Sleep is the best medicine for the common cold. Unfortunately, I seem to be unusually susceptible to the ingredients in Nyquil and barely had the energy to move. I slept for most of our first day in Lisbon while Alie and Michelle went out to see some of the city.
Lisbon is quite a ways up the broad Tagus River. A major modern feature is the bridge which connects north and south Portugal. It was designed by the same man who built the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and the two bridges look much alike.
Alie wanted to see the Coach Museum. I don’t think Michelle was as interested, but after visiting, both are surprised it is not featured on commercial tours. There are about forty intricately carved coaches. Many are covered in gold leaf and paintings. Collected by a queen, these royal coaches came from all over Spain and Portugal. Some were hundreds of years old, the oldest going back to the 1500s. One was the coach the king was riding in when assassinated by Republican revolutionaries in 1905.
Alie and I had visited the cathedral, Se Patriarcal, on an early trip. She and Michelle, however, also toured the adjoining cloisters and treasury. The cathedral, almost totally destroyed in the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake, is rather plain. But there is an archaeological dig going on in the cloisters. They are finding the remains of old Roman and Moslem era buildings. The Treasury is filled with heavily embroidered surplices, and other priestly garments, reliquaries, and gold and silver chalices, plates, and altar pieces. One gold altar piece (behind glass) was heavily studded with diamonds and other jewels. You pressed a button, and the whole piece rotated and glittered (Michelle’s notes).
As one leaves the ship, one is accosted by taxi drivers offering tours. As one, Alex, spoke flawless English, we hired him the next day, not for a tour but by the hour, to take us to the places we wanted to see and to be waiting when we exited. Alex, a relatively young man, worked for many years in menial jobs for wealthy Westchester, New York residents before marrying a Mexican girl and bringing her home to Portugal. He spoke English, Spanish and Portuguese very well, but said while he could easily read French and German, he didn’t feel confident enough to guide people in those languages – poor boy. I suggested he seek out a position as a commercial translator.
Streets in the Alfama, the old Moorish quarter, were not destroyed in the 1775 earthquake, so they remain narrow and crooked. Therefore, most tours do not go to the Castelo de Săo Jorge. The area was first settled in the seventh to eighth centuries B.C. The Visgoths put a fortification on the hill in the 5th century A.D. The castle, built by the Moors in the 11th century, became the home for royalty after the first king of Portugal conquered Lisbon in 1147. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was used as a military barracks. After the earthquake, a military garrison was built on the site. Modified many times over the centuries, the original castle and ruins were rediscovered and restored from 1938 to 1940. It has a wonderful medieval feel.
Driving through town, Alex took us to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Hill. It has a good view of the castle. Inside the chapel is a chair. It is said that ladies who sit and pray in the chair will become pregnant. Fortunately, a mass was being said, so we could not enter and risk either woman accidentally falling into the chair to find out if miracles still occur.
After the 1775 earthquake, the central area of the town, the Baixa (BAI sha), was completely rebuilt with broad avenues on a grid plan. After stopping for a picture, we drove up the Rua Augusta to the top of the hill past their central park for a great view. We stopped by a huge Portuguese flag. As tourist buses often stop there, old ladies lined one area offering hand-embroidered napkins, tablecloths and other linens.
From there we went to the Monastery Jeronimos. The monks struggled for nearly a century to build the monastery, but then the new world’s wealth was discovered and it was completed within ten years in the 16th century. The elaborately carved decorations on the building have a distinctive nautical flare and have their own style name, Manueline.
But my goal was to visit the monastery’s pastry outlet, the Antiga Casa de Pastéis de Belem. There was a military parade on the street, but we ignored it in favor of the café. Alex directed us in the correct door to avoid a long line waiting to carry out.
Using a secret recipe, monks have been producing a unique custard tart there for 175 years. I have had similar custards in Lisbon and Funchal, but was told they were not the same as the original. Other custards might actually have a better flavor, but the monks’ pastry still warm from the oven can’t be beat. For philistines, however, there is a Starbuck’s down the street.
On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a store near the castle for Michelle to buy a piece of ceramic. Going back down the hill, we passed a building that has always caught my eye. It has a large dome that seems disproportionate to its base, and the base is square, not cross shaped like most churches. That is because it is not a church. It is a mausoleum where many important Lisbon historical figures are interred – mystery solved.
This was our fourth stop in Lisbon. Perhaps one day we can come back and stay longer. But Alie protests (perhaps too much) that then she would want to learn enough Portuguese to get by – and to buy.