Travel: Lisbon (Day Nine)
It was going to be a lot of walking and train time if it turned out to be closed again, but I made my way back to Belém because I wanted to have a proper visit to St. Jerónimos Monastery. I was not disappointed.
As is the case with most of my train rides, I missed my stop. [insert eyeroll] Most trains have either a scrolling sign or announce the stops; I’m guessing the one on my train was out of service. I told myself when I got on, ‘It’s the third stop. Get off there.’ But it did not look right, so I remained on the train and… yep. It was the right stop. Got off at the next made my way to the other side of the track to catch the returning train. After ten minutes of waiting and no sign, I stepped off the platform and said, “Taxi!” Four minutes and 6€ later I was deposited at the front door of the monastery. It was worth it.
By the time I arrived, most of the other tourists were at supper. I didn’t have it to myself, but when you can capture a photo like this…
There are two self-guided tours: one through the church and another through the cloisters. I began with the church.
Construction began in 1502 and was one of the reasons why the church in Batalha was not completed: there is only so much stone and so many stonecutters. The king decided that after 129 years of construction at Batalha, they had had enough time to complete.
None of the churches are brightly lit, but this was by far the darkest, between fewer windows and electrical lights.
The last entry into the monastery side is 5:30 p.m., and I timed it perfectly.
St. Jerome is most often pictured with a lion. This painting greets you at the top of the stairs leading to the second story, and the proud lion sits at the corner of the inner courtyard.
The Golden Legend says…
One day toward evening, when he was seated with the brethren to hear the sacred lessons read, a lion suddenly limped into the monastery. The other monks fled at the sight of the beast, but Jerome greeted him as a guest. The lion showed him his wounded foot, and Jerome called the brothers and ordered them to wash the animal’s feet and to dress the wound carefully. When they set about doing this, they found that the paw had been scratched and torn by thorns. They did what was necessary, and the lion recovered, lost all his wildness, and lived among the monks like a house pet.
I posted the legend elsewhere, and someone commented that the legend of the lion is based on Jerome’s temper which he had a difficult time containing. It is easy to see that in the story as well: his life of prayer, cloistered with the other monks, tamed his temper and his soul.
Today is my last day in Portugal and I’ve no plan. I still haven’t ridden one of the trolleys, but with such long flights coming up tomorrow, I’m not too interested in spending the day sitting. Maybe I’ll just walk out the door and see where my feet take me.
I forgot to make a New Year’s resolution. I think it will be to travel at every opportunity I can.
Travel: Portugal (Day Eight)
Today was tour day, and it was a grand time
I walked about fifteen minutes to the Barrio Alto Hotel where I met my guide and travel companions. There were eight of us in all—myself, an Armenian couple now living in Las Angeles, a Chinese couple now living in Michigan, and a family of three from Buenos Aries, Brazil (the history of Portugal and Brazil is closely knit together.)
From there, we drove north (our driver averaged 95 mph in the Mercedes van) to Fatima (about an hour). Along the way, the guide explained to us (first in English, then in Portuguese) the significance of the site, the apparitions, the three shepherd children, and all. It is fascinating to hear, even if you are familiar with the story.
When going to Fatima, it is not about the buildings. It is about the location and the events that occurred there. The buildings came much later. The first picture below shows the actual location of the apparitions and the original place of worship that the Virgin Mary asked to be built. The second, the church, was built later as the site grew in importance and more pilgrims arrived. There is now a third church, which is more like an auditorium, that will hold 8,000. I was glad that the Pilgrim’s Mass was held in the first church.
The Vatican has not yet revealed all the messages that were given but have officially declared the apparitions to be valid; this is primarily due to the fifth apparition: the Virgin Mary asked that six individuals be brought on that day so that they could be healed. When the day arrived, there were at least 40,000 in attendance and 500 to 1,000 were healed and… all reported that the sun danced in the sky. I encourage you to read more about this miraculous event.
From Fatima, we travelled to Batalha (means battle) the site of a great battle and the location of the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory. Construction began in 1386 in thanksgiving for the victory at the battle of Aljubarrota between the Spanish and the Portuguese (these people still don’t like one another, and our guide tells us that anyone who says differently is lying.) There are some fantastic circumstances regarding the battle, but in the end, 6,000 Portuguese defeated 36,000 Spanish in about forty-five minutes. I would probably have built a church myself. At the far right side of the church you see columns that appear to be incomplete… they are. After 129 years of construction, the government said, “Enough,” and put the resources elsewhere.
