jn82’s Epic Adventure

Day 23 [21 Feb 09] – Lisbon

Posted in Lisbon by jn82 on February 21, 2009

Today we went to Belém, a district by the coast west of Lisbon city. The first stop was to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which some consider to be one of the most prominent monuments in Lisbon and is certainly one of the most successful achievements of the Manueline style. Just did a quick round inside as we were feeling a bit of cathedral overkill.

Outside Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

Inside Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

The next stop was to Museu di Marinha, the maritime museum of Lisbon, dedicated to all aspects of the historyof navigation in Portugal. Pretty interesting as it had scale models of the ships used in the historical voyages undertaken by Portugese explorers in the 16th century.

Outside the Museu di Marinha.

Nau St. Gabriel, part of Vasco da Gama’s fleet.

Portrait of Vasco da Gama.

The last stop was to Torre de Belém, a fortified tower built in the 16th century.

Inside the tower.

The last stop of the day was to a famous pastry cafe in Belém, Pasteis de Belém. The cafe was the first place in Portugal outside of the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (birthplace of the custard tart) to sell the Pastel de Nata or Pastel de Belém, named after the area.

Our afternoon snack, Pasteis de Belém at Pasteis de Belém.

Taking the night sleeper to Madrid tonight at 10.30pm and arriving in Madrid just before 9am tomorrow.

Link to full gallery of today’s pictures available here.

Day 22 [20 Feb 09] – Lisbon

Posted in Lisbon by jn82 on February 20, 2009

Took a day trip to Sintra today, a municipality in the Lisbon coast region, forty minutes from Lisbon‘s Estação do Rossio by train. This is probably the most popular day trip out of Lisbon because of the fantastic views, hills and castles, and The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on account of its 19th century Romantic architecture.

The first stop in Sintra was Quinta da Regaleira, which consists of a romantic palace and chapel, and a luxurious park featuring lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, and a vast array of exquisite constructions. Concession entry fee was €4, and worth every cent.

The main house.

Perhaps the coolest thing about this place are vast number of grottoes, some interlinked with one another. They are all over the grounds and seem to just pop up out of nowhere for no particular reason. The grottoes are totally quiet and pitch dark for most of the way, so a torch light is very necessary to get around in the caves, even so it can still be pretty scary as there are also very wet with puddles on the sandy floor and water dripping from the top.

Entrance to a grotto (yes, that is a pond like water feature around me, one wrong move and I would have been be very wet).

Inside a grotto (the only one with a light).

At the end of one of the grottos was this insane spiral staircase which seemed to go up for a few stories. It was a very strange experience as there was water dripping from the top and it was almost totally dark except for the sunlight coming from the top.

About halfway up the stairs.

Looking down from the top.

We were pretty baffled upon reaching the top of the staircase as there seemed to be no exit out into the gardens as indicated on the map. After a few minutes of considering between jumping down about one story of the side of a steep hill or going down the stairs again, I kicked around a wall which had some light shining through the cracks, and discovered a revolving hidden trap door!

Hidden door which has probably fooled many others, not me.

After this, it was time to leave Quinta da Regaleira as we had other sights to see within a short span of time. Next stop was for lunch, and we decided to try some of the Sintra pasteries from the very famous Periquita cafe. Not exactly usual lunch fare, but it was a good experience.

Round 1 of lunch, bottom half of the picture from right in a clockwise direction: Latte, Pastel Nata (egg tart), Travesseiros (puff-pastry with egg and almond cream) and Queijadas (soft cheese, eggs and cinnamon).

Round 2 of lunch: Salgado (savory pastry with stuff fish and seafood) and Pastel Nata (egg tart).

After that was done, we headed to Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). The following is an exerp of its history from Wikipedia.

“Originally, the Castle of Sintra was built by the Moors, possibly between the 9th and 10th centuries. Arab chronicles depict the Sintra region as being very rich in cultivated fields. Its castle was one of the most important in the surroundings.

In 1147, after the conquest of Lisbon by King Afonso Henriques, the Moorish garrison of the castle surrendered to the Christians without resistance. Afonso Henriques promoted the development of the region by granting a foral (letter of feudal rights) to the inhabitants of Sintra and its castle in 1154. During the reign of King Sancho I the castle was repaired, as well as the romanesque Church of Saint Peter, (Igreja de São Pedro) inside its walls.

