Friday, May 12, 2017

Home again. Home again. Jiggity jig

We got back late Tuesday night
Still trying to get over the jet lagged and waking up much to early

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Azores

I was first in Ponta Delgada about 50 years ago. We stopped in to refuel when the Destroyer I was on in transit to Europe participate in NATO Squadron exercises. We had a few hours shore leave and wandered around the town for a while. I remember thinking that all the walkways, made in geometric patterns with white and black stone could only be  constructed in a place with access to a good deal of cheap labour.

We flew in yesterday on our way home. Azores Air somehow messed up our reservations and bumped us from the connecting flight. As compensation they put us up on a hotel in Ponta Delgada, ground transportation and meals included. We fly out at 4:00 this afternoon.

The town is on Sao Miguel the largest and most populated island in the Azores. It was first settled by Portuguese fishermen in 1444.

We wandered around getting our bearings and came across half a dozen men putting together a fishing net. An old craft but now done with polyfilament not cord. We wandered around the harbour and watched the fishing boats and the sea birds.

More of that this morning then home

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Restaurante Marisqueira

Grilled sardines seem like such a Portuguese thing. Shelley and I first had them grilled years ago in a small restaurant in Richmond B.C. They were great a but the next time we went the place was shutting its doors. It was their last night. Portuguese food just wasn't trendy enough.

So, the last day in Lisbon we decided to head over across the harbour to a small village to hunt out a restaurant that I had read somewhere had the best Portuguese sea food.

It was Sunday early afternoon, we took the ferry across with groups on family outings and of course tourists, We wandered around a bit then thought we should beat the rush. I think we were just in time. The place was filling up with large family groups out for Sunday lunch. Within 15 minutes of us getting a table the line for seating stretched well into the street.  I think we were the only not Portuguese in the place.

Most groups were ordering huge shellfish platters with shrimp, scampi and crab. Everyone had small ceramic hammers and it sounded like a construction zone with people using them to crack crab claws.

We had some prawns and salad and then both of us ordered grilled sardines. We each got five on a plate. They were each about eight inches long. Heads and all. The Portuguese don't do anything to them except to grill them with a little salt, olive oil and some lemon. They don't even clean them.
Sardinhas Assadas com Patatas

There is a bit of a trick to eating them. You put a knife in just behind the gill and draw it back and one side of the fish come right off. You then simply push away the, now cooked guts, and eat one side. Then take hold of the tail, pull up and the backbone and the head will come off in one piece and you can eat the other side.

What an experience. We almost felt like locals.

Saturday, May 6, 2017


Belem I am sure was once a separate village but now is a part of Lisbon, about 20 minutes by tram. A local website says that, “Historically the Belem district was where Lisbon's elite resided, to escape the poverty and depravity of the inner city.

Today it has a thriving artists community, a huge cathedral, some notable waterfront attractions and there are lots of cafes and restaurants. The Canadians we met on the train from Faro told us that the custard tarts, the Pastel de Nata from Pastéis de Belem, were “To die for”. We are not so sure about that. We found the tarts everyone raves about to be too rich and sweet for our taste.

The lines to get into the cathedral were daunting in the hot sun as we wandered down to the waterfront to have a look at the Discoveries Monument and the Torre de Belem.

The Monument is meant to honour the Portuguese explorers from the 12th and 13th century. Henry the Navigator is at the head with 33 other famous Portuguese explorers.
Torre de Belem

A couple of hundred metres further up the waterfront is the Torre de Belem. A defensive tower, originally built on a rock outcropping but the waves have taken their toll and now a small bridge is needed to gain access. It was constructed between 1514 and 1520.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Neighbourhood

The little entry for the Ascensor da Bica
Lisbon is built on seven hills. Sometimes it feels like we are staying on four of them.We are in a neighbourhood just west of Barrio Alto in Lisbon. It isn't the hilliest part of town but it comes close.

After a few days you start to get accustomed to it and it doesn't seem as daunting as it first did.

People can ease the pain a bit by using the elevator/funicular when they can. Ours is Elevator Bico and it can help that long climb up.

Most cities would just call this a funicular but in Lisbon this is sometimes an elevador and even the Ascensor de Bica. They can's seem to make up their mind.seem to call it both.

For days we didn't really try it because we'd have to climb a big hill just so we could go down in the funicular. If we were down near the harbour it would help us get up the hill but then we would have to walk down a steep hill to get to our place. Today we said "What the hell" and we took the ride.
Sometimes I think the elevator is just full of tourists
 and the locals just walk up and down

Elevador de Santa Justa
There are several elevators in Lisbon to help out but if you live here you have to either just deal with the hills or live by the waterfront and never go up town.  All this walking keeps residents trim. I have not seen a fat person since I have been here.

