The Retirees go Abroad – the Iberian Peninsula – Lisbon and Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora

Next morning there was no sign of rain. Our planned tasting tour for tonight remained promising so what to do for the day. Kerry had been wondering about twin bell towers which appeared to be nearby. After breakfast we headed up the hill instead of down to the old town. Within five minutes of walking, we found the Church of St Vincent de Fora- a grand building but the church seemed to be only a small part of the structure. Also there was a bridge across the road connecting it to who knows what. Inside the church seemed to be higher than any other (probably not just appeared to be) and strangely one of the statues was dressed like a barbi doll.

After leaving the church I noticed a gateway with a sign “Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora – Welcome”. So we went in. Inside the wall was a garden and another doorway leading into another part of the building. It was now clear that the Church was part of the Monastery. The Monastery ceased to be a monastery in the late 19th century with the abolition of monasteries throughout Portugal but now it is open to the public to view the roman remains on which the monastery was built. This was to prove to be a hidden gem of knowledge and history.

For 5 euros each we visited the roman cistern which was adapted by the Augustinians to catch the rain water to provide for the whole of the monastery. From there we walked up into the monastery itself. The walls are tiled with frescos of life in every room with each tile hand painted to make up the Fresco. The ceiling has been painted by an Italian master and this is the only remaining piece of his work. Even the bannisters had tiled posts that had been hand painted. From here we could look into the entrance courtyard and even view the coffin of one of the past residents. Then followed a treasury of gold and silver ecumenical gowns and ornaments (which I was not permitted to photograph) along with a history timeline giving the progression of the site from the Romans to the present.

Out in the courtyard in the centre of the monastery the tiled frescos continued until we found the Sacristy (where the canons would robe). The ceiling is painted with a vivid mural whilst the walls are covered in tiles with the robes contained in jacaranda chests. The in the next courtyard is the mortuary of the kings – a mausoleum of the last Kings and Princes of Portugal.

Up to the next floor we find a display of items from archaeological digs around the monastery and Lisbon items going back to the Phoneticians. On the same floor there is a display of La Fontaines’ Fables in tiled frescoes. La Fontaine published 3 collections of fables commencing in 1688 – a total of over 240 fables using animals to portray morals and ethics of the 17th century community.

After viewing a number of the fables we found the doorway to the bell tower so up we went – over 50 stairs. From this point we could see the castle do St George, another domed church nearby and the enormous roof of the monastery.

We left the monastery after 3 hours to head toward the castle. On finding the castle I read that it was made up of the ruins, a small museum and the community living within the castle walls. We chose to spend the money on lunch not the castle so we found a restaurant under the castle walls in the back streets. Lovely lunch – quiche and salad for Kerry and a toasted sandwich topped with olive tapenade for me coffee and two cakes.

Now we headed down the hill to the city via a different route. We found some interesting graffiti leading us to the major square in Lisbon. Later on our Fado tour we were to learn the reason for the graffiti.

Moving from the square we found the train station in the Manueline form of architecture (a mixture of renaissance and Moorish architecture favoured by King Manuel). Near the train station we found the official tourism office and learned more about Portugal before buying our day passes and catching the funicular “Grace” up the hill. On top of the hill we found more parks, views to the castle and some quiet places to watch the world go by.

The Retirees go Abroad – the Iberian Peninsula – Lisbon Portugal

We have said farewell to Long Eaton – it will always be one of my homes in my heart. Farewell to our neighbours Pam and John and farewell to our other Rotary Club – Nottingham. After bouncing off the walls at the Novotel Long Eaton for 4 days we are finally on our way to Portugal and Spain. We still have the car as it is cheaper to park the car (and luggage) than just the luggage and hope to sell the car on 31/10/2015; the day before we leave for Australia.

