Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Weekend in Lisbon

Hello Readers,
Before I start blabbing about our short Portugal jaunt I will cover a couple of items from the week.

I am setting a pretty brisk pace on the Carol Seppanen Book Updates lately.  My latest literary conquest was Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard, 247 pages.  I am still (unintentionally) on the classic authors, this one was copyrighted in 1959.  It was a Western so I am mixing up my genres a bit as I browse the local library shelves.  It was a decent read but I am still a Louis L'Amour Westerns man.  L'Amour has a way of teaching the reader as he tells the story which I find both captivating and interesting.

The Better Halves Club meeting this week turned into a lunch with all of my friends.  A couple people forgot about the meeting and a few were busy so I ended up eating alone at the The European Restaurant and Bistro (link).  I had a salmon fillet that was only okay, I knew I should have stuck with one of the pasta dishes.  Nothing worse than buyer's remorse. 

Now onto our bonus holiday.  I didn't plan on visiting Portugal on our two year adventure, mainly because I had it as a low priority on our vacation list.  Not that I have anything against Portugal, you just have to draw the line somewhere and with all of the possible European destinations available to us Portugal was on the bottom of the ladder.  Until we saw a great deal on a flight/hotel combo ticket so we decided to shoe horn the trip into our busy December.  We had a fun stay with a couple of exceptions.  One was going on the trip without Lori who ironically found the deal.  Her mother had another health setback the day she was due to come back from the US so she ended up staying the weekend thereby missing out on Portugal.  (Sounds like she is doing better now so keep getting better Lona.)  The other downer was the short length of the trip.  Friday and Sunday effectively were travel days so Saturday was the only sight seeing day.  We aren't a big museum family but we must have passed a dozen as we walked between sites, it sure would have been nice to have an extra couple days to check out a few museums but oh well.  To short to really enjoy all the city had to offer but we still enjoyed what we did see.

As I said before Friday was a travel day for us.  Part of the package was using pre-selected flights so our itinerary was as follows:  Leave the house at 12:30 PM, taxi to Derby train station, train to London St. Pancras, Underground to London Heathrow, plane to Lisbon airport, and taxi to Lisbon hotel arriving after 11 PM.  Made for a tiring day.  In hindsight I would rather pay more for an early morning flight out of Birmingham or another closer airport and spend Friday evening in Lisbon.  The plane ride over was particularly bad which didn't help.  We waited an extra fifteen minutes to board then an extra forty-five minutes to take off because some people had changed seats on the plane and had to be accounted for because not all of the passengers checked into the gate from connecting flights but their luggage made it onto the plane so the ground crew had to find all of their luggage and remove it before we could depart.  The ride itself was turbulent at times.  The plane was even doing mini side to side rolling which was unsettling, thankfully the kids were asleep by then.  By the time we finally settled in at the CS Vintage Lisboa Hotel (link) it was around midnight and we were all ready for the day to end.

Our five star hotel, not as nice as the Scandinavian hotels.  Part of the package was two two-person rooms but since Lori couldn't join us we had them roll in another bed to make one three-person room.
Since Saturday was our only full day we (by we I mean I) decided to make Saturday a long day and relax on Sunday morning before our flight home.  The kids agreed after I said "sleep in on Sunday". 

Dana Johnson Pic - About time someone in Europe has a decent sized coffee cup.  As for the food the thin sliced bacon and Tuscany sausage were pretty good.  The runny and milky tasting eggs were not good and the fruit was excellent. 

Dana Johnson Pic - Smoked salmon was okay, cheese and pastries were excellent.  To bad Lori wasn't with us, big coffee cups with excellent fruit and pastries is right up her breakfast alley.

The view outside our hotel, reminiscent of the Paris triangular shaped buildings.
The plan was to walk to the first few attractions then take public transportation to the last few places before calling it a day.  I had even pared off a few places since they looked to far away to visit on the map but Lisbon is deceptively compact.  Of course it helps when you have a city full of hills so you can fit more buildings in a square area but I didn't realise that until we spent a few hours walking up and down the hills.  Fortunately the weather cooperated for us with a dry day and temperatures in the low 60's F (~15-17 C).  Unfortunately it was cloudy a lot and the humidity was forecast at 94%.  I sure felt the humidity, Kalle said I was "dripping like a broken faucet" on the morning walk and she was right - or is that correct Jim Lang?  

Jim Seppanen Pic - The walk along Avenida da Liberade.  These palmy type trees were everywhere.

Jim Seppanen Pic - Also along Avenida da Liberade, the omnipresent walkway tiles were impressive in their small size and quantity. 

