Portugal Diary – Summer 2018

Aug 24 – 31 Lisbon, Portugal Visit

In the spring of 2018 , post my Milan visit, I had decided to see another country in Europe before the end of 2018. In 2017,  I had changed my prior hectic work filled lifestyle and industry to move into a small Midwest USA community to cherish small town living. But my wanderlust yearnings keep catching up with me causing me to ‘peek’ into the world every now and then:-)!! That’s what led me to think that if I spaced my travels twice a year or so and take in some part of the world , the yearnings in my soul would be somewhat satisfied.

Why Portugal!!

After I returned from the first of my recent global visits from this Midwest community to Milan in March 2018 from where  I live now, some of  my friends from the past had indicated to me that they  were planning to visit Portugal in August this year. As a high school kid growing up in India, I had studied the incredible voyages of Vasco da Gama from Portugal to India. I had also visited Goa , India where the Portuguese influence is very evident in names and cultural monuments. Seeing my old friends in a new country and ‘seeing’ a bit of the history I had studied were good enough reasons for me to call on Portugal in the last week of August:-)! It would also give me a much needed break from the stresses and rigors of working many hours over the last many months.

Day 1 – Landing in Lisbon:

I love trains in Europe and have always enjoyed the French, German, Swiss and British train systems in my prior travels. I was not sure what to expect in Portugal . Once I landed on my Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta and onto Lisbon, I decided to take the train from the Lisbon airport to Entre Campos where my hotel was. 3 metro trains (yellow, green and red lines as they are called) later, I was ‘home’ at the hotel. Easy peazy:-) Great metro systems – very similar to other parts of Europe I have experienced.

I missed implementing the golden jet lag travel rule – ‘don’t fall asleep on the first day”. I tried real hard but crashed out on the hotel bed and that would bite me for a couple of days. But , of course, there is coffee to sort things through always!  And the Espresso in Portugal is quite fantastic!!More on the jet lag later:-)

That evening after a shower and cleaning up, I headed for a walk on the principal avenue outside the hotel to get a feel for things. Very quickly, I landed at the local bull fight stadium in Campo Pequeno a few minutes away from the hotel. What a structure!! Colorful, traditional yet with many modern elements – several restaurants, a shopping center below and an open food court! Wow! It is a red brick Neo- Moorish building built in the late 19th century with tons of modern renovations. Much of the original elements such as key hole shaped windows and double cupolas have been retained.  Who would have thought that you could have a bull fighting stadium similar to a football stadium in concept in the US!! On second thoughts – why not, I guess!! After all, both are entertainment concepts with sports, food and alcohol mixed in!! Now, what defines sport is another question for sure. That’s a topic for another day though! In any case, back to my travels:-)

Below are some pictures of the stadium/arena!!

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Section entry into arena inside the stadium
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Campo Pequeno – Restaurants outside the Bull fighting arena

I highly recommend the restaurant RUBRO and the pizza restaurant in the arena where I dined a couple of times. On one of the occasions , I was fortunate to bump into Aline and lil Cedric from Belgium at the pizza place in the stadium. Beautiful people enjoying a little mother -son time off in Portugal. What a planet huh! This is one of the true joys of travel- meeting new people and understanding new perspectives. It truly opens the mind to what a beautiful planet we live in, if we choose to see it that way. Was fascinating to hear global perspectives and hear a young child’s perspectives on food, the aquarium and the joys of swimming in what was a new city for him as he was seeing the globe at such a young age. The world is all the same – irrespective of color or country – good food, good people, good drinks and a broad perspective make for a pleasant evening.

Day 2: Driving to Sintra from Lisbon

What a planet!! Kim is a wonderful friend of mine with whom I have worked with before in the States. She and her daughter were visiting at the same time in Portugal and I had not them for over 7 years or so. We met up for breakfast at the hotel and it was such a joy to see old friends after ages. A familiar face in a new city is such joy and made my heart full.  Post breakfast we drove to the town of Sintra.

Sintra is situated in the wooded hills and is a UNESCO recognized World Heritage site. It is in 3 parts – Sintra Vila, Estefania and Sao Pedro – all joined together by a maze of winding streets in and around the hills.

At the heart of the old town of Sintra, the Royal Palace ( Palacio Nacional de Sintra) is distinctly evident by the pair of unusual conical chimneys. The main palace is mostly in Gothic façade and has very large kitchens below the chimneys. The entrance to the palace, the city around, the gardens and the kitchen with utensils is shown below.  In the chapel shown in the tiled mosaic below – symmetrical Moorish patterns decorate the original 15th century chestnut and oak ceiling. The hole that you see in the 4th picture in the tiled set of pictures below is the view from the kitchen where the utensils are located.

Palacio Nacional de Sintra

 

 

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Town of Sintra
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Walking through the Palace Gardens
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Palace Kitchen
Palacio de Pena

On the highest peaks of the Serra de Sintra is the amazing Pena Palace. It was built in the 19th century by Ferdinand Gotha who commissioned the German architect Baron von Eschwage to build this summer palace.

