Is Lisbon on Your Bucket List?

If Lisbon isn’t on your bucket list, you need to get it on there.  Right now.

Why? Great food, amazing history, beautiful sights, wonderful side trips, friendly people, affordable hotels, great public transportation, and relatively painless flights–what more could you want?

Our stay in Lisbon was just long enough to convince us that we have to return to spend more time taking in everything that it has to offer.

Although the weather wasn’t perfect during our visit, it certainly was better than what we are experiencing today, the day after Easter, here in New Jersey!  But then, snow days are made for us retirees to look through our travel photos and blog about our sojourn.   Am I right?

Because we were on a Grand Circle Tour (Sister company of Overseas Adventure) our time was planned for us, with a guided tour that included Lisbon’s more popular sights.

The Parque of Eduardo VII was a great vantage point, offering a panoramic view of the city and the Tagus River.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a European city tour unless you stopped at a cathedral.  This one, at the Jeronimos Monastery, happens to be  Vasco de Gama’s final resting spot.  It is also the place where explorers and sailors went to pray before heading off on their journeys to the edge of the earth.

To honor those seamen, the cathedral roof was designed to resemble sailors ropes and knots.  You can’t tell from the photo–you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

At the end of our visit, JuanJo, our tour guide, surprised us with a special treat, the custard tart for which Portugal is famous.  This particular bakery is supposedly the one that does it best because it was the sole recipient of a super secret recipe, developed by monks. IMG_6286This recipe is as closely guarded as the coca cola formula, or so we were told.  I didn’t have the heart to share that I had equally delicious custard tarts from a bakery in Beja.  I was told the nuns developed THEIR recipe to use up egg yokes.  Why?  Because they used the egg whites to starch their colors and headgear, so had a mountain of excess yokes they didn’t want to waste.  IMG_6287  On our drive to Belem Tower, we passed this street art, made entirely of garbage.  The raccoon’s eyes are discarded tires!

Sorry the photo is so pixilated–it was shot from the bus, with my iPhone.  But I hope you can see that this is a beautiful and imaginative piece.  The artist, Artur Bordalo, has created many murals throughout Lisbon.  What I didn’t realize was that I had seen his work already, in beautiful Beja.  Remember the rooster from my earlier post?  Check out Bordalo’s signature at the bottom right.  I loved that rooster even BEFORE I learned it was constructed out of cast off materials.

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The Belem Tower was built in the early 1500’s near the mouth of the Tagus river to defend Lisbon from the bad guys.  Really?  THIS is what their fortress looks like?  All decorative and ornate?  It looks more like Cinderella’s Castle than Fort Apache!

The second landmark on this side of the Targus River is the Monument to the Discoveries, created in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator.

IMG_6300What is really cool is the pavement in front of the monument, a mosaic map of the world, complete with ships and mermaids.

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Climbing the sides of the monument are important Portuguese historical figures, like Vasco da Gama, Magellan and of course, Prince Henry at the front.  St Francis Xavier made it onto the monument, but not into my photo.

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Across the Tagus you can see what looks like a cross.  It is actually a statue of Christ, with arms outspread like the one in Brazil.  IMG_6340
Also notice the bridge.  Remind you of any place in the USA?

After hitting many of Lisbon’s “must see” attractions in the morning, we had the afternoon to wander.  Our hotel, the Mundial,  was ideally located near cafes, shops, restaurants, and beautiful squares, perfect for people watching while munching on one of those delightful pastries.

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Believe it or not, this square is perfectly flat.  Those “waves” are a pavement optical illusion!

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Loved the sand sculptures

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School outing, maybe?

Dinner that evening was in a former Moorish palace that was briefly a casino before becoming the restaurant– La Casa Do Alentejo.  We dined in the gorgeous private room on the third floor.

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Okay, so I had a little wine before taking this picture, but I at least I DID get the decorative ceiling and the mirrors on the walls!

