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The Splendor of Belem

Written on: Wednesday September 14th, 2011

Having spent the first four nights of our holiday at full throttle, it felt nice to sleep in today, knowing there was no alarm set to wake us far earlier than we wished.  Instead, we lazily cleaned up and meandered across the street for some coffee and pastries.  Dona Helena's charm was once again as brilliant as her smile as we charaded our way through the breaky order.

Fully fueled, we hit the somewhat more familiar streets back down to Commercial Square.  It was from here that we hopped a ride on tram #15, taking us the 6km West to the suberb of Belem.

When planning for this trip, Liz and I assumed majority responsibility for different destinations along the way.  Portugal was one of hers.  Consequently, I did not have a clue as to the wonders of Belem. 

Exiting at the Mosteiro Dos Jeronimos tram stop, we temporarily resisted the urge to explore the monestary, choosing instead to walk across the gardens toward the Tagus River, and the magnificent Padrao dos Descrobimentos.  This 'Monument to the Discoveries' represented the 15th and 16th century glory days of Portuguese exploration.  It was a 52m high concrete statue formed in the shape of a ship's bow, with some of the most infamous explorers of the country, and for that matter the world, prominently displayed along its sides.  Among those featured were Prince Henry the Navigator, seemingly leading the others out to sea.  Vasco de Gama (who discovered the sea route to India), Pedro Alvares Cabral (who was the first to sail to, and consequently discover, Brazil) and Fernao de Magalhaes (aka Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first to circumnavigate the globe) were also among the 32 seafaring figures on the monument.

Photos and geocaches secured (yes, there was a cache right here), we continued to walk West toward the Tower of Belem.  As we approached the 16th century structure, it was difficult for me to believe that this current UNESCO site was actually used for military defense at one time, for it seemed far to beautiful to have deflected musket and cannon balls back in the day.  We were able to tour the interior, allowing for spectacularly elevated views of the coastline, and the city inland.

After a short walk farther westward, we decided to head back to Jeronimos Monestary.  Sharing the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Tower, the monestary proved to be quite breath-taking.  It was built to be the final resting place of King Manual I but actually housed the remains of da Gama as well. This Manueline-style structure was surely one of the most prominent monuments in all of Lisbon, offering visual splendor still today after surviving the massive earthquake of 1755.

Taking the tram back to Rossio Square, we once again strolled through the city, slowly making our way up the winding hills closer to home.  We stopped at an overlook to enjoy the sunset and a beer.  This certainly is a picturesque city.  With neither of us having any real desire to hit the town that evening, we once again stopped at Dona Helena's before returning to the flat.  Hmmm...what's this? Its a little crowded tonight.  Despite Dona Helena, Liz and myself, there were four other patrons in the cafe, which actually made the little room feel quite cramped.  Portuguese language or not, the noise emanating from the corner tele left little doubt as to what was happening here tonight: futball!  Tonight this cafe turned into a sports bar!

Powerhouse British team Manchester United was in town to play the local team, and the men of the neighborhood wanted to catch the action.  Right on...I can handle a couple drinks and some footy tonight.  Fortunately, one of the only two tables in the place was unoccupied, and Liz and I quickly secured it.  Good thing, too.  Before we even got our first round, two more people came in.  Granted, it was one of Dona Helena's relatives with her daughter, but this place was starting to fill up!  We chatted (well, gestured) with the patrons and sipped our wine.  Sandwhiches were ordered and eaten as the game gradually turned in favor of the Brits, causing the local sport fans to depart one by one.  Before we followed their lead, we stumbled onto one of the best bargains of the entire trip.  We decided to see if we could get some wine to take back to the room.  Our familiarity in communicating with Dona Helena seemed to be improving, as she quickly seemed to understand our request.  She found an empty, plastic Sprite bottle, washed it, and placed it beneath the mini wine barrel.  Red deliciousness poured into the green plastic, and I wondered how much this litre of 'take away' vino would cost us.  Grand total: 1.80 Euro...easily the best bargain of the day for our palates.

Back in the room we turned on the TV, found an English channel and sipped some wine.  Soon the noises of the neighborhood proved to be more interesting than anything on the tele, and we listened through the open window to the sounds of Lisbon.  Yes, we were starting to thoroughly enjoy Portugal.



From Nodin on Nov 25th, 2011

Ah yes, nicely put, everonye.