Tuesday, October 6, 2015


We headed out to Lisboa's historic Belem (or Bethlehem) district this morning ready for another walking tour starting at 11.00am. However we must have mixed up the starting point details because we couldn't find our pink shirted contact at all....no matter, we decided, we'll do this on our own! 
Belem was the starting point of nearly all of Portugal's voyages of exploration by sea so it is packed with historical sites as befits the glory days of the country's golden age: "Age of Discovery" and Portugal's (up to the early 19th century) subsequent significance as a global powerhouse.

But before we get to all that, Belem is just as famous for something equally as important...The Belem Bakery, owned by the same local family since 1837. The monks from the nearby Jeronimos Monastery sold their recipe for Pasteis de nata to the local sugar refinery in 1834 when their monastery was (forcibly) closed. The owners of the refinery opened this same bakery, using the Monks' recipe when the Monastery was closed in 1837. Pasteis de nata made by other bakeries all over Portugal, and the rest of the world, have been copied from this original recipe!!

This morning the bakery was a madhouse...with tour buses disgorging scores of people (from the big cruise ships in Lisboa port?) to form huge long queues to enter the shop to place their order. The staff looked pretty frazzled and the pasteis did not look to be made with the same love as our local ones are...so we just took a look this morning, and didn't buy!

The President of Portugal lives in the pink palace in Belem (since 1912)....we just happened to catch the changing of the guard this morning.
The Jeronimos Monastery was built during Portugal's golden age: the "Age of Discovery" (early 1500s). It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama's successful voyage to India and give thanks to the Virgin Mary for that success. At the time the monks' job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king's soul (in between making pasteis!). It's a UNESCO heritage monument now.

The monastery's church was certainly attracting its fair share of visitors this morning.....
We did think its interior was rather wonderful - with its complex vaulted ceiling and elaborate detailing on the columns with lots of maritime motifs. ....a very airy, spacious structure despite the impact of the crowds swarming through it.

Part of the monastery houses the Museu de Marinha, the wonderful Maritime Museum of Portugal - administered by the Portuguese Navy.
We enjoyed our visit to the Maritime Museum granted so much of Portugal's history is tied up with its seagoing skills and its strategic position on the Atlantic coast between Africa and the Mediterranean Sea. There were the most beautifully detailed large scale models of famous ships throughout history. I liked this one that helped carry the king and his family to Brazil in 1807, thus avoiding the Portuguese court falling under the control of Napoleon's army.
 .....and this rather beautiful royal barge (below).  Quite a few boats in the museum were used by members of the royal family, many of whom were eager sailors. Portugal's king (Carlos 1) and his heir (Luis Filipe) were assassinated in 1908 in Lisboa, after a few decades of chaotic economic times and humiliating losses of colonial territories. The monarchy only lasted another 2 years when Portugal became a republic, which it has remained to this day,.
This beautiful timber aeroplane (made in 1917) was part of Naval Patrol, looking after Portugal's Atlantic coast..... 
Our lunch break today was quite thrilling. I had grilled cuttle fish for the first time and it was wonderful...we always enjoy our very late, long lunches (we usually finish up between 3-4.00pm). Today we picked a lovely outdoor restaurant overlooking the Jardim de Belem (one of Belem's many riverside parks).
The final pic of the day (in Belem anyway) was taken with the monumental statue of Afonso de Albuquerque (the first conqueror of India) in the background.
We walked to the river's edge when we got back to Cais do Sodre (the railway station) below our apartment...giving us a great view of the Targus River ferry, the Cristo Rei monument overlooking the city and even a section of the 25 de Abril Bridge (commemorating the "Carnation Revolution") which is often compared to the Golden gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Monday, October 5, 2015


We had a very easy arrival in Lisboa yesterday afternoon, helped by our friendly, talkative (in English too!) taxi driver from the airport and a very smooth orientation from Christina into our beautiful apartment in the very hip inner Bairro Alto area of Lisboa.

We all marvelled at the fact that within a 2 minute walk of our apartment are two of the best Pasteis de Nata (custard tart) bakeries in the city.  Manteigaria is the more famous of the two. At Manteigaria all they make is pasteis de nata...and the actual bakery is in full view of the patrons. We ordered our first batch within half an hour of our arrival last night...YUM!

But this morning, for breakfast we tried the opposition, the Chiado Caffe (mainly because they serve sitting down coffees as well) and we decided that we could not split the two in terms of quality...More research needed I think! We're gonna love this city!
Conveniently for us one of the Lisbon Chill Out Walking Tours had its meet up point in the Plaza Luis de Camoes, just around the corner from our apartment so we met our leader Rafa there this morning, ready to start learning a bit about this city.
We started off walking the streets of this arty, hip Bairro Alto district, party central for Lisbon young things who hit the streets after 11.30 each night, after dinner (Maxie and Rod already knew this as their bedroom faces out to the street where there are some great bars!).........

Rafa is a history graduate, a philosopher and a wonderful communicator. We spent four hours in his company today....and he is without doubt one of the most engaging, thought provoking presenters of any walking tour we have ever done. I will never remember the route he took us other than that we crossed through the Baixa district, the very old Alfama district and made our way almost up to the highest point of the city where there are the ruins of the Castle of Sao Jorge, but we all certainly came away knowing a lot more about the fascinating history of this city and the nature of the challenges Lisbon and Portugal face today. .... AND he convinced us we all have to learn to use the correct name for this city..Lisboa (pronounced something like Leezh..bow..with a tiny little "a" inflection at the end).