The decline of the castle began in the 15th century, when most of the population settled downhill, in today’s old quarter of Sintra. In the 16th century the castle lost all military relevance and was abandoned by its last inhabitants, the Sintra Jews.

In 1830, after a long period of ruin, King Ferdinand II started a profound renovation of the castle in the romantic spirit of the time, which saw in the Middle Ages a source of inspiration. The walls and towers were rebuilt, while the Church of Saint Peter was intentionally left in ruins. The castle, blended with the vegetation and topography of the hill, gained a fairy-tale, romantic atmosphere.”

The main thing about the castle now is the amazing views you can get from it, as well as the huge stone castle structure itself built on the hill overlooking Sintra below.

The final stop of the day was to Palácio Nacional da Pena, with a very long history as a chapel and a monastary dating back to the middle ages. However the actual palace was only built in the 19th century and served as a royal residence. The inside of the palace now shows what the interior of the palace was like during the days when the royals stayed in it.

Palácio Nacional da Pena.

Link to today’s full gallery of pictures is available here.

Day 21 [19 Feb 09] – Lisbon

Posted in Lisbon by jn82 on February 20, 2009

Got up pretty early for our free breakfast at the hotel (back to hostels after this till the next smaller city), and then went to Coimbra-a to catch the 8.37am connecting regional train to Coimbra-b for the scheduled 8.45am Alfa Pendular (AP) 120 to Lisbon. The journey was supposed to be from 8.37am – 8.41am, but due to some mechanical issue with the train, it finally left Coimbra-a only at 8.50am! There were lots of worried looks, including mine. I remember the AP 120 only getting into Coimbra-b around 8.50am+ the day before, so hopefully it would be late once again.

A train similar to this one brought us from Coimbra-a to Coimbra-b.

Thank goodness when we reached Coimbra-b, the AP 120 had just stopped and passengers were getting on it. We all flew off the regional train onto the AP 120. What a relief! We boarded into carriage five (which was directly opposite where our regional train carriage was) so as to made sure we got on the train, although we had seats in carriage 1, so we had to pass four carriages worth of passengers to reach our seats finally. The 1hr 45min train ride to Lisbon was pretty uneventful and I had a nice nap along the way.

Upon reaching Lisbon and after into the hostel, the first stop of the day was to Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of São Jorge), which is probably the main tourist destination in downtown Lisbon. As every other tourist site in Portugal so far, there was not much information on the background of the castle, nor explanations along the way, so all we did is just walk around and admire this beautiful castle and the view it provided of Lisbon city. The Wikipedia link is probably the best English explanation and history available.

Outside of the castle.

View from one of the turrets.

View out the front of the castle.

Castle walls.

Ahhhh Portugal…

After the castle, we headed to the Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral), the oldest church in the city having been around since the 12th century (after surviving many earthquakes).

Sé de Lisboa.

Pipe organ.

Apart from the cathedral itself, there was also a gothic cloister to explore.

Cloister.

Ancient Roman and Islamic ruins of buildings which were leveled to build the cloister in the 12th century.

Went back to the hostel after this for a short rest and a few beers, then headed to Bairro Alto district for a late dinner and some Fado. Fado is a form of music characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor. There are two main varieties of Fado, namely those of the cities of Lisbon and Coimbra. The Lisbon style is the most popular, while Coimbra’s is the more refined style. Modern fado is popular in Portugal, and has produced many renowned musicians. We had dinner at this Fado place along Rua do Diário de Notícias called Adega do Ribatejo, where the prices were more than we were used to paying for a meal, but not extremely expensive. It was a very enjoyable evening with very good singing and soaking in the local culture and cuisine. After a two hour long dinner and two sets of Fado performed by 4 singers (including one of the kitchen staff!), it was time to head back.

On the whole I reckon Lisbon feels safer than Porto at night, which is not what I expected, although one dude did try to sell be cocaine and hash in one of the back streets on the way to dinner. He did not try to mug me though.

Link to gallery of today’s pictures available here.