First things first. Following up from my previous post about coffee pod challenges and navigation issues (see Bags are packed, we’re ready to go . . .), you will be happy to hear that we successfully acquired the correct size coffee pods for our machine, so we will not suffer another morning of caffeine deprivation!
And we solved the navigation issue by purchasing a local phone with a pre-paid data plan. Now we can use Google just like we do at home, plus other apps we need to access while out and about – Airbnb and Uber, for example. It is the single best investment we have made since arriving in Portugal – for practical reasons as well as peace of mind.
Other lessons learned over the past few days:
Uber works great for trips a little too far to walk (or when you just can’t face that big uphill climb one more time), but make sure you know what your “home” address is before venturing out. Write it down just in case.
Always carry an umbrella (one per person), a fold-up shopping bag, and cash. Umbrellas for obvious reasons, shopping bag for groceries and other purchases, and cash for restaurant tips as well as attractions that don’t accept credit cards.
We haven’t found Google Translate to be as helpful as we expected. The most important Portuguese words we need to know so far are menu items in restaurants and food labels in grocery stores.
We learned it’s OK to explore neighborhoods by wandering around without a particular destination in mind. With the hills and water as landmarks, navigating isn’t as daunting as it seemed at first. Plus having the added security of Google if we lose our way and Uber if we venture too far away is huge.
And now – some highlights from these busy past few days.
Jerónimos Monastery – 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor
The construction of this mega-monastery and church began in 1501 and was completed 100 years later. King Manuel I selected the religious order of Hieronymite monks to occupy the monastery and charged them with praying for the King’s eternal soul and providing spiritual assistance to navigators and sailors who departed from Portugal to discover lands around the world. Four hundred years later, the religious orders were dissolved, and the monastery was abandoned. Restoration work was undertaken in the late 1800s, and today the UNESCO World Heritage Site is on the “must see” list for tourists. We waited in line about 10 minutes to gain entry to the church section of the building (on the far right hand side).
Here are a couple of pics from inside – a view of the front of the church and Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s tomb.
Museu de Marinha (Maritime Museum) – 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor
The Maritime Museum was founded by King Luís in 1863 as a means to promote Portugal’s illustrious seafaring history. Today the Museum owns over 17,000 items – 2,500 of which are on permanent display. It occupies space on the far end of the Jerónimos Monastery.
I’m not particularly into boats (there must be a hundred or more model boats of all types and shapes), but there’s a lot to like in this museum. We spent about two hours perusing the exhibits – a nautical aficionado could easily spend an entire day.
A couple of notes about the photos below:
The maps in the upper right (Brazil territory) and lower left (world map) were drawn by cartographers in the early 1500s. The colorful maps were my favorite exhibits in the entire museum.
The sculptures in the middle row are early Portuguese explorers Infante D. Henrique on the left and Pedro de Sintra on the right.
The map on the lower right shows Portuguese maritime trade routes in the 15th and 16th centuries during Portugal’s Age of Discovery and Exploration.
The painting in the middle entitled “Setubal” was created by João Vaz, a famous Portuguese artist who lived from 1859-1931.
Tower of Belem – 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor
Constructed in the first quarter of the 16th century, the Belem Tower was built in the Tagus River as part of a defense system for the city of Lisbon. This “must see” attraction underwent a full restoration in the late 1990s and now welcomes over 500,000 visitors per year. We wait about 20 minutes on a cold and blustery afternoon to gain entry.
Once inside, the main activity is climbing the extremely narrow spiral staircase to the top of the tower. To facilitate the orderly movement of people up and down the staircase, there is an electronic system that allows people to ascend the steps for three minutes, followed by one minute to exit the staircase (at the top, bottom or one of three floors in between), then three minutes for people to descend.
The system may work in theory but falls short in actual practice. Our trips both up and down are made more challenging by the numerous individuals who have not exited as expected. They are plastered up against the stone wall in between floors, and those of us who are on the move have to navigate past them on tiny steps just barely big enough for one person. Nevertheless, we decide it’s worth the effort.
Pasteis de Belem – 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor
This pastry shop is legendary for its ‘secret recipe’ of custard tarts, so of course we wait in line (in the pouring rain) to give them a try. Tasty indeed! Sort of a crème brulee with a flaky crust. According to the bakery’s website, the tarts originated within the monastery in the early 1830s and have been in continuous production since that time. Not sure how unique they really are, because look-alikes abound in every other pastry shop in Lisbon.
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian – 4 stars on Trip Advisor
Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was a businessman and philanthropist of British nationality and Armenian origin. He played a major role in making the petroleum reserves of the Middle East available to Western development and is credited with being the first person to exploit Iraqi oil.
We plan to spend a few hours at the museum but stay the entire day. The museum has two major components – the Founder’s Collection and the Modern Collection. The Founder’s Collection consists of more than 6,000 works of art from Antiquity through the early 1900s. It’s mind-boggling that this was Mr. Gulbenkian’s private collection!
The Modern Collection is also fascinating, particularly the exhibits that link 20th century Portuguese art with political developments and the totalitarian regime of António de Oliveira Salazar, who ruled the country between 1926 and 1974.
Overall an enthusiastic two thumbs up for this fantastic experience – it’s on our list of “must see” attractions in Lisbon.
Information about the photos below:
Additional photos from the museum:
National Azulejo (Tile) Museum- 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor
Azulejo is a form of Portuguese and Spanish painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework. Azulejos (tiles) are ubiquitous throughout Portugal – present inside and outside of homes, churches, palaces, schools, restaurants and subway stations. Historically they not only served as decoration but also helped with temperature control.
Founded in 1965, the National Azulejo Museum features large tile displays from the late 1400s through the present time and includes information about the materials and techniques used for making the tiles. Although the information accompanying many of the exhibits lack English translations, the displays are beautiful, and we enjoy our visit.
The most impressive piece is a very large display – easily 60+ feet long – of the city of Lisbon that was created in the early 1700s. I’ve included excerpts in the photos below.
To Be Continued . . .
I have more to say and more photos to share from our stay in Lisbon, so stay tuned for a follow-up post with more pictures and overall observations about this lovely city!