A note on paying your artist: the one who crafted the horse and rider (general who led the battle) was never paid properly, so the artist made a few “mistakes” in creating the horse. 1) both left feet of the horse are off the ground. Guess what happens when both the left/right feet of a horse are off the ground. 2) It is a male horse that has three of what it should only have two and none of what it should have one. I’ll let you sort that all out.
It is as though they were attempting to enclose heaven itself in such a dramatic space. The acoustics are incredible as the sound bounces off the ceiling (106 feet) and around the columns.
On each stone, you will see certain marks. These are the marks of the stonecutter. No mark = no pay. When a stone has two marks, it means that it was cut by an apprentice under the tutelage of a master.
I shared lunch with this delightful Armenian couple who insisted on paying for mine. I protested, but he gave me a look that informed me I would not “win” the argument, so I said, “Thank you.”
Nazaré was next. It is known for its waves and the last three world records surfing have been attained here. Most tourists come for the huge waves, but as our guide explained, it is only about five days out of the year that the massive ones (120+ feet) come in. It was still spectacular.
If you think that the name, Nazaré, sounds remarkably close to Nazareth (my Armenian friend pointed this out), then you would be correct. A wonderful legend. You can find it here.
And then we were off to Óbidos (I’ll never get the hang of the language, but it doesn’t sound like it reads.) It is a well preserved example of early life in the region and is surrounded by the castle walls. It became a part of the queen’s dowry, so she would dictate the color that all the houses must be painted, which was white, but the owners had the option of color for “framing” the house.
You are allowed to walk along the top of the wall and you do so at your own risk (definitely not OSHA approved!) By this time of the day, I was pooped out, so I did not take my chances in going all the way around, but the view…
The van was quiet for the ride home. All of us, including our guide, had a very full day. When I returned to the apartment, I had a couple of boiled eggs and a piece of bread, then put my feet up.
Two more days remaining = two more adventures.
Travel: Portugal (Day Seven)
Today, I spent a good bit of my time simply roaming the streets, watching people, and enjoying vacation time without rushing about. It was good, but I did have one place on my list that I was not going to miss: the ruins of the Convent of Santa Maria do Carmo (founded in 1389).
Most churches are well preserved, even if they have been struck by earthquakes/fire; however, some have reached a stage where nothing more can be done except stabilize the remaining structure and save whatever else is possible. Carmo is such a place.
“The Great Lisbon Earthquake” struck on November 1, 1755, at 9:40 a.m. In Lisbon, it is estimated that 30,000-40,000 people were killed in the quake and tsunami that followed. 85% of the city was destroyed. The royal library—some 70,000 volumes—was lost. Countless works of art were buried under tons of rubble or consumed by the fires that followed and have not been seen since. A loss on many levels, then… you pick up the pieces.
Since the earthquake and through the years, the church has stood as a minder of the tragedy the city experineced, and has also become a museum for treasures that were recovered. And lets face it, every museum should have a couple of mummies sitting around.
Afterward, I stopped for a while in Rossio Square, and after the influencers moved aside to let the rest of us in, I was able to capture a few images of the fountain.
I finally came across one of the funiculars. This is the Elevado da Glória, and it climbs a hill that is a 17.7% slope. You don’t want to walk it!
And, of course, I had to stop and eat: Pinóquio. My timing was perfect. When I arrived, there were several tables free, but for the next hour, there was a line of at least 20 individuals waiting to get in (I did not know that it was a popular place when I arrived. I was just hungry.)
I enjoyed the Prawn Cocktail, Seafood Pasta (lobster—I don’t think there was much, clams, shrimp, and pasta in a thin broth. Very good! This was served with 1/2 bottle of Maria Joaquina red wine and some sparkling water. I finished up with a very yummy café and Creme Catalão—think creme brulé on crack. It was a delicious meal.
Every inch is used for floor space and more tables, so you are essentially having your meal with the people sitting next to you. In this case, I was sitting next to two young Russian men. Well, they were speaking Russian, so I’m assuming here, and for whatever reason, I got it in my pointy little head that these were some of the fortunate young Russian men who were able to escape and avoid military service in Ukraine. I didn’t ask.
Following such decadence, I decided it was time to stop for prayer, so on the way back to the apartment, I stopped once again at St. Dominic’s (the church that was gutted by fire) and prayed a rosary.
Like Rome, being in these places where the saints have prayed for centuries is a truly remarkable feeling.