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The second floor was beautiful too, with tiled walls

The next day we visited the Royal Palace in Sintra.  Sintra is a lovely little city an easy day trip from Lisbon.

IMG_6359As one would expect, the Royal Palace was filled with beautiful art and treasures of all kinds.  I particularly liked this chandelier.  Hard to believe, but my iPhone 7 took a better photo than my Panasonic Lumix.

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The other unique item that caught my eye was this painting.  That sure looks like a negligee that he’s (our guide said it was St. John the Baptist–but who knows) either wearing or holding in front of him, and is that a toy horse?  If not, then what is it?  This has to be one of the strangest paintings I’ve seen in a LOOOONG time!

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On our way back to Lisbon, we stopped at Cascais, a lovely seaside town, which is even closer to  Lisbon, and is serviced by frequent trains.  We arrived just in time for the heavens to open in a colossal downpour, but no biggie.  We were with 36 new friends, so several of us ducked into a restaurant where we enjoyed delicious roasted chicken, great wine and even better companionship.  No photos of our bedraggled, sodden group will ever be posted.  I promise!

Because I had spent two weeks with Global Volunteers before joining the tour, I was able to visit Evora, another great site about an hour by bus from Lisbon.  But I’ll save that for another post.

Portugal in general and Lisbon in particular will not disappoint!

Spectacular Seville

So what if it rains in Spain? Seville is still glorious! I LOVE this city. Yes, we did get caught in a cloudburst or two, or three, but that just made us appreciate the sun even more.

High winds prevented us from entering the Plaza de España at the scheduled time, but we got lucky.  As we were leaving Seville, JuanJo noticed that the plaza had been reopened, so off we went. Because we were there so early, we had the plaza to ourselves.

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JuanJo explaining the significance of the tiles in the Plaza de España

What made Sevilla so wonderful?  Well, the city preserved the incredibly beautiful buildings from the 1929 World Exposition.  The architecture is beautiful— even better than Disney World!

 

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For the history lovers, a visit to the Cathedral is a must.

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Yet another recycled mosque, with a minaret converted to  bell tower.  This one has a Phoenician goddess atop

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It is here that you will find the massive tomb of Columbus.  And yes, he really IS in that big box.  National Geographic did a story about the DNA analysis that was performed on the box’s contents.  It matched the DNA of Chris’ son and brother.  (There had been some doubt about who those bones REALLY belonged to).

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The people standing beside the tomb will give you an idea of how enormous this memorial is.

Columbus set sail for the new world from Seville, and it was here that he (and others) brought all the gold plundered from south and Central America.

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It was impossible to capture ALL of the grandeur of the main altar in a photo

Seville has its legendary martyrs.  Justa and Rufina, two sisters, are honored with a stained glass window and in a painting.

Their story?  They refused to sell their pottery for a pagan festival, so after much crockery breakage, (on both sides), the sisters were imprisoned, stretched on the rack, made to walk barefoot to the nearest mountain range without water or granola  bars.  Justa died of hunger and thirst
but Rufina hung in, only to be tossed to the lions.

As you can see from the painting, the lion didn’t finish her off.  Finally, she was either strangled or beheaded (or both, it isn’t clear).  It was hard to keep a good woman down back then!

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If history and religion doesn’t do it for you, not to worry.  Seville offers much more:

Cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants,

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Carriage rides around the old town,

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and FLAMENCO!

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We weren’t here long enough.  Seems like I’m saying that a lot on this trip.

Next stop, Portugal.

Spain Smorgasbord

By the 8th day of our Grand Circle tour, we had visited Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Cordoba, and Torremolinos, with a side trip to the very British Gibraltar. Next on our itinerary was Malaga, but Mike and I decided to engage in an Australian tradition and “Chuck A Sickie”. For those of you that didn’t have the pleasure of spending two weeks with an Australian Global Volunteer, that term roughly translates to “Playing Hooky”.