The bow tied building made us chuckle.  Note the blue house on the hill in the background.  One of the waiters told us that the locals refer to Lisbon as the City of the Seven Hills.  And after walking around the compact city all day I think we climbed six of them.

Rossio Square, Lisbon's main square. 

Statue of King John I of Portugal (1357-1433) with my buddy's house on top of the hill.  Not sure who King John I was, I had to look up this statue on the internet.

Tammy Foster Pic - Not a great day to see the Pont 25 de Abril or 25th of April Bridge (Wiki link) spanning the Tagus River.  This is the twin sister to the Golden Gate bridge so now I have seen both of the twins.  I thought the Wiki link was interesting since I have seen all three bridges mentioned in it so check it out if you have time.
Next up was a trip to my buddy's house, Castelo de Sao Jorge (Castle of St. George), Wiki link.  My other buddy The Dragon was nowhere to be found much to my chagrin.  Per a Lisbon travel website the castle was named for England's patron saint after Europeans Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land helped the Portuguese capture the castle from the Moors.  Parts of the castle date to the 6th Century although most of it was much newer thanks to an earthquake in 1755.  Walking the walls and gardens gave us some great views of the area although not many were great photo opportunities due to the overcast sky - sorry.  We also checked out the bland castle museum which had a lot of 11th Century pottery pieces and 16th Century tile pieces.

The gardens, monkey Kalle loved climbing the walls and steps.

My buddy George overlooking the gardens. 

The garden was full of cats and peacocks but no cats attacking peacocks.  Bummer.

Inside the castle now.  The barren inside was a tad boring.  We also went to one of the towers to check out Da Vinci's Camera Obscura but it was too cloudy so they weren't giving any demonstrations. 

Walking the parapets.

The front of the castle.
View from the gardens over the Tagus River, Cristo Rei Statue (smaller version of Rio's famous Jesus statue), 25th of April Bridge and Lisbon.

Close up of my buddy.

This was interesting.  From the travel forums I read Lisbon has a dodgy reputation.  Pickpockets as the sign shows as well as taxis rates for foreigners.  The cab ride from the airport to the hotel was 19 Euro but when the hotel called us a cab the same ride was 12 Euro.  Hmmmm.
From the castle we wandered through the Alfama neighbourhood (Lisbon's oldest neighbourhood, dates to Moorish times which I think are pre-1150 AD) outskirts on our way to the next stop when we stumbled upon some Roman ruins.  I know we have seen a lot in our short time here but I was a little surprised to hear that our kids have turned into travel snobs.  We stopped here since a) it was free and b) it was Roman ruins... and the kids were not impressed.   They did have a couple of good points - we've seen multiple Roman ruins before (Bath, Chester, Hadrian's Wall, etc.) and they were all in better shape (agreed) but even still.  2,000 year old Roman ruins and the kids are like - do we have to stop?  Whine, whine.  Geez kids.

Museu Teatro Romano, ruins date to 1st Century.
After walking around the neighbourhood some more we made it to our next destination, Se Cathedral (Wiki link).  The cathedral dates to the 12th Century and is the oldest city building per a Lisbon travel website.  The cathedral itself was not very impressive (now I'm the travel snob - I guess the apple doesn't fall far...) except for its age.  The front reminded me of Notre Dame which makes sense since they were both built in the Gothic architecture style of the 1100's and are both Roman Catholic cathedrals.

The nave.  Big, plain and dark - not great for photo opportunities.

The altar area.  The ceiling was interesting but I didn't take a good picture of it.

The sign was only in Portuguese so I am not sure what this room is for but it sure did sparkle.

Token stained glass window pic.

Front of Se Cathedral, twin towers reminded me of Notre Dame.

Tram 28, the oldest Tram in Lisbon.  This was one of the places specifically mentioned to watch out for pickpockets.
Now that our Alfama area sightseeing is completed it's time to hop on the tram out to the Belem area.  We found Tram 15 and hopped on.  I had planned on buying tickets once we were on the tram but the ticket machine only took coins and all I had was notes.  So we had a free ride out to Belem.  Boy did I feel like a heel, taking a free ride with the kids in tow; plus teenager KJ ribbed me about it for the next few hours.  I should have bought a day pass for the public transportation system but KJ gleefully reminded me on the train trip back that I saved money by taking a free trip out and train trip back versus buying an all day transportation pass.  <sigh>  Gotta love kids.  Lunch was at a McDonald's, there were supposed to be a lot of restaurants in the area but all we found was hole in the wall cafe types with Portuguese menus and lacking in charm so we opted for the only English menu place we could find.  Not exactly my idea of local cuisine.  Even better was after lunch we walked to the waterfront to check out the next couple of places and we walked upon restaurant row.  Not a navigational success by me. 
Another reason to visit the area is because we also have a Belem connection at our Brownsburg home. Many years ago we purchased a picture of a Belem ship replica sailing in rough waters (from the picture it looks like the ship is sinking but it really isn't which is what grabbed my eye).   I looked up the original ship's history back then and it was named after a Brazilian city founded by Portugal.  And now we have been to the Belem area of Portugal.  Circle completed! 