After doing a bit of complicated math, I discovered tonight was the night that I once again needed to do laundry. It is not that I’m out of clean clothes, but you have to figure in drying time, and I wasn’t up for hair-drying my clothes again or packing a bunch of wet clothes home, so here I am.
Tomorrow… tomorrow is a very full day. I’m finally headed to Fatima, and there are three other stops on the tour. The weather is perfect. It’ll be a remarkable trip.
If, while in Portugal, you need to tell someone to “Get lost!” You say to them, “Vai pentear Macacos!” “Go comb monkeys!” That may work in a sermon someday.
Travel: Portugal (you have to eat)
I had no plans on getting out today and I didn’t get very far, maybe about 60 steps to a delightful restaurant: Tandoor – A Taste of Punjab.
I enjoyed a bright yellowed Garnele Korma. I looked that up before I went because I know that sometimes Indian food can get more than a little spicy. The korma is a mild dish; despite the look of the picture, it was lightly curried, and the shrimp were perfectly cooked. It was served over a very long grain white rice. The Cobra beer was also a first. I can recommend it and I’m not a big beer person.
I’m having a great time trying new foods while I am here.
Travel: Lisbon (Day Five & Six)
I believe I played until about 1 a.m. this morning and did not take the time to write, although there are some jottings in my notebook that I may share here.
On this fine New Year’s Day, it is pouring rain, washing the air and the streets, so it has been officially decided by the powers that be that today will be a true Sabbath rest day. Still, yesterday… 18,000 steps took me many places, the first of which was across town to the Cais do Sodré train station, where I boarded the train to Cascais, but got off on the third stop, Belém. (FYI: it is really cheap to take the trains, ferry, buses, etc. I think yesterday’s ride was 1,35€.)
From the station, I walked to my first destination, The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, The Monument to the Discoveries. As with all such sites, it was crowded, but I can only imagine what it would be like during the high tourist season.
The monument (170 feet tall) was originally only a temporary structure with a minimum of material for the 1940 World’s Fair, but twenty years later was reconstructed for permanence. It is Henry the Navigator (Dom Henrique of Portugal, his statue is 26 feet tall) at the front who was responsible for choreographing much of the early Portuguese maritime expansion. Other figures represent princesses, cartographers, clerics, etc., who participated in the expansion work. I took a moment to be in Oklahoma on the map in front of the monument.
A half mile further up the street is the Belém Castle, the Tower of Saint Vincent, built in the 16th century. Its location was originally an island, guarding the entrance of the Tagus River, but the river did what rivers do—changed course—and the castle is now quite near the shore.
I then made my way across the main road/train tracks to see the Imperial Gardens (closed for remodeling) and St. Jeronimos (Jerome) Monastery (closed for the holiday), which was built in 1502. It is epic in size. To be able to walk through those doors would make it all worthwhile.
Then for lunch at Queijadas de Belém where I had a pretty good steak cooked in olive oil and garlic. And, yes, that was an exceptionally generous pour of wine. The espresso following the meal helped me to recover.
From lunch, I found a nearby park and just sat and enjoyed while looking up at this handsome fella. Researching it back at the apartment, I discovered that he is Afonso de Albuquerque, 1st Duke of Goa and Viceroy of Portuguese India. To demonstrate the power he commanded, one hand rests on the hilt of his sword while, with the other hand, he points at the guns under his feet (under his command).
This is where I chose to sit and write for a bit. Choose for yourself…
I’m sitting here thinking about how much/far Christianity has reached and helped the world to discover itself, and now that we have, we turn our backs on this faith. You cannot escape the symbols of Christianity, but like so much of the past—the world has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It is sinful, but sin is no longer relevant in a world that chooses its own relevancy. It is out of fashion and has been discarded like last season’s dernier cri. We are dying, and we believe we are living.
Who is this man atop this pedestal—a pedestal supported by angels and the waves of the sea? Does his sword save him now, or has he become like us? Dead in shoes, going from place to place with no home or friend beside us. Ah! Now a seagull sits on his head and shits upon it! HA!
Children running in circles in play—aren’t we all.
I don’t know if those are good thoughts, odd thoughts, or no thoughts at all, but having spent my time out and about in this city without access to the internet, voicemail, email, text messages, Facebook, you name it, I have found myself once again thinking on my own and chasing ideas that have no bearing on the grand schemes of the world, but are enjoyable to let bounce inside my head. Enough of that…
The train took me back to my apartment and to the grocery store, which was jammed with holdiday shoppers and included a fight between a customer and store manager (when I say fight, it was more than words!) It was then that I decided to stay home for the rest of the evening. I’ve never been much on participating in these kind of holidays, but then I got hungry. I went in search of sushi (closed) so walked into the nearest restaurant, Taberna Da Baixa… my goodness! Delicious.
