Centre Of The Portuguese Empire
Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Oct 06, 2013
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Where I stayed
The first involved shopping: DH’s gaggle of close friends would attest to the fact that she can get a tad fixated on things that just don’t matter in the bigger scheme (when she reads the posting, this comment will likely become one of those things) and, when the company we booked our upcoming slow boat home with, advised us that we would be publicly shunned if not properly attired for 'formal nights’, she immediately had visions of being forced to walk the plank
Our second experience involved more driving: The town of Sintra is just a short train journey from Lisbon and offers up a spectacular array of medieval architecture and culture
Our tiny car with the big heart seemed at odds with the ancient romanticism of Sintra but it allowed us to experience the legends, mysteries, and traditions of this beautiful area at our own pace. Perhaps the most important UNESCO landmark in Sintra, the Castle of the Moors dates back to the 9th century. Like other Arab landmarks from the era, the Castle has a sundry and turbulent history. The most captivating structure, however, was the Pena National Palace. The construction intent was to create a palace that would rival the many wonders in the rest of Europe- the result was probably closer to a Disneyland version of medieval palaces; cartoonish and spectacular in equal measure (kind of like us in our little car although we were probably much more cartoonish than spectacular?).
After a day of exploration we made for the town centre to try out the pastries we had heard so much about. The pastries of Piriquita, travesseiros, are famous all over Portugal, and people cue up to buy them to take home by the truckload. These long, sugar coded 'pillows' are best still warm, and they are freshly made all through the day
The mountainous terrain and big load had worn down the AA batteries under the hood of our wanna-be car so we dropped it off and headed back to Lisbon. Our hotel was in a wonderful location and pretty much everything we wanted to see was in walking distance. We immediately hiked to the top of the highest of Lisbon´s seven hills for a look at São Jorge Castle. The oldest parts of this military stronghold dates from the 6th century when it was fortified by the Romans, Visigoths and the Moors, respectively, before the final conquest by D. Afonso Henriques. The castle’s name originated as a tribute to Saint George, who’s most popular legend revolves around the bravery required to save a virgin from the claws of a dragon. The devotion to this patron saint of England was passed on by crusader knights from the British Isles who aligned with the first King of Portugal in the retaking of Lisbon in 1147 from the Moors. The castle walls offer amazing panoramic views of the city, surrounding countryside, and the Atlantic Ocean
We followed this up with a couple of days of poking around the many squares, and churches in the old city. We also explored the waterfront area with its numerous bridges (the Vasco da Gama Bridge is so long (11 miles) that engineers had to factor in the curvature of the Earth during its construction), and historic sites including the famous Belem Tower (the starting point for many sea voyages of discovery, and for some of the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland). The entire city is a fabulous display of the riches garnered during the heyday of this tiny colonial powerhouse.
I found a back-alley joint for a long overdue haircut, and since that same place offered up a plethora of women’s treatments, DH immediately decided that there must be an unwritten mariners law that required her to have a pedicure before our upcoming cruise. Suitably cleaned, puffed and pampered, we were ready for the journey to Brazil.