(The week before this journal, we were traveling by car in Northern Spain.)
May 18, 2017 (continued)
Our flight from Vigo, Spain to Lisbon, Portugal was basically uneventful except for the landing, when the windy conditions had us tossing around in the air and shaking even when on the ground. We are here to join a cruise tour on the Douro River. Our itinerary includes 3 nights in Lisbon before we will travel to Porto to board the ship.
We met our friends, Cindy and Greg right at the entrance to the hotel. We have not seen them since their daughter’s wedding last July…and, even then, we only really saw them in passing. You know – the parents of the bride have a lot on their minds!
After settling in our room, we made our way down to the lower floors to a welcome reception with the Uniworld rep in Lisbon who was responsible for our group. Sipping wine, we reviewed the outline of the cruise and how things would work. She also explained the two excursions available to us in Lisbon, a bus tour of the highlights or a tuk-tuk tour.
I opted for neither, as I had planned an itinerary for myself to explore the area where we were staying called the Marquês de Pombal & Saldanha.
Just a bit more about why I decided to go out on my own. The bus tour was going to hit all the sites we had visited back in 2010, concentrating on the area around Belém. If this is your first trip to Lisbon, be sure to do that as those are the most important sites to see. The tuk-tuk (little golf-cart like taxis) tour was going to focus on the Alfama District and the São Jorge Castle – which we had also done back in 2010. It is also a must see, if you haven’t done them before. I had purchased a nifty little guide to Lisbon, by Lonely Planet, and since it had an itinerary in the Marquês de Pombal & Saldanha area, I thought it would suit me better to walk and see something new, especially as I could describe it here for you.
Gerry, Cindy and Greg all opted to go on the “Tuk Tuk Tour” which they said afterwards was great fun.
May 19, Saturday
The Tuk-Tukers took off about 9, and I futzed about for another ½ hour before I exited the hotel. We were right across the street from the Edward VII Park so I crossed the street and headed in the direction of the river.
What a beautiful time of year is May in Lisbon! All the jacaranda trees are in bloom and, I just could not help myself, I took millions of pictures of them. There was something about the light coming through those gorgeous purple flowers that was so enticing! I had seen the trees before, in Guatemala, at the same time of year, and thought they were beautiful then, too, but this was different. I hope you can see it or feel it in whatever picture(s) I decide to post.
Out of the park, I began walking down Avenida da Libertade, a street compared to the Champs Elysees for the quality of the shopping. I will not refute that! I suppose it is good that I am not a shopper, nor were the stores open yet, so I wasn’t tempted!
One of the beautiful things about Lisbon, and much in evidence as I walked on the Avenida da Libertade, is the mosaic sidewalks. They are all over the city, so you don’t have to search for them, but you do have to look down and notice them. They are done in black and white (mostly) square tiles of stone. They threaten slipperiness because they are well-worn, but I tried to slip on them, and couldn’t. Maybe I just had on good non-slip shoes. No one else slipped either, though everyone was mindful.
I made a slight detour off the Avenida to find a museum of decorative arts (something I didn’t think any of the rest of my “group” would be interested in) but it wasn’t open either! Not until 1. (Medeiros e Almeida Museum)
So I made my way to the Museu da Agua. I knew Gerry would be interested, but I also realized that seeing the entire enterprise would be a multi-location job, so my seeing just a small part was not going to affect the fact that someday we would return to do the entire circuit!
The part I saw was just the main reservoir (das Amoreiras) and the aqueduct. Very suggestive photos aside, the real genius of this water system is apparent only when you get to see all the components. For me, a total neophyte when it comes to water systems, 5500 square meters of water, in a building(!) seems like a lot. The brochure shows where the water was used – in fountains and public spaces – and also the other places it was stored. And, people, this was the 18th century!! Suffice it to say, if this has any interest for you, buy the ticket for the entire “route” (it is valid for 24 hours) and go see all the components. You will even get to walk on the aqueduct!
My pictures are of the Mae d’Agua das Amoreiras Reservoir and aqueduct. I also made a special stop at the Largo do Rato Fountain, where there are areas for the water carriers to get water to sell throughout the city and for animals to drink right at the fountain. (How thoughtful!) I also walked down the street to find the Patriarcal Reservoir, located in the Principe Real Garden.
By this point I was well beyond the area of my intended walk, but I, flexible as ever, moved right on to a different section of my guide book, that on the Baixa/Chiado and, on the way to the Convento do Carmo, stopped at a magnificent lookout (mirador) for a good long look at the spread of Lisbon before me.
Irony being a normal and natural part of everyone’s day, as I was standing at the railing of the overlook, admiring the view of the São Jorge Castle I received a text from Gerry that he was at said castle! I texted back “Wave! I am looking at you!”