Although the Costa del Sol averages over 300 days of sunshine per year, today was the first time I needed to wear my sun hat.

I’m sure our fellow travelers had a perfectly marvelous day enjoying the sights of Malaga, and the home hosted lunch in a nearby village as much as Mike and I enjoyed spending the morning strolling along the beach, taking in sights like this.

I would have loved to see what this tribute to Elvis looked like before the rain decapitated him.

But what about those other glorious cities?  Don’t worry, I’ll do a little flashback, with visuals.

We got just enough of a taste to determine that one of these days, we will be back to those lovely cities, and next time, we will linger.  

Our time in Toledo was limited to a few hours enroute to Granada. The old city sits 6 escalator rides above the new city, and let me tell you, we were all very grateful we didn’t have to climb all the way up the hill in the rain.

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Even after we arrived at the “top”, we still had some hills to climb.

Our stroll through Toledo’s Jewish quarter ended at the oldest synagogue in Europe. This unique building was constructed by Moors, because at that time they were reputed to be the best builders.   Of course, they were not familiar with synagogue construction, so the Jews ended up with a building that had a distinctive Muslim flavor.

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Notice the cross?  This building is a reminder that at one time, all three religions were able to peacefully coexist—pre Ferdinand and Isabella reign.

For anyone planning a trip to Toledo, please be aware it is much more than amazing history, great food and panoramic vistas.  Thrill seekers, take a look.

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Maybe next time, if it isn’t raining…

One of the many things that I love about traveling with Grand Circle and OAT is the unexpected stops along the way.  We had a bathroom and refreshment break in Puerto Lápice, a little village in Castille La Mancha, where we discovered a three room Don Quixote museum.

Because I spent so much time in the museum, I had to order my glass of wine “to go”, which I proudly did in Spanish.   An important phrase: “para llevar”.  But the effect was spoiled, just a bit, when the bartender started speaking to me in perfect English.

Not surprisingly, most of our time in Granada was spent at the Alhambra.  Okay, so we all know that Washington Irving wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but how many know that he also was instrumental in saving the Alhambra from being destroyed?  His “Tales of the Alhambra” caused the Spaniards to take a second look at what is now the most visited attraction in Spain.

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Alhambra ( Al = “the” in Arabic ) is a palace, a fortress, a small city, overlooking Granada.  Unfortunately, when Napoleon conquered Spain, his soldiers removed all of the furniture, rugs and tapestries, ( I believe the correct term is “looted”) but the walls, ceilings and courtyards give you a hint of the grandeur that once existed.   Check out the ceiling in the women’s quarters.

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The exteriors of Moorish buildings were very plain. All of the ornamentation was inside, in the private spaces, like these beautiful courtyards.

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The Moors ruled Spain for almost 800 years, and their impact on the Spanish language continues today.  Many places begin with “Gua”, like Guadalcanal, Guatemala, Guanajuato — all derived from the Arabic word for water.

Another city with beautiful Moslem architecture is Cordoba.  The Roman temple/Church/Mosque/Cathedral is an architectural wonder.  Walking through its spacious interior, you literally travel through time, starting with the preserved Roman tiles, below the existing floor—

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to the former mosque, built with recycled columns, which was wisely preserved by the Catholics —

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and now is in the center of the mosque.

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In this photo, you can see the Mosque’s red and white arches next to the cathedral’s main altar.

Cordoba is magnificent!

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The church’s bell tower was constructed around the minaret.

I guess some place has to be the least favorite, and for me, Gibraltar gets that honor.  Maybe it was because the limestone WW2 tunnels were dripping water, and were dark and gloomy,

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One of the few places that wasn’t too dark or wet to photograph

as was the weather.

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Whatever the reason, I was not as wowed as I was by the other places we’d visited.  Even the Barbary apes were a disappointment.  We only saw four.

78E241BD-2388-4088-9601-C9A028433F2BTwo more days in Spain, three in Portugal, and then we are back to the USA.