Portugal, day 26: Yum! A Surprisingly Verbose Mouthful

13 July 2017

Even after sleeping it off, Yannick and I were still very full after our overindulgences the day before so we forewent breakfast.

We set off for the castle as soon as it opened to avoid the crowds – and what a success!

Amongst incredible views of the city, we sought to recreate a photo that Fabienne’s mum had taken many years before in the same spot. Another success! It was gearing up to be a super day.

History of the castle dates back to Roman times, when the hill was first fortified (however prior to that the hill had been a defensive location for the Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians).

The earthquake of 1755 (that left Lisbon flipped-turned upside down) severely damaged the castle and left some areas in ruins including parts of the wall and the soldiers’ hospital.

The city was committed to learning of seismic activity, and constructed the first geodetic observatory atop one of the castle towers for scientific observation.

On our way down the hill, we saw the excavation site of the Roman amphitheatre, which was intriguing but messy.

Originally built by the Emperor Augustus in 10BC, it was later expanded in honour of Emperor Nero to house 5,000 standing spectators. In the 4th century, it was abandoned and the larger slabs were carted off for use in construction. The theatre was completely buried in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and unearthed in the 1960’s.

For a spell we rested at 28 Café, a replica of the classic number 28 tram. (As Patsy of Spamalot would say, “It’s only a model”.)

From there we went to lunch, and revisited the mercado. Sadly Yannick and I remained too full, and could only stomach soda water, but I sourced two takeaway Oreo peanut butter pie slices from Ao 26 for a later dinner dessert.

Later that afternoon, I went for a walk and found a park which overall was a bit shit but had a quality cactus garden.

Behind some locked gates I spied a palace and a beautiful garden, with cats roaming about.

Nearby was a grand cemetery which was full of impressive tombs.

One said “abandonado”! It would be pretty obvious even without the sign that it was abandoned, as it was extremely rusty and decrepit. Although perhaps that’s what the vampire wants us to think.

Unexpectedly, the cemetery provided some amazing views over the city and bridge.

That evening, we packed up everything in preparation for our flight the next morning and then made hummus, roasted cherry tomatoes and capsicum. This was delightful with bread and a salad. We topped it off with a Borba red wine, and Oreo peanut butter pie for dessert! (Unlike in the French language, which has the similar sounding “miam” to mean “yum”, according to the internet there is not so simple a way to say this in Portuguese. Instead we get “diz-se quando a comida é gostosa”, literally meaning “it is said when the food is delicious”. How poignant.)


Portugal, day 25: The Fresh Glimpse of Belem

12 June 2017

We indulged in a slow morning at the AirBNB before heading out for a walk and some sightseeing.

Our first stop was a church right next to where we had been staying in the district of Estrela. The saintly statues on the outside were eye-catching, but the inside turned out to be quite ornate as well. The wordily dubbed Royal Basilica and Convent of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus began construction in 1779 under orders from Queen Maria I of Portugal. Sadly, by the time it had been completed less than ten years later, her young son (and the reason for building the basilica) had passed away from a bout of smallpox.

On such a pleasant morning we couldn’t pass up a wander through the park – the Jardim da Estrela, which held a lovely wrought iron gazebo.

Across the street was the famous British Cemetery. Several centuries ago there was a growing population of British expats, but due to conflicting religious beliefs, they were not allowed to bury their dead in the city. Some were even buried in the seashore. In 1654 a treaty was signed with Oliver Cromwell and the Portuguese king allowing British people to express their religious beliefs, leading to the cemetery and onsite church being built. The cemetery was very small, with close-set plots and weeds and hedges sprouting up.

Henry Fielding was one of the most famous buried here. He was a writer (including scathing political satires for the theatre), and with his half-brother founded the Bow Street Runners, London’s earliest form of a police force according to many. Fielding moved to Lisbon to seek a cure for his ailing health, though died after only two months in the new city. According to http://www.findagrave.com, his ill health was due to “his commitment to justice and humanitarianism”.

After the cemetery, we made our way into town to visit the mercado. This covered market was split into two sides, one with fresh produce and one with food stalls for lunchtime snaffling. Many of the stalls were smaller versions of successful Lisbon restaurants. A branch of Santini Gelato was here, and (even though we had visited just the day before) was very tempting.

Leaving the others to peruse the market options, I popped around the corner to Vegana burger, where I ordered a bean burger with grilled mushrooms. I was a bit disappointed that the sweet potato fries were not fries at all, but crisps. Regardless, the meal was delicious, and I followed it up with an Oreo peanut butter slice from Ao 26 a little way up the hill.

It was wooaaaaw amazing and decadent. So peanuty and biscuity.

Once we had all eaten our fill, we caught a bus to the district of Belem and went straight to the monastery.

The line for the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos was long, and we had to stand under the scorching sun, but luckily the queue moved fairly quickly.

Construction had begun all the way back in 1501, and built atop a church that was already on the site. Funded by taxes on trade from Africa and Asia, (equivalent to 70 kilos of gold each year) it still took a hundred years to complete.