Flying to Lisbon was no problem and finding our apartment in the old city no problem. But finding out where we are on a map of the city is impossible as the streets are so small and so numerous that all we can determine is our general area. Fortunately I spotted a restaurant around the corner so we could eat but only if we can speak Portuguese (it’s the 5th most widely spoken language so surely we know a few words – not a one). Hand signals and a lot of pointing at the dishes on other tables brought a result sort of.

To bed to dream – not bloody likely they pick up the garbage every night because the streets are so narrow. We managed to find a mercador (small shop) to buy some corn flakes (Portuguese variety), milk and other provisions so after breakfast we hit the track. Now the city is serviced by trams; small trams, but even though they are small there are some places where pedestrians are crushed against the buildings by the trams because the streets are so narrow. But it provides a bloody obvious track to follow to find whatever you want.

We wanted to find the information centre to plan our visit. So we followed the tracks, passing a viewing platform with restaurants and what appeared to be a public pool, an ancient tree, the main Cathedral, trams and buses jousting for passage along the narrow streets until arriving at the commercial area where we were inundated with things to do. There was even a stationers sharing the family name of our son-in-law. We decided on the “Red Tram” tour around the old city and two walking tours one for tapas and drinks and the other for dinner and Fado – the traditional mournful music telling stories of resignation to what life may bring. The Red Tram tour started under an impressive gate beside an equally impressive square and monument.

The tram took us back up the hill we just walked down around the castle (yes another castle) back down to the commercial area and out to the Basilica of the Scared Heart of Jesus and back down to the square. This can be an ponderous journey depending on the misadventures of the motorists sharing the road with the trams.

After completing the tour and gaining an idea of where everything was we had lunch – cod cakes, a glass of wine and a glass of beer. This is a new version of the traditional concept in Portugal (the cakes include a soft cheese) and the restaurant was a bit bohemian as well. having completed our repast and a stroll down the avenue viewing some of the exotic tiled buildings and a viewing tower constructed against the ruin of another monastery, we headed for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart as the tram audio had informed us that there were magnificent views from the church.

Our tour ticket gave us use of the public tram system as well. Arriving at 3.00pm we were able to go up to roof where we could view the city and view the dome of the church. 120 steps later and 8 euros lighter we stepped out onto the roof of the Basilica. The views are outstanding until we then stepped into the dome.

Then we went into the Basilica to view the tomb of Queen Maria who had built the church to keep a promise after giving birth to a son. Inside we found the tomb but I also found behind the tomb the Nativity Scene of Estrela Basilica sculptured by Joaquin Machado de Castro in wood and cork with over 450 ceramic and clay figures. Not only is this the biggest nativity scene you will ever see you will be surprised by all the people present at the birth of Christ – even a bloke with bag pipes! After that I decided to get a haircut.

We walked back to the old city along the tram tracks past the Parliament building but we could not go inside – at least that is what the two armed guards at the front door said and I was not in an argumentative mood. We discover some wonderful graffiti in Lisbon and it all seems to relate to the culture and the people. Here is one on the side of a building in the street below the Parliament. Then we passed what I thought at that time the most ornate church on the planet – Church of Santa Catrina and Monastery of the Paulists (Church of Saint Catherine – there must have been a sale on gold leaf and silver leaf in the 18th century and this church bought the lot!) I left there shaking my head about the extravagance of the Catholic Church – there is no end to it.

After that experience we found the funicular running down to the river banks of the River Targus and into the Time Out markets – a mixture of fresh food markets and restaurants, bars and dining areas, where there is nothing your heart could desire that was not for sale. Even beer on tap that you pulled for yourself. Take one credit card, tap it on the beer of your choice and pull your beer.

The day is drawing to a close. The traffic is chaotic so it’s time to take a tram home buy some dinner and get some rest for tomorrow is another day in Lisboa (Lisbon). The tram takes it time so I photograph one of the many baroque buildings in Lisbon. After arriving at the apartment we carefully make our way to a restaurant in Rua Ecole do Gervais – nothing special about the food but the view and the music floating up from the Fado restaurants below gave it charm its drab exterior would never convey.