For starters, I ordered Bacalao (I didn’t know what it was) and it was… amazing. Bacalao is actually dried and salted codfish which is then rehydrated and combined in other dishes. For the maincourse, I had the Sea Bass. Also amazing, especially when paired with a good wine, which the waitress was kind enough to do for me, because the only thing I really know about wine is whether or not I like it (oh, and how to make it.)
The restaurant would only hold about about 30 people and I was the only single person there (New Year’s Eve and all). I must have been an oddity (or made one particular couple nervous) because she took a picture of me and then held it over for her husband(?) to see. He then kept taking these hard glances over his shoulder and staring at me. I have decided to immortalize their odd behavior in a short story. They will not like it if they read it.
I returned home after my meal and then at about ten minutes to midnight said to myself, “Self, you are in Lisbon, Portugal and it is New Year’s Eve. They’re about to shoot off fireworks and celebrate. What are you doing sitting here? Get yo bee-hind moving!” I listened and I cheered with the crowds.
Feliz Ano Novo, meus queridos amigos.
FYI: I had checked schedules for when sites would be open, but they did not account for the holiday. My plan is to return later this week in hopes of getting in.
Travel: Portugal (wet clothes)
My dear travel adventure readers –
I left you last night anticipating the outcome of my adventures in laundry. I must report a slight failure in this endeavor. It turns out that hanging clothes on a rack in an apartment that dips to the high 50s at night and in a damp climate is not conducive to the drying of clothes. (My Dear Mr. Watson, Is this why we’ve seen peoples’ clothes hanging out for several days? Sherlock, your mind never ceases to amaze me!) So, this morning, I woke up to cold, wet clothes, which left me with a number of options 1) go out in the shirt I slept in and hear my grandmother’s voice all day, “You look like you slept in that shirt.” 2) go out in a wet shirt and hear my grandmother’s voice all day, “You’ll catch your death of cold running around in that wet shirt!” Or 3) find a way to dry the shirt. Option number 3) was the clear winner, but how?
I first hauled out the trusty space heater and had plans to lay the shirt across it and was, in fact, doing so (Sherlock was screaming in the back of my head the entire time) when I read the small print on top of said heater, “NĀO COBRIR.” I’m not sure if that is Portuguese or not, but Google Translate kicked that back as “Not Cover.” Plan B…
Rooting through a bathroom cabinet, I found an industrial hairdryer, so for the last fifteen minutes—had you been looking for me—you would have found me in the bathroom with a hairdryer in one hand and an espresso in the other, patiently drying my clothes. I, at first, felt somewhat guilty about using the electricity in such a way. Still, seeing as I’ve had no use whatsoever for a hairdryer in the last fifteen years… yeah, my carbon footprint in the hairdryer department remains small.
For the record, there was one other point when my grandmother spoke inside my head; it was when I set the hairdryer down in the wet sink (please remember that I’ve been lacking in the hairdryer do’s/don’ts for several years). My grandmother said, “Who are you? Thomas Merton!” I don’t actually know whether my grandmother knew who Thomas Merton was nor the suspicious circumstances of his untimely death, but I got the point and quickly removed the hairdryer from the sink.
My dear friends, I am caffeinated, have dry clothes, am eating a tasty breakfast, drinking one more espresso, and am about to head out on today’s grand adventure. I’ll be back unless I run into that bear…. hmmmm…. maybe the hairdryer in the sink was today’s bear? Sneaky bear.
Travel: Portugal (Day Four)
Things I want to remember: my dream from last night.
I started early today in search of a church, but they were all closed (I started too early, or they pray later in the day in Lisbon), so I made my way to the ferry that crosses the River Tagus to Cacilhas. It took less than ten minutes to cross.
Initially, I thought I would walk up to the Santuário de Cristo Rei, but when I could not spot it, I opted for a taxi. That was a smart move. It is much further than it looks. When you come out from behind the buildings that line the streets, the statue suddenly looms in front of you.
My first reaction was, “Wow!” My first thought was, ‘I hope there’s an elevator! (There is, except for the last four flights.)
I spent an hour wandering around the grounds, looking up, and seeing the various other works of art, then went for a café and a pastel de nata—a small custard pie—before heading to the top.