I don't think there is a real schedule for these.
When one is full the both start, one up the other down
swap places then do it over again.
All Day

I am happy to report my street isn't this steep
Down one side - Up the next

The Castelo de São Jorge

I am nor sure what is about St. George but, there is no question about it, that man got around.

We knew he was a big player in England where he was busy slaying dragons but we were surprised to find him in his Spanish persona in Barcelona where he is the patron saint of Catalonia and in Barcelona they have La Diada de Sant Jordi which promotes books and roses. Kind of a literary Valentines Day.

 We were mystified when we discovered that the castle on the hill here in Lisbon is The Castelo de São Jorge. Yup, same old St. George.

The Castle has a Great View of the City
The castle in its day must have been an imposing sight to any marauding army intend on expanding into the area .The hill it stands on is perfectly located. It gives a clear view of the harbour and has natural steep sides.  The hill was first used by indigenous Celtic tribes, then by Phoenicians, the Greeks, and Carthaginians. It was later expropriated by Roman, Suebic, Visigothic, and Moorish peoples. During the 10th century, the fortifications were rebuilt by Muslim Berber forces.

History tells us that the castle and the city of Lisbon were freed from Moorish rule in 1147 by Afonso Henriques and northern European knights in the Siege of Lisbon during the Second Crusade.

Add caption
According to local legend, the knight Martim Moniz, noticed that one of the doors to the castle was slightly ajar and the knight, prevented the Moors from closing it by throwing his own body into the breach, allowing Christian soldiers to enter at the cost of his own life.

Later, as the royal palace, the castle was the setting for the reception by King Manuel I of the navigator Vasco da Gama when he returned from discovering the maritime route to India in 1498.

It is a very secure fortification. At what is today the entrance to the interior fortifications of the castle assuming invading forces got that far, you can see the slits in the wall that archers could use to shoot from. The idea was used again and again in castles across Europe but these are constructed at a seep angle quite unlike any I have seen before.

From inside the archer had a wide field of view.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Amazing Palacio Pena at Sintra

When we asked Chris, who visited Portugal last year with Gen, where we should go while in Lisbon, his first response was, "Sintra."

So we got up early this morning to beat the rush, took a taxi to Rossio Station

caught the intercity 45-minute train, found another cab, and were up the mountain at the Palace entrance in time for Happy Hour (9:30-10:30 a.m.) reduced rates. 

The benefits to being early — in addition to saving a few Euros — were that the crowd was somewhat smaller, and packaged tours somewhat fewer... The drawbacks were that the morning clouds still clung to the high places, and more photo editing was needed to remove dark shadows from the rocks and Triton. 

Sintra is an amazing place — bigger than Lisbon, the cabbie assured us. (I think he was referring to land area, not population.) He also told us that last year, there were 11 million visits to all of the tourist venues in the area. 

From the old village centre of Sintra, you can see the wall remaining from the Eighth Century Moorish castle. We got a clearer view from the ramparts of the Palacio, an ornate, colourful, luxury vacation home on the site of a former monastery developed by Dom Ferdinand II, consort and (after an heir was born) King with Portugal's Queen Maria II in the 19th Century. 

(Ferdinand was a patron of the arts, and an artist himself. Painting ceramics was one of his many interests.)

The Palacio was interesting inside — where you must walk single (or maybe double) file along roped accessways. I forced the mob to a standstill so I could get a clear photo of Gord.

One day the king said, "You know, this room could use a
couple of lamps." and before you know it someone
 rushed out and bought four of these.
With all the entertaining your average king does, he needed a really big kitchen. 

But outside, it is magnificent. There are pathways, gardens, ponds and exotic plants. Azaleas were in bloom, along with Primroses, Columbines and other flowers — including showy Camelia trees. ("Look at those roses!" I heard one tourist say. And yes, they are rose-like.)

So very beautiful!

We drove back down the hill in a TukTour Truck — a TukTuk adventure well worth the price.

I have a video of that adventure, but can't figure out how to post. 

Black and White Illusions

Many sidewalks and plazas in our area of Lisbon are paved with varying patterns of small black and white tiles.

Down our street, for example, a few address numbers are laid in the stones. We've also seen geometric designs, writing and flowers.

But the most mind-boggling arrangement we've seen were the tiles today at the Praça Dom Pedro IV, a flat surface visually contorted to hills and gulleys by the trompe-l'oeil layout of the individual light and dark pieces.