The purpose of the monastery was to house monks who would pray for the king, as well as provide counsel for sailors. I imagine, depending on the king’s propensities, that these two functions may be very similar in nature: “O Lord, Thine that are Mighty, please let The King recover from His Gonorrhoea quickly”…”Hark sailor, it would be in your best interests to refrain from activities that result in gonorrhoea”. (Side note: in ensuring that I spelt “gonorrhoea” correctly (remind me what I’m doing with my life), I had to Google it, and thus discovered that it comes from the Greek ‘gonos’ meaning “semen” and ‘rhoia’ meaning “flux” or “flow”. Charming. As you may be postulating, “diarrhoea” also comes from the Greek for “to flow through”. Double plus charming.)

Inside was a grand cloister – huge and beautiful with amazing archways and vaulted ceilings and a courtyard in the middle.

The monastery was disestablished in 1833, and turned into a church.

As is fairly typical in these old churches, there was a very creepy Jesus statue on the wall, but the rest of the chapel was quite pleasant.

Afterwards, we got a historic Pastel de Nata from a traditional bakery and went to the post office. The post office worker was friendly and wished us a nice holiday.

We then left the village and crossed under the railway tracks to the coastline to see the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a statue built in 1940 to commemorate 500 years since the death of Henry the Navigator.

Though we were able to see the Tower of Belem, we should not have assumed that we would be able to get there without the aid of a map. By the time we realised we had walked onto the wrong bit of the promenade and would have to double back, we were weary and hot, so gave up as we could see it from afar anyway. The tower had served as a fortress and a launching point for explorers in the Age of Discovery. Built in the early 16th century, it was originally placed on an island in the Tagus river, but over time more shoreline was claimed for expansion and the tower now sits on the northern bank of the river.

In need of a rest, we took a bus back home and chilled the afternoon away. For dinner, we took a short stroll to Cantinho Lusitano where we supped on tapas, olives and bread with pumpkin jam, with an excellent rosé to top it off.

Desiring a sweet treat, we skipped down the road to Gelataria Nannarella and each ordered a gigante sized cup, which could fit four flavours. They were huge. Unfortunately the special of the day, pineapple, was sold out, but I made due with lemon, strawberry, peach, and raspberry sorbet – super delicious and fresh! The bin in the park was overflowing with gelato cups, so evidently many others had the same brilliant idea that we did.

Portugal, day 24: Stunning Sé Views and a Bazaar Den of Thieves

11 July 2017

On a bright morning, we walked to the Miradouro de Santa Catarina to look out over a bridge that looked suspiciously similar to the one located in San Francisco Bay.

The museum we sought was reachable by a lovely walk along the waterfront, and overall we found the displays to be very informative. The Museu do Aljube is “dedicated to the history and memory of the struggle against dictatorship and the recognition of resistance for freedom and democracy”. We certainly learned a lot about Portugal’s fascist regime, and the mock jail cells where some prisoners were secured to the wall with their belt, unable to sit or lie, were memorable.

There was a museum employee roaming the exhibits who acted as an impromptu tour guide every so often, pointing out features in the cells, comparing the conditions to Guantanamo today, and then wandering off again. Once we reached the top of the museum he became clandestine and told us that there was a surprise outside.

After fetching the key, he led us out on the balcony and we were afforded stunning views over the sé, city, and streets below.

He was chatty, perhaps as there weren’t many visitors to the museum, and we were stuck up there for a bit.

For lunch, Yannick and Fabienne went to Nova Pombalina for suckling pig sandwiches while I went for a walk and enjoyed the sun at the waterfront. I passed by many touristy restaurants with touters trying to draw me in with the menu. One man, Lucas, was persistent and tried to convince me to have codfish and then a cocktail. When he could tell I still wasn’t biting, he switched to a flirty technique with winking. Nice try, Lucas.

From the recommendation of Lonely Planet, we strolled over to Gelato Daverro for a sweet treat. This may have been the number one best all time favourite tastiest raspberry sorbet ever. All the flavours were excellent, including nectarine and lemon.

Leaving the waterfront (it had to be done eventually), we headed up through the Alfama district to reach the Feira da Ladra, a famed flea market. The name literally translates to “market of thieves”, and whether that’s because of the cutthroat market sellers or pickpockets knocking about is up for interpretation.

Though there were plenty of vintage items and curiosities, it seems that it has evolved in more recent years due to the tourist influx, and there were numerous stalls selling tatty trinkets.

The market was sprawling, spanning several streets and winding down the hillside. There was a plethora of homemade jewellery, ornate glassware, quirky old items like cash registers, and second-hand books and DVDs.

Briefly we popped into a nearby church to take a breather from the crowd.

While we were in the area, we explored the Alfama a little further, as it had so much character to take in.

Thirsty from walking in the heat, we decided to be fabulous and stop for a drink at Fábulas. The bar was tucked away in a cellar with stone archways, candleholders overflowing with wax, and eccentricities presumably purchased from the flea market: old radios, sewing machines and eerie photographs.

We each had our drinks of choice. For me, a kir royal. Fabienne opted for a beer, and Yannick enjoyed a chilled Cuba Libre.

After relaxing for a time on the vast couches, we visited the supermarket in preparation for dinner. As we deliberated in the wine section, trying to decide on what sort of red goes well for making sangria, a helpful staff member approached and pointed out a wine he liked. We asked “but for sangria?” and he instead showed us to a cheaper option. There was much miming and gesturing as “sangria” and “bom” (good) were basically the only Portuguese we knew. The sangria turned out to be excellent, and it paired well with homemade Mexican food.