Centre Of The Portuguese Empire

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Where I stayed

Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Sunday, February 3, 2013

While dropping off our rental car (our hosts in Porto were right- it is the best way to see Portugal), DH handed in the GPS unit while holding her nose and pinching it between her thumb and index finger- apparently she's becoming quite fluent in Portuguese sign language because we immediately got a refund without a word being said. We made our way to our accommodation in the heart of the old town to continue our journey through Portuguese history (from the category of "news to us"- Lisbon is actually much older than some of its better known cousins like Paris and London). And for all of the amazing sights we encountered in Lisbon, I’m probably going to remember Lisbon for two completely non-medieval experiences.

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.  We’ve been backpacking for two years- formal night for us is donning a T-shirt that doesn’t have too many holes in it. DH had been picking up items recently that would allow her to pass for formal but was horrified that my only plan was to draw a tie onto the front of one of my better T-shirts. Lisbon offered up a number of options- unlike the sky-high pricing of London, Lisbon is apparently feeling the pinch of the economic downturn and most pricing we’ve run into are relatively modest for Europe. And just around the corner from our hotel was a men’s shop that had one of those mega-sales going on- this might be the only time in our travels that shopping has made my list of mini-wows but when you pick up a suit, tie, shirt, belt, socks, and dress shoes for under $50 Cdn, you just have to be amazed. Even better, the suit must be made of some sort of space age polymer material because I can crunch it into my backpack and it snaps back into form without a wrinkle- I just need to avoid open flames, direct sunlight, and pregnant women and I’m good to go. Not the Armani tuxedo DH was pushing but given the extra cash now available for on-board spa treatments, she seems happy now.

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. The whole place is like an oil painting come to life. When the train spit us out in Sintra we promptly turned left when we should have turned right, and, as a result, we stumbled across a guy who had a mini fleet of what has to be the smallest electric car in the world. Despite the fact that we looked like two giants crammed into a childs toy car it seemed like a great way to zip around the many highlights of Sintra- it turned out to be a moped-type experience; it was a lot of fun but you wouldn’t want to be seen doing it (note to Carol C- I suspect that it may be my low-key machismo that you have a crush on so you might want to avoid looking at the pic of me in this car!).

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 outside is a flaky shell, and the inside filling is egg yolk, sugar, and almond.... apparently the recipe is a guarded secret, and worth a fortune but, to be honest, if I were to compare these delights to a Tim Horton’s Fruit Explosion (note to Jiten P- you have to be Canadian to get this reference) which can be a positively erotic experience, I’m not sure they even generated a tingle.

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.
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CarolC on

Well Vic, I actually had to look 3...no 4 times at the picture of you in your electric car to see that it actually was you! I think that you have had too many of those "long, sugar coded 'pillows' are best still warm, and they are freshly made all through the day. The outside is a flaky shell, and the inside filling is egg yolk, sugar, and almond.... apparently the recipe is a guarded secret, and worth a fortune" Either that or those cars are made for kids because I don't think the skinniest person in the world would look comfortable in it! But don't worry I still have a crush on you!!

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