These photographs only capture a tiny part of the illusion of up and down space. To look at our feet while walking was highly disorienting! I felt like I should be stepping higher for the ridges, deeper for troughs -- and so worried about my miscalculations leading to tripping!

And seriously, this is a super flat surface. And looked at from specific angles, that is clear.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fado on the Hill

Yes, we both tossed in donations for his music and time. 

A little fado music

This afternoon this guitar player was sitting in the sun on a viewpoint,
overlooking Alfama playing fado music for the tourists. He was amazing player.
I like the picture so I just posted it by itself

The Quaint and Wonderful Yellow Tram

If this city has one thing, an iconic symbol is everywhere. One that says “Lisbon” it must be the
yellow tram.

Lisbon has a network of quaint, old-fashioned trams that lurch and screech around the narrow streets of the capital. Due to the undulating network of roads in the city, only the classic yellow vintage trams, which were originally commissioned in the 1930s, are able navigate the steep inclines or sharp twists of the tracks. The larger and longer modern trams in service in some parts of the city simply couldn’t cope. The old yellow trams would be in a museum in any other city but here they are an integral part of Lisbon public transport network.

Flagging Down the Tram
We had to almost lift the
little old lady on board
Most tourist guides suggest that a ride on the number 28 tram is a highlight of any trip to Lisbon. As luck would have it the 28 goes right past our door. We are on the second floor and you could almost reach out and touch the passengers as they move up our narrow street.

From first thing until late tourists cram this route. for a cheap tour of the city. If you managed to grab a window seat, the Lisbon tram 28 will reward you with a fantastic tour of the city for just the price of a bus ticket.

A ride on the old tram is not necessarily a comfortable ride. The benches are made of wood. You would easily think that tram lines were laid as if part of a ride at a fair.

This morning we managed to squeeze on at the stop just a 100 metres down the street. I am still not sure how we managed. The sign on board says it can take 20 standing passengers and I counted at least 30. The tight turns and steep hills and jerky starts and stops made it a real adventure. At some point I was hanging on to a strap hanging from the ceiling, Shelley was hanging on to my belt with one hand and with the other was helping keep an American tourist from falling down
Starting to Fill Up
because if one of us went it would be like a game of dominoes, We’d all go down.

Getting off is a real challenge. The driver insists you have to get off from the rear of the tram so you have to struggle to the back of the tram as soon as you think your stop is approaching otherwise you will miss it. We were chatting to a couple next to us who said at some point "Our stop is next" We said Ours too time to make a move." and we struggled from the front, to the back door. We got off. They must have missed the stop.

 Then you have to hope the driver opens the door. When he doesn’t people yell, “Open the door. Open the door” until he does. Of course they do this for us in Portuguese because we still can’t get our heads around this language

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Getting our Bearings

The 28E Tram goes right past our Door
Like Sevilla, Lisbon is one of those towns that's streets twist every which way so it is next to impossible to get your bearings. Add to that the hills. The first climb out my door this morning almost wore me out. We should have taken the tram but it was full to the max with tourists.

Rick Steves the travel "expert" says of Lisbon,

"Portugal's capital, is ramshackle, trendy, and charming all at once — an endearing mix of now and then. Vintage trolleys shiver up and down its hills, bird-stained statues mark grand squares, taxis rattle and screech through cobbled lanes, and Art Nouveau cafés are filled equally with well-worn and well-dressed locals — nursing their coffees side-by-side. It's a city of proud ironwork balconies, multicolored tiles, and mosaic sidewalks; of bougainvillea and red-tiled roofs with antique TV antennas; and of foodie haunts and designer boutiques. Enjoy all this world-class city has to offer: elegant outdoor cafés, exciting art, fun-to-browse shops, stunning vistas, delicious food, entertaining museums, and a salty sailors' quarter with a hill-capping castle."

I think he got it right.It is all those things. Lisbon in many ways is like Seville but a but more worn around the edges. It is however struggling to upgrade its streets and sidewalks and to improve infrastructure. It wants to be the go to place in this part of the country.
It is cosmopolitan, most people seem to speak English - which is a good thing because to me, Portuguese is incomprehensible.

The old traditional market near the waterfront is Marcado de Ribeira. One side of the market has tradition food stalls. A couple of rows of great quality vegetables and another some pretty good looking fish.

The Tradition Section
The other side has an amazing, very large food court. The stalls offer everything from piri-piri chicken, high end burgers, high quality ham with your choice of cheese, asian food, one of the local brewers has a selection and there is a selection of wine in another stall - you name it. All high end stuff.
The Food Court Section
 We wandered around the lower part of town on towards Alfama then headed back. It was hot today and not a cloud in the sky.