Entrance to Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Hieronimite Monastery).  We'll be back here shortly much to the kids dismay.

Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), Wiki link.  Portugal has a history of naval exploration and discovery (Age of Discoveries, Christopher Columbus connections for example) so this monument is dedicated to those adventurous souls.  Neat looking monument but not high on the wow scale. 

The other enshrined explorers.  Henrique the Navigator (link) is on the far left.

Tammy Foster Pic - the 25th of April Bridge. 

View of the massive monastery and garden from the top of the monument.  Now you know why the kids were not excited to tour it.

The Wind Rose outside the monument.  The 50 metre diameter Rose was a gift from the republic of South Africa according to the literature.

Inside the monument was a museum about Portuguese India (Wiki link).  One of the great things about our two year adventure is learning about the world outside our normal life in the US.  A couple of things I learned on this trip is more European geography (Lisbon is west of England, I thought it was south) and other countries history (I had never heard of Portuguese India before).
From left; a lighthouse, Monument to the Discoveries, 25th of April Bridge, Tagus River, Cristo Rei Statue.
Our next stop was Torre de Belem (Belem Tower), link.  The tower dates back to the 16th Century and is another UNESCO World Heritage site so we checked it out.  I have loved every other UNESCO site I've toured but this one dropped the ball.  It was a disappointment for all three of us which is rare.  The rooms were empty and the interesting history filled information boards I love so much were non-existent.  Very disappointing. 
Belem Tower.  The cool looking exterior tricked me.  Stupid tower.

The kids "Where's Waldo-ing" in the Tower.

One of the bare, boring rooms in the tower.

Lower battery.

Kalle limboing into the Prisoner Cells of the tower.  (No this not a staged shot, just one of the many free spirited Kalle enjoying herself moments that fill her days.)  These cells were kind of posh compared to other dank and dirty castle/fort cells we have visited. 
After touring the poor effort tower and walking past all of the stupid restaurants we were back to the monastery (Wiki link), the other UNESCO World Heritage site of the day.  This one however, was worthy of its designation and was thoroughly impressive.  According to the literature it was built in the 1400's by Henrique the Navigator (from the Monument to the Discoveries picture).  The monastery was huge with gilded chapels lining the church and carved stonework covering the columns, walls, and every other available surface inside and outside the monastery.  The courtyard stonework was as big and impressive as the church.  Regrettably this was another building with poor lighting inside so my pictures didn't turn out great.  I'm sure my novice photog ability is partly to blame as well.  

The impressively detailed stonework.

Sample tomb pic.

Looking down the nave of the church part of the monastery.  It's a big 'un Al Bundy.  Hard to see but the columns are covered in molded stonework designs.

One of the many side altars/memorials/tombs.  There were also a lot of elephants here.

Kind of close up of altar area.

One of the many poorly lit and excessively gilded side memorials.

Required stained glass pic.

This side altar shined so bright I was almost blinded just walking by it.  Just a tad excessive I thought.

The square courtyard was surrounded by two levels of stonework covered hallways.

Looking across the courtyard.

The refectory (easy one for you this week Auntie "B").  Lining the walls were biblical scenes from the story of Joseph in Egypt.  It was built in 1517-18 per an info board.

Joseph's brothers "finding" his pants and telling their father the "news".

Reminded me of Jerusalem.

View of the nave from the second floor.

The 1550 AD woodcarving are Flemish and Italian influenced and are the first Renaissance woodcarvings in Portugal per the info board.
Also in the monastery was a room with a time line board tracing world events, Portuguese events, and Lisbon events if I remember correctly.  Bored Kalle wandered the room like a lost sheep while KJ and I traced the time line to document our European adventure stops.  Following are a few of the interesting ones we spotted.

Christopher Columbus facts.

America!  We've been there.

My brother Jeff, myself and my best mate Bean played a Nintendo game called Nobunaga's Ambition a LONG time ago.  Jeff and Bean eventually reunited Japan.

From our Plymouth, England trip.

Palace of Versailles - check, St. Paul's Cathedral - check, with a little New York USA trivia thrown in.  KJ learned about New Amsterdam/New York when we met Christy in Amsterdam.

Louvre - check, with a Trivial Pursuit fact thrown in.

For Dana, eh. 