Their tour did not seem nearing a finish, so I continued to walk to the “ruins” of the Carmo Convent, just a few tile-fronted buildings and pracas from where I was.
This was another of the very pleasant surprises I had on this short Lisbon stay. The “ruins” are not really ruins in the traditional sense, but then the museum inside them is not a museum in the traditional sense either…Yes, you must go see it! So, the story goes that the original church on this site was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755, the one that destroyed most of Lisbon. The church was in the process of being rebuilt, now in a Gothic style when in 1834 all religious orders were banned from Portugal. This halted the work on the church, leaving the building mid-construction, without a ceiling and only partial chapels in the side aisles.
I have heard that the Portuguese are adept at improvising, and this story proves that, because a famous Lisbon architect founded a professional society of architects for the country and made their headquarters in this “sort-of” building. The society then collected all kinds of pieces of architectural history and just regular history from all over the city and now these are displayed in an open air museum in the old convent ruins. It is a lovely concept, with excellent implementation! You can see pieces from Roman times through the present, displayed among the spaces of what could have been a great Gothic edifice. It is fascinating. But even more so when you realize that these are not the best pieces (You wouldn’t leave those outside and exposed to the elements, would you?) In the old apse of the original building, where the walls and ceiling were not destroyed, are housed the really valuable relics collected by the architects. There is also a library and gift shop back there. It is really an amazing take on a museum, and one I highly recommend that you see!
As I was finishing my tour of the museum, my husband and friends were waiting for me in the plaza just outside, enjoying a late morning “bica” (espresso). We decided to go to the Mercado de Riberia to find lunch. It was a short walk from the convent but, unfortunately, our timing seemed to match that of everyone else in Lisbon because the place was packed! There were no empty places where four of us could sit. It was also incredibly cacophonous, so we opted to look around just outside and found a nice little funky place, Cafe Tati, where we got some good salads.
After lunch we grabbed a cab back to the hotel.
It was not soon enough for me, as I was developing a back spasm all morning, and by this time I was really in pain. Hence, there was a medically-induced hiatus to my roaming for the rest of the day and night!
May 20, Saturday
Though a bit loopy, by Saturday, I was without pain and ready to resume a somewhat normal schedule. We opted to go to the Gulbenkian Museum.
From the hotel, we went back through the Edward VII Park, this time walking “up” to the top of the park (yesterday I went to the bottom). From here there is a fantastic view, the long manicured park stretching for what seems forever toward the faintest hint of the large city perched at the edge of the Tagus River.
The Museum was hyped considerably by my Lonely Planet Guide to Lisbon, but not so much by Michelin. I guess I would agree with Michelin on this one. The pieces are beautifully displayed, but with no explanation, no map of the galleries, no audio guide it was difficult to get interested in what you were looking at because there was no context for them. As background, the collection was that of a private individual, aBritish businessman and philanthropist, Calouste Gulbenkian (great name!). He was a collector of all kinds of art from all kinds of periods. Some are better represented than others. For example there were many gorgeous carpets and ceramics. But, if those aren’t your thing, you’ll be wandering around looking for something that is – but without a map. It is hard to recommend this museum, but I would with a few caveats: Namely, get a guided tour or wait until the museum gets its visit protocol organized. They have only recently split off the modern art part of the collection to another building, so that might explain some of the missing elements like a map or an audio-guide (there are numbers for one right on the labels…). If it is raining when you’re in Lisbon, it is a beautiful place to spend a few hours. But the Louvre it isn’t, so unless you are really into art museums, your time is better spent elsewhere.
We had lunch at a place called Casa Nepalesa, where we had an excellent and inexpensive lunch.
On the walk back, Gerry and I stopped at the Estufa Fria, an indoor botanical garden with different climate rooms – temperate, tropical and desert. (I wonder why it is called “fria,” don’t you? The answer it seems is that the main room of the three has only minimal protection from the actual climate of Lisbon, which means it can get cold in there in the winter.)
Though interesting, this type of attraction could be in any city of the world. We have one in Milwaukee, called the Domes. It is a lovely way to spend an hour, but it will not increase your understanding or appreciation for Lisbon or Portugal. Again, it is something pleasant to do when nothing else beckons. It was also very conveniently located across the street from our hotel, within the Eduardo VII Park.
For the evening’s entertainment, the hostess of our group (we are part of a group of about 15 made up of family and friends of Greg’s sister) offered a cooking demonstration and lesson, with dinner at the Corinthia Hotel with their Chef Diogo. What a nice event it was! We got to make octopus salad, beef carpaccio and pastel de nata (a very typical Portuguese pastry), which we ate along with seafood rice and stewed gizzards. Everything was quite good, and it was great fun to actually do some of the prep!
Tomorrow, we leave Lisbon by bus. We will stop in Coimbra for a visit to the University, and then on to Porto, where we start the cruise portion of this Uniworld tour.