Treats, But No Tricks, In Belem, Portugal

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Saturday, October 31, 2009

10.31.09               Treats, But No Tricks, In Belem, Portugal

[Beginning note: Deedoff – we love you and are thinking of you every day!  Get well soon.]

We were up way early this morning to catch our flight back to Lisbon.  Our first treat of the day: chocolate croissants at the Barcelona airport!  After a smooth flight with no problems, we arrived back in Lisbon around 9:30am, and this time, we were old pros at catching the AeroBus and finding our Guesthouse (we're again staying at Pensao Residencial Roma)!  In this period of eleven weeks of intense traveling, returning to Lisbon (or, more accurately, returning to a place we already knew) was a comfort of sorts.

After dumping our luggage off at the Guesthouse and heading out through the now-familiar Rossio area and Praca Pedro IV, we stopped by Igreja de Sao Domingos, one of the most interesting churches I’ve ever been inside (and, being a PK, I’ve been in a lot of churches!).  This church’s enormous interior is surrounded by gashed pillars, battered walls, and elegantly decayed sculptures – all illuminated by thousands of small tea lights and prayer candles.  It was ethereal.  We learned that this church had survived a major earthquake in 1755, and a huge fire in the 1950s.  Also, a Star of David monument outside the church memorializes the victims of a bloody anti-Semitic massacre that occurred in 1506.

After Igreja de Sao Domingos, we grabbed a late breakfast at Café Suiza, situated right on Praca de Figueira.  Over our café con leche and freshly-squeezed OJ, we watched the city of Lisbon wake up in front of us on this lazy Saturday morning.

Refreshed and ready for the day, we caught the No. 15 tram – this time, not a vintage tram, but a double-long, fancy tram with all the mod cons – to Belem (accent over the second "e"), Portugal.  On this super-sunny, bright-skyed, wonderful-breeze-blowing day, Belem and its sparkling blue waterfront views turned out to be the perfect day trip for us.

Belem literally translates as Bethlehem, but rather than a villagey-feel, it was more of a Mediterranean playground surrounded by exuberant 15th and 16th century architecture!  Getting off the tram, we walked through Praca Alfonso de Albuquerque on our way to the waterfront – a gorgeous, wide plaza with weeping trees and scattered statutes.  From the plaza, we continued on to Avenida de Brasilia, a long walkway that winds along the entirety of the waterfront.  We had amazing views of Cacilhas, a seaside suburb that lies across Rio Tejo from Lisbon (and which contains the 110-meter high statute of Cristo Rei, visible from almost anywhere in Lisbon).  Cacilhas is connected to Lisbon by a huge bridge that is very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Further down the waterfront, we took a lift to the top of Padrao (curving accent over the first “a”) dos Descobrimentos (or Monument to the Discoveries), a monolithic monument/tower structure that was inaugurated in 1960 on the 500th death of Henry the Navigator’s death!  The 52-meter high limestone structure is embellished with the figures of countless Portuguese explorers.  And, of course, the views from the top of the monument were stupendous.

After this monument, we stopped and had treat number two of today – fresh Mediterranean fruit salad and a few pasteises (accent over the first “e”) de nata – those delicious eggy custard cups surrounded by flaky crusts.  (Murray also had some beer, which he would consider the best treat of the day!)  Belem is known for inventing these culinary masterpieces, and serves them hot with cinnamon and powdered sugar.  They are gorgeous.

Late afternoon, we were back on Belem’s waterfront with a visit to Torre (accent over the “e”) de Belem, or Belem Tower.  This fortress is a World Heritage-listed site, and has some fascinating cupolas, mini towers, filigree stonework, and numerous figureheads on the castle walls.  We explored the damp dungeon below the tower, and then climbed many, many twisted marble staircases to reach the top of the tower for more spectacular views of Belem, Lisbon, and beyond.

Before leaving Belem, we stopped by the Museo de Marinha (Maritime Museum), housed in a gorgeous, castle-like building that leads to the Mosteiro de Jeronimos (accent on the first “o” – is it annoying when I type this out?!).  The monastery was once populated by the monks of the Order of St. Jerome, whose spiritual job for four centuries was to comfort sailors and pray for the king’s soul.  The church itself is the stuff of fantasy – tree-trunk-like columns that “grow” into the ceilings, and Renaissance woodcarvings throughout.

After the monastery, I bought a nice scarf from a small side street shop, and then we wandered up to Jardim do Ultramar, a park with over 4000 species of plants from date palms to monkey puzzle trees!  Then came our third treat of the day: more pasteises de nata from the famous “Pasteis de Belem” pasteleria, which has been around since 1837.  Oh, yum.  And just in case I didn’t have enough treats for the day, treat number four before jumping back on the tram and returning to our Guesthouse was homemade pipocas de dulce de leche – piping-hot, fresh-off-the-stand caramel corn!

We jumped on the tram back to the Guesthouse for some R&R, and then we were off to dinner at Cervejaria de Trinidade, a guidebook-recommended spot.  Trinidad Brewery, roughly translated, is located in a 13th century monastery now turned clattering beer hall!  Hysterical, and worth the nearly hour-long queue to get a table.  The spot oozed atmosphere, with its vaults and arched ceilings and azulejos of quaffing clerics and seasonal goddesses showing off their nipples.  Murray and I had humongous, delicious dinners, and Murray had a few giant mugs of foamy beer (fifth treat of the day?!).

No tricks today, but lots of treats!  Happy Halloween to everyone!  We’re off to Morocco tomorrow. 

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matt on

Great pics! I was thinking of you guys because we ate some jambalaya mix with canned chicken for dinner....which was your food. It tasted good. Thanks for the food. Love you guys


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