After our drinks, we strolled down a different street. In a shop there, I was able to find a sticker of Portugal that I put in my journal. At that same store, Leslie got another magnet (if she continues her collection, we will soon be able to get an MRI standing beside the refrigerator). At a separate store, just off Rua Regimento 19 da lnfantaria, I found a guidebook on Portugal published by the same company that publishes the guides I have bought throughout Spain.
We stopped for lunch at a sidewalk cafe called O Poeta at the corner of Rua Regimento 19 da lnfantaria and Largo Luiz de Camoes. The three of us split two Italian pepperoni pizzas. We thought they were the superb…probably due mainly to the ambiance. Also, there was a wandering accordion player; delightful and very relaxing!
A statue of King Peter I. He reigned from 1357 to 1367.
After lunch we walked about 20 or 30 minutes out of town to Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell). Along the way, we decided to stroll down toward the water’s edge. It is incredibly rocky. We could only get to within about 20 yards of the ocean. To get directly to the water’s edge would have required much more agility and energy than any of us had at the time. Boca do Inferno is an area where cliffs are facing the Atlantic Ocean. At one of the cliffs is a hole. As the waves reach the cliffs, they go through the hole and “blow” straight up. I can only imagine what this area looks like when there is a severe storm. There were two plaques we saw that were commemorating people that had been drug to their death through Boca do Inferno. That was quite gruesome, but the views were striking.
Just before the cliffs, there was a restaurant, a coffee shop, and an open-air market selling tourist items. Of course, we had to go through the market. Leslie found a beautiful crocheted sweater for only 20€ (US$24.41). The older woman from whom she bought the sweater also threw in a hand-embroidered dishtowel. The towel says the following in Portuguese; “Passei por aqui lembrei me de ti.” Roughly translated, I believe it means “I passed through here and thought of you.”
After we finished at the Boca do Inferno, we stood at a bus stop, waiting for the next bus. It arrived some fifteen minutes later. We got on only to find out our LisboaCards did not work. We got off and decided to wait for a taxi. About five minutes later, a cab came by, and we flagged it down. As we were about halfway back to the train station, the driver asked if we had called the taxi. We said no, we had just flagged him down. That made him upset; not at us, he was fretting about it all the way to the train station.
We caught the next train out of Cascais and made our way back to our hotel. Tyler was not feeling well, so we lounged in the room. Because he was feeling bad, we decided to eat that evening in the hotel.
At dinner, Tyler and I began with cream of vegetable soup that was wonderful. Leslie had a Cesar salad. For the main course, I had grilled sea bass. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! It was delicious. Leslie and Tyler had a chicken and vegetable dish. They both liked it, but it certainly did not look as good as mine.
After dinner, it was back to the room.
A very unique mural on an abandoned building in Lisbon, Portugal.
Leslie, Tyler, and I departed from Madrid at about 06:30. We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal at about noon Madrid time, 11:00 Lisbon time. It was an easy drive. We all found it odd that it seemed to be so much greener once we crossed the border into Portugal.
As we entered Portugal, we found ourselves on a toll road. There was very little traffic on the way. As we drove along, we noticed we were going through a forest. Leslie noticed the bark on many of the trees was missing to a height of about eight feet. That is when it dawned on me that they were cork trees. If we had not been on a toll road, we would have stopped to try to get a closer look at one of the trees.
We were about 30-minutes out of Lisbon when we came to the toll booth. A cool 27€ (US$32.95) later we were back underway. Heading north from the toll booth we soon found ourselves at another toll booth. Thankfully the charge was only about 3.35€ (US$4). That toll road took us onto and across the Ponte 25 de Abril (April 25th Bridge). The bridge is a little more than two kilometers (1.24 miles) long. It looks almost exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Completed in 1966, I found out later that the builder of the bridge was the same company that built the Golden Gate Bridge. The name of the bridge commemorates the revolution of 1974. The revolution brought the 48-year reign of dictator Estado Novo to an end.
We continued our drive to the AC Hotel Lisboa. It is part of the Marriott brand. As soon as we checked in and dropped off our luggage, we took a taxi to Praça dos Restauradores (Restaurant Square). We arrived there and walked into the tourist information office. We went there specifically to buy a LisboaCard. The LisboaCards provide access to all public transportation. Also, they offer discounted or free access to many of the local attractions and museums. For 48 hours, one card cost 29.50€ (US$36). We thought that was a good bargain.