What a journey through time and space! We took the tuk-tuk or the ubiquitous auto rickshaw as is known in Asia to get here from the National Palace. Lily loved it and kept asking Kim how soon could she own one in the United States:-)!! I definitely recommend it as it is a fun way to travel upto the palaces and offers the ability to take in the local air and open sights as opposed to say a bus. The palaces, the gardens around them and the terrain is just phenomenal in all senses of the word – architecture, planning, amenities and flora around is one of the most unique I have seen.

In the pictures of the Pena palace below, in one of the inserts you see the Triton Arch – encrusted with the Neo- Manueline decoration and guarded by the fierce sea monster.

 

 

 

 

Day 3: Downtown Lisbon – City Center

Bus 736 takes you typically across the city onto the main city center. I took the bus from my hotel at Entre Campos mid morning and spent the day here. This area is a bustling center of activity where one finds the central square overlooking river Tagus. Most commonly known as the Praca do Comercio , this huge space was the site of the royal palace for about 400 years.  The south side seen in the pictures has the two square towers which has always been the Gateway to Lisbon. Here ambassadors and royalty would be received and take the marble steps up the river. It was an overcast day the day I was there but the sun came up mid afternoon bringing out many more visitors.

In the center of the square is the statue of King Jose. Here is also where King Carlos and his son Luis Felipe were assassinated as they passed through here in 1908. Around here is  The Rua Augusta which was crowded with tourists as is typical given the nearby shopping areas, the river and the central square. This area is amazing to walk around as each street offers something unique to see and experience and tells a rich story of the history of Lisbon.  Post the earthquake of 1755, this city center has been linked by a grid of streets to many surrounding areas.

The beer museum in the central town square is a nice spot to stop by, savor some local beers and catch a breath after all the walking around.

I had the opportunity to visit this area twice – once on my own and once with Lily and Kim. This area is a must see in Lisbon!

 

 

Alfama

This visit to the city center was topped that evening by a food tour. The local Portuguese guide was a college kid who did an amazing job in describing the history and taking us on a food tour . The food tour was wonderfully arranged where the group ( consisting of folks from New Zealand, Colombia, Mexico, India and the US) had a chance to savor many traditional foods cooked by the local restaurants. The Sardines, pickled fish, Ginja ( Cherry wine), Port wine, local breads and cheese and a dessert made of  crushed beans/butter and sugar were just phenomenal. Highly recommend the food tour as the guide and the places we went to offered great freshly cooked local foods.

Alfama is a very interesting quarter of Lisbon. It comes alive in late afternoons when the locals come out and smaller taverns start to fill up. The steep narrow streets and the construction of the roofs ( one of the first concave-convex interlocking roof tile systems in the world) is a sight to see. It was initially occupied by the Moors and later post the earthquake, was occupied by the fishermen and the poor.

Day 4: Palace of Mafra and Cascais:

The next morning , we did the usual breakfast at the hotel and headed out to see the Palace at Mafra and then decided to see Cascais.

Mafra is a small town about 45 minutes from Lisbon by drive. This town is dwarfed by the Palace built here by Portugal’s most extravagant monarch Joao V. It is huge to say the least. The chapel, the infirmary are must sees. But what I was super impressed by was the Library. It hosts books on a whole bunch of topics and I was fascinated to find some early books on engineering and law here.

Post the trip to Mafra, we drove over to Cascais. Cascais is a beautiful day trip for anyone visiting Lisbon. About 40 minutes from Lisbon, it was the original getaway for the kings to relax. Today it is a great mix of modern restaurants, hotels and beaches while still retaining its old world charm. A short drive to the town post the visit to Mafra, Cascais left me in amazement at the water, the boats, the traditional architecture and the amazing food.

 

Day 5: Belem

No trip to the Lisbon area is complete without a visit to the tower at Belem and the monastery. These are both historical gems which provide a deep sense into the times, thoughts and events around the time these were built. Portugal’s maritime history is closely linked to Belem where many of the decorated sailors set sail from on their voyages around the world from the mouth of the Tagus river. Today the Avenida da India and the Avenida da Brasilia separate the monastery from the river Tagus. This day was hot but the history in this region surely grips you as you walk through the area and understand the significance of each site in Belem.

 

 

 

 

Attached are some pictures of some great friends made in Portugal and reuniting with my old friend Kim and her beautiful lil one Lily. Life is a blessing and when one gets to reconnect with old friends and make new friends, the desire to do more to keep the planet beautiful increases.

 

 

I leave Portugal with my heart full, rich with new experiences, understanding more of our planet, cherishing the affection of the Portuguese people and having made an inroad into understanding the great sailors of Portugal – one of whom, Vasco da Gama sailed to my country of birth.

I hope I can make the trip again to Portugal as one week does no justice to understanding Portugal but surely opens up ones eyes to the beautiful culture, people and history of this small but amazing nation. Kim, Aline, Lily, Cedric, Louis, Joanna, Gabe…thank you for enriching my life with your presence and energies:-)

#whataplanet #to beautifulfriends #skymileslife #bettertheplanet#loveportugal#obrigado

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