It took about an hour in line, but I enjoyed the bronze art (The Ten Commandments on either side of the door) and the main doors (St. John the Baptist holding the lamb, which I had to touch on my way in.) Eu sou a porta is printed above the door—“I am the Door.” Several other pieces of art adorned the walls on the inside, and one, in particular, caught my eye when I realized it was Pope John Paul II.
Up we went in the elevator, the short climb, and… the first thing you’ll notice is the wind! It blows quite strong at the top. Then, you look up. From the ground, the statue appears large, and standing on the platform at the base is not disappointing. The platform is 269 feet, and the figure of Christ is an additional 92 feet.
Images painted on the ceramic tiles at the base of the statue…
And the view…
Just below the statue, a few flights down, is a gift shop and the Chapel of those who trusted in the Heart of Jesus. I stopped for a few minutes to pray before taking the elevator back down.
Pope Benedict XVI offered a Perpetual Plenary Indulgence to all who visited, and I can use all the help I can get!
The Pilgrim’s Prayer:
After another taxi and ferry ride, I was back on the north side of the river. A bit of research last night told me that if I walked a few blocks north, I would come to the Rua Nova do Carvalho (The Pink Street!) Voila! Found it. (This is a complete 180° turn from the Cristo Rei, as this area of town was formally the red light district.) The street will definitely put a smile on your face, as will all the silly, wannabe social influencers (?) posing for pictures.
It was close to 3 p.m., and I had not eaten since an early breakfast, which led to a minor mistake: eating at a restaurant on The Pink Street. I won’t name them (if you don’t have something nice to say…), but don’t make the mistake. So many people are going through that it is impossible to maintain good quality, although, at the end of the meal, the waiter provided me with a glass of a 10-year-old port wine that made me forget about the rest of the meal.
As I was making my way back to the apartment, I saw everyone facing me and taking pictures, so I turned, and there was one of the iconic Lisbon buildings: Elevador de Santa Justa. Too many things I read said, ‘Don’t waste your time or money riding the elevator to the top,’ but it was still fun to see.
I’m back at the apartment, and this evening’s festivities are a bit more domestic: laundry.
Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. During the day, I plan to take a train to Belém, about 30 minutes west, and tomorrow night—if I’m up for the crowds—fireworks on the river. Keep you posted.
Travel: Portugal (Day Three)
Yes, I posted earlier today but decided I needed at least one early night because who knows what New Year’s weekend will bring in this city. Let’s begin with the lights. Disclaimer: I have not found them all but I will continue to look.
I was standing next to the Christmas tree at a few minutes to six and thought it would surely come on at six. It did, and everyone in the square cheered. You had to smile.
I discovered more lights as I wandered the streets, but I haven’t yet found the street lined with jellyfish. I will keep searching. (Now that I think of it, I haven’t come across the pink street either! that will definitely be an intentional search because I don’t think you’re allowed to come to Lisbon without seeing it.) Some additional lights, and they are spectacular.
The restaurant I was having supper at did not open until 6:30 p.m., so I wandered about for a bit and came across a church (no pictures because…) that I did not expect. I went inside, and there was a service of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament underway. It was the time leading up to the prayers, and I had the opportunity to sit in peace with a dozen or so worshippers. I would have stayed, but the stupid cough kicked in, and I did not want to disturb folks. I will return at another time because the church was lovely (as was the service!) and I would like to spend more time there.
Supper: now, all you people who can’t stand my canned mackerel… don’t freak out! because it was so very good! It began with fresh oysters on the half-shell, followed by…
It was soooo amazing—octopus (when in Portugal). I’ve had octopus sushi style, which is definitely “chewy,” but this was so tender—served over pureed sweet potatoes, with an olive oil, tomato, onion, and other lovely goodness sauce. Had it with some sparking water and a nice red wine. Desert was ridiculous: Baixmar Floating Island—this was two scoops of a dense merangue ‘floating’ in a heavy vanilla creme. Lord, help us all. Had it with a nice flamed brandy and followed that up with an exceptional heavy port wine. People. People. People. When in Lisbon, please go to BaixaMar Lisboa for dinner. The service and the food were exceptional and you don’t have to order the octopus (although you should!)
Remember how Florence and Rome were about not forgetting to look up? Lisbon is about not forgetting to look down. Every sidewalk is made of tiles…
Someone was making hundreds of bubbles, and the children were delighted. Some strange old guy taking pictures was also.
Everyone loves a giant Panda.
And at the beginning of the evening was sunset, looking out across the river toward Cristo Rei and the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge.
I’ll be taking the ferry across the river tomorrow to visit the Cristo Rei.
Bênçãos para todos vocês.