In the center of the Praça dos Restauradores is a large obelisk. Erected in 1886, it marked Portugal’s independence from Spain in 1640. While walking around the plaza, we were able to find a magnet for Leslie’s collection as well as a Lisbon guidebook. For lunch on the square, we opted for the Hard Rock Café. We must have all been starving, hardly speaking during the meal. We each enjoyed our sandwiches. We gladly paid the 54€ (US$65.90) and moved on.
We walked south out of the plaza. We immediately saw the Santa Justa Lift, our destination. Along the way, we walked by the train station and through Praça Dom Pedro IV.
Ultimately we arrived at the Santa Justa Lift. An apprentice of Gustave Eiffel built the elevator in 1902. At 45 meters (148 feet), the top platform provides some breathtaking views. This attraction was the first place at which we were able to use our LisboaCard. Because of the card, our ride on the elevator was free. The elevator car was spacious, probably ten feet by ten feet. We rode up with about a dozen other people.
Once the elevator car stops, one may choose from two circular staircases, each leading up two levels to the uppermost viewing platform. From the platform, the view of the Baixa District of Lisbon is spectacular.
Departing the elevator, we walked a couple of blocks east to the Rua Augusta, a pedestrian street with lots of shops, restaurants, and street performers. Along the way, we stopped at a small ceramic shop. We bought a little holy water font that is a reproduction of a 15th Century style. Leslie also purchased a beautiful dish towel. She plans to use it as a centerpiece on our kitchen table.
We stopped at a street café, Roman’s. We each had a drink and watched the world. Very near the café was one of the most unique street performers I have ever seen. The man wore clothing and makeup that made him appear to be a bronze statue. The amazing part was that his feet were about one foot above the ground. His left hand was on a cane that did touch the ground. Other than that single point, there were no visible means of support. I am not sure how he balanced himself in such a manner. On the ground in front of him was a poster size piece of paper. Among other things, it recorded three different records he held in the Guinness Book of World Records. The most recent of which was from 2003; he stood in his position for more than 20-hours straight!
We left him and continued our stroll along Rua Augusta to the Praça do Comercio (Commercial Square). That plaza is enormous and right at the edge of the Tagus River. To get into the plaza, we walked under the Arco da Rua Augusta. It is a striking architectural feature. In the center of the square is a giant bronze statue of Dom Jose I.
We spent a little time at the water’s edge listening to a local band. They were entertaining. We left there and walked to the Terreiro do Paço Metro station. From there we made it back to our hotel for a well-deserved nap!
For dinner, we went to the Restaurante zé Varunca. I came up with that idea based on a recommendation from the travel guide, Lonely Planet. The restaurant was a little off the beaten track. It was in kind of a seedy-looking part of town. In fact, without the guidebook taking me there, I probably would not have entered the restaurant. Boy am I glad we went inside!
The server brought us warm bread in a cloth bag to keep it warm. It tasted like sourdough bread. Then the server brought a platter of items from which we could select a starter. We chose the black olives. To drink, Leslie and I wanted the red wine. The server poured the wine into a ceramic pitcher and brought it to our table. The pitcher and the plates were all rustic, each one with the name of the restaurant.
The decor in the restaurant was a hunting lodge look. There were open beams in the ceiling. On the walls were several copies of publicity articles for the restaurant over the years. At the head of each table, on the wall, was a small mural made of tiles. They were each about two tiles by four tiles. Each depicted a different country scene. Hanging under the beams were old streetlight fixtures.
For dinner, Tyler had monkfish/shrimp soup. He and Leslie both thought it was tremendous. Leslie had lamb chops. I had lamb (very unusual for me) in rice with a rich brown broth. The dinner reminded us of what one might have gotten many years ago at a hunting lodge.
After dinner, the check was rolled up and placed in two shotgun shells, one 20-gage, and one 12-gage. We found that unique. Our server for the evening, Orlanda, said we could keep the rounds. Our bill came to about 55€ (US$67). I do not think any of us finished our main course. They were just too large. Like Lonely Planet, I recommend the restaurant.
Once back at our hotel, I realized I left my prized baseball cap at the restaurant. Leslie and I scrambled back to the restaurant to retrieve the hat. Reunited, she and I returned to the hotel for the night.