We learnt that the dictator Estado Novo retreated to this building during the one day "Carnation Revolution" in 1974 that saw Portugal change to a democratic country and end its days as the longest lived authoritarian regime in Western Europe. It also spelt the end of an empire as Portugal withdrew from its long, bloody colonial wars being fought in East Timor (close to home) and West Africa.
The facade of this church in the same square as the Museo National Guard survived the devastating Lisboa earthquake and tsunami on 1st November 1755 (All Saints Day) but very little else in this part of 18th century Lisboa did.  The city managed to rebuild itself afterwards as a more "modern", planned city but there was a serious questioning of religious ideals afterwards granted that thousands were killed as they congregated in Catholic churches on that fateful day.

Lisboa is a gritty kind of city..we can see it is not hugely wealthy...there are quite a lot of buildings in disrepair...but it reminds us of Berlin a lot.  It has a very positive energy....very different to the little bit we saw of Spain which seems conservative and very respectable in comparison.

For Rafa these building represent the Portuguese concept of "saudade" which seems to refer to a deep state of nostalgia or melancholy for an absent something or someone that one loves.......(Rafa thinks the whole country is in a state of saudade - much as he loves the place!)

This view looks out to the old Alfama district (original home of Fado music) and Lisbon Cathedral, Lisbon's oldest building, started in the 12th century for the city's first bishop the English crusader Gilbert of Hastings. The Alfama district survived the 1755 Lisboa earthquake, the terrible fires in the aftermath and then the tsunami better than other parts of the old city (and unlike the rest of the city then it was predominantly Muslim).

These massive cruise liners on their one day/one afternoon stopovers are changing this area of Lisboa in ways that many of the locals don't welcome. Passengers sweep through these areas in their thousands, ogling the locals as though they are in a zoo.

Four hours later we were ready for lunch, but much better advised now we head back down to Rua dos Bacalhoeiros for a long, late seafood lunch which we all rated even higher than last nights great meal at a seafood place near our apartment. None of us have yet tried the salted cod much beloved by the Portuguese. Apparently they have fished out all the cod supplies in just about the whole of the Atlantic ocean!!

We walk back to the Bairro Alto, past the huge Praca de Comercio where in 1755 so many died in the tsunami following the massive (over 9 point Richter scale) earthquake. 

It's threatening heavy rain by the time we get near our apartment - leaving us just enough time to purchase a few more pasteis de nata for our supper before the rain and the wind really set in.

Luckily Lisboa is very hilly so we can afford to eat a few pasteis while we're here!!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday in Sevilla

With a few morning clouds in the sky we started the day with a walk to the Puente de Isobel 11 (bridge) and across to the old Triana district.

Our first stop was the Mercado Triano, a very orderly, clean and prosperous looking fresh food market and still quite busy despite the fact it was after 11.00am by the time we got there. It proved to be a great find for good coffees and a late breakfast (with pastries after).
This country REALLY takes its hams seriously....this was the Jamonerie shop (pic below).......... Every bar, cafe, restaurant has cured hams hanging up from every available hook and always a ham on a special stand being carefully sliced according to need.  No need for refrigeration obviously!!
Olives are serious business too. This stall had all sorts of olive offerings including olives marinating with raw seafood (tuna slices(?) and calamari) and other things.
 In Plaza del Altozano we were struck by the number of beautifully dressed young women (and men) about.
 ..and realised we'd come across a real live Triana wedding........
Maxie and I joined the guests hanging out at the next door open air bar while the ceremony was in progress, admiring all the womens' outfits. They were drinking, smoking and having a great old socialise while the "boring" bits of the wedding were going on inside the little church.

Eventually it was all over and the bride and groom emerged to a great show of rice and rose petals. At this point a singer performed a beautiful Spanish song that everyone seemed to know and love.
 ......and we left to walk some more around this lovely old district.
 ..whereupon we came across another wedding...and more women dressed to the nines.......
We saw at least 3-4 wedding parties today, a big day for weddings obviously here in Sevilla..they looked like they'd be relaxed, fun events too (apart from having to wear those killer heels all the women were wearing). 

Later, walking along Calle Betis beside the river gave us great views of the Torre del Oro, looking quite pale and golden today - as befits its name.

We stopped for a beer break on the longish walk back to the apartment then walking past one of the boundary walls of the Real Alcazar gardens later we realised we'd been here at least once before this visit. We're starting to get a better feel for the layout of this picturesque city.
Tonight we treated ourselves to a Flamenco performance at the Casa de la Memoria in Calle Cuna. This is old school Flamenco with all the traditional elements and top class performers.  I was a bit concerned it might lack a bit of character because it is a top class, but packaged, performance to introduce the art form to visitors 

I needn't have worried..the performance was fierce and spine chilling ..with the freeform singing, the solo guitarist the dancers and the incredible percussion rhythms of the clapping and the foot stamping...absolutely wonderful...there were buttons and bobby pins, sweat and earrings flying in all directions from the dancers. We loved it!

And some street scenes around our Sevilla apartment.........on our last evening here after a perfect four day stay....