Toured the Nobel Peace Prize museum in Stockholm - check.  I still get a kick out of the prize being named after the inventor of dynamite, to be fair he did a lot to promote world peace tho. 

Jacob Davis needed a better PR man obviously.

Rodin Museum in Paris - check.  Surprisingly not one of my favourite museums.

We haven't been here yet but am hoping to see it over Easter break.

Eiffel Tower - one of my European adventure top five sights.

We were in the room in Tel Aviv where the proclamation was hammered out and presented to the world.  A little understated attraction but very powerful.

Stonework close up on our way out.  She is obviously miffed at him, they must be married. 

More of the stonework detail.  Not bad for 15th Century.

A monument in a park in Belem.  Check out the detail, Portuguese don't believe in smooth stone surfaces I guess.
Remember when I said we took the tram out and train back?  I'm sure the experienced travellers in the audience read that and wondered why.  Well, we were treated to a "manifestation" on our way back to the city centre.  The manifestation was a political protest for something and they ended up shutting down bus and tram travel between Belem and City Centre.

Sarah Anderson Pic - I took this as Karl is asking me if it is a good idea to be taking their picture.
Sarah Anderson Pic - Not sure what they were protesting but they sure do know how to stop traffic with their loud shouting and mass of angry people.  So we found our way to the train station and paid for tickets back into the city.  This is also when smarty pants Karl cheerfully reminded me that it was cheaper to pay for one way travel than buying an all day pass.  No the guilty conscience hadn't gone away yet.   

Our walk through Barrio Alto neighbourhood on the way to the hotel.  The whiners wanted to ride the Metro back but I wanted to see some more of Lisbon so guess who won?  So off we go to trudge up hill number 500-something.

Jim Foster Pic - Ever wonder what a Portuguese fire truck looks like Jim?
Dinner was at a Tapas Bar that we walked past on our way to the hotel. Start walking to the hotel and stop in a local place along the way in order to sample local cuisine was my plan as McDonald's was a total fail for lunch. And the plan was a success although I was a little apprehensive at first. Karl saw the prices and said it looked good (he hadn't been to this type of place before so didn't know about their serving sizes) and both kids agreed they would find something on the menu so it was time to take a load off.  I was expecting overpriced food portions but was pleasantly surprised.

Kevin Coleman Pic - Finally sampling a Portuguese beer.  I guess this is the "national" beer, kind of like Budweiser in America I think.  Taste was okay but bottles were a little on the wimpy size side.  The name Super Bock must mean something different over here because it was a mild lager.  I had an interesting chat with the waiter.  He happened to live in England for a while so I told him a little of our adventure which led to a not so brief discussion on life in England as well as the warm, dull beer we get here.  He didn't like the taste or temperature either, he even complained about the pint size (or bigger) serving sizes because the beer is warm by the time you are done drinking it.  To which I suggested that he needed to drink it faster which he agreed with after he stopped laughing.
Dana Johnson Pic - Sampler cheese/meat/marmalade tray with a sampler bread basket.  Finally some good meat again.  Excellent appetiser choices. 

Dana Johnson Pic - Sampler mains - mushroom and tiny sausages on ends, cold chickpea and cod dish in the middle.  More excellent choices.  And it was enough to fill us up.  Maybe these foofy looking Tapas Bars aren't so bad after all.

And women drivers wonder why they have a bad reputation... okay, I didn't actually see a woman park the car but what are the odds?   

Hey Mark Manion - look what I found! 

Finally back to the hotel.  Long day but we had a great time exploring in spite of the under achieving Belem Tower and traffic stopping disgruntled protesters.

I think the hotel was built for giants.  All the ceilings and doors were this tall.

Since the room TV only had news channels in English we unwound in the lounge area for awhile where the kids played computer games on the hotel computer and I watched a Portuguese football match.  I think it was Portuguese at least.  I also was able to FaceTime with Becky and Dana and the kids for a bit - thanks guys.
Since we had to leave the hotel at 10:30 AM to catch our flight we slept in til eight o'clock and eased into the day.  The return journey went fine with us arriving home around 8 PM.  Short journey to country number 13 (12 for slacker Lori) but we still had fun experiencing the local culture, scenery, food, attractions, etc.

A Portuguese guitar in the airport.  They had some on display but none on demonstration.

Dana Johnson Pic - we even squeezed in some pastries.  Very good.
Jay liked St. George's Castle best, Belem Tower was disappointing.
Kalle liked the hotel and tapas bar, disliked the plane ride to Lisbon.
Teenager Karl did not like Belem Tower.
I will be taking a couple of weeks off of blogging for the holidays and travels so everyone have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  See y'all in 2013!
Thanks for listening,