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.

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