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April 9th 2018
Published: April 8th 2018
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Monday, 2 April – Lisbon, Portugal

We picked up a car at the Seville train station and drove to Lisbon, through what was a scenic drive. There landscape leaving Seville was hills and trees, and about 1.5hrs north the trees stopped on an invisible line and paved the way for endless km’s of farming fields. We turned off the main highway at that point and headed west to Portugal. The scenery only got more charming with super green hills, lots of small dams and farming animals dotted amongst huge tree groves. We think they were olives but unlike Spain where the olives are in neat rows and the ground is dirt, in Portugal they are left to grow naturally so they cover the landscape in an ad hoc fashion and have the loveliest green carpet of grass under them.

We took a small detour to see Portugal’s version of Stonehenge, Cromeleque dos Almendres. These are 95 large monolith stones that have been placed in a circle somewhere between the 4-6th millennia BC. They used to have inscriptions but most of them have weathered off, with only a couple of faint etchings to be seen. Experts don’t know why they are there but they think the local people were celebrating the seasons. The drive in and out was magical as well. Again, heaps of green meadows with lichen-laden cork trees and spring flowers.

Immediately we’ve noticed that most things in Portugal are in both Portuguese and English. They seem to have thought of the tourist when erecting signs and the people we’ve spoken to have all spoken English. I’m not a language snob but it is nice to have a mental break from trying to decipher every single piece of information.

Our apartment, in the suburb of Belem, is the most stunning apartment we’ve stayed in since Capetown in 2010. It’s a Hamptons style, 1 bedroom piece of luxury. It has everything a traveller could want – full kitchen complete with grater, toaster, bread knife and colander, a bed that is uber comfy, an instant hot water system and a quiet dark bedroom. I never want to leave!

Tuesday, 3 April – Lisbon, Portugal

We had a leisurely morning of waking up at 8, doing a video chat with family and eventually making our way out at midday.

First stop – Pasteis de Belem. This is the original Portuguese tart factory, started in 1837 by someone from the adjoining monastery trying to sell sweets to earn an income. The recipe has remained the same to this day and the master confectioner even signs a confidentiality agreement not to share the secret ingredient or recipe! They make and sell about 20,000 per day, more on weekends. Despite the fact that the “Pastéis de Nata” (custard tart) exists all over the country and that there are versions in almost every city, the Belém Pastry only exists in Belem. Many people confuse the two pastries but, and although similar, they are apparently not the same. We indulged in 4 tarts, 3 cod croquettes, a veggie empanada and two hot chocolates.

I wasn’t fussed on them but Dwayne thinks they’re pretty great. I’d pick a Tim Tam over one of those!

Second stop – the Jeronimos Monastery. Started in 1501 and finished 100 years later, it’s a UNESCO Heritage site. Lavishly decorated on the outside, it’s a lovely structure to behold. We didn’t go in because the Easter crowds were crazy.

Third stop – Maritime Museum. This was interesting because Portugal (Port-u-gal, as the locals call it) was known as a seafaring nation so there were lots of models of galleons and the different ships throughout the ages, as well as ancient maps and artifacts collected from sunken ships. Interesting fact: there is conjecture that Christopher Columbus – who’s proper surname was Colon – was Portuguese and not Italian. Apparently, a court document lists his nationality as Portuguese and he referred to “my homeland” when talking about Portugal. The majority disagree with this theory though.

Last stop – Torre de Belem (Belem Tower). The Lisboa harbour is massive, so in 1515 the reigning king commissioned a fortified tower as part of the defense system of the day. It’s UNESCO as well, together with the Monastery. Cute tower but we didn’t bother going in. It was blowing a gale so we figured it would be pretty bad up the top.

We wandered back along the water front with the gale at our backs hastening our strides and came home for a tasty meal of haystacks. No tarts for dinner.

We are surprised about a number of things thus far:

1) The amount of English. It’s on signs, websites and people speak it. Don’t have to think too hard, which is a nice interlude from Spain

2) The number of Portuguese words we recognise. Acidez – acid, or musee combatente = war museum

3) The increased number of black Africans compared to Morocco and Spain

4) The horrendous parking skills. There isn’t a car on the road that doesn’t have damage to its front and back bumpers. They park anywhere there’s a spot, including on corners and roundabouts! They even triple park if they’re not blocking the thoroughfare. Marked spaces seem to be optional.

Wednesday & Thursday, 4 &5 April – Lisbon, Portugal

Came out to find a 10cm scratch on our back bumper, including white paint transfer from the offending car. How can they be such bad parkers?? Luckily for us, we were given a damaged car in Seville and the inspection report is more x’s than not, so this new damage fits into the same area and won’t be noticed.

My parents had given us some money for our wedding anniversary, and we put that towards a Sitgo Tour. This is essentially a segway bike that you sit on rather than stand. It’s the only tour of its kind in the world at the moment, and at only €25pp for a 1.5hr tour, it was vastly cheaper than the €65 segways. The young guide took us through the Alfama, which is the oldest part of the city, built by the Moors. Interestingly enough, it was the only part of the city that wasn’t affected by the 1755 earthquake and tsunami, which wiped out 70% of Lisbon’s population. Apparently it is built on better rock. “Don’t build your house on the sandy land. Don’t build it too near the shore. Well it might look kinda nice but you’ll have to build it twice…”

Once the tour ended, we hoofed it through upper Alfama to several viewpoints, giving our butts and hamstrings a workout. Lisbon sits on seven hills so there is a lot of walking involved if you don’t want to pay for public transport all the time. It almost has a San Francisco feel about it, except it’s European and cheaper.

We went to the Tram Museum, because Lisbon is known for its yellow trams. We rode the famous #28 tram, which gives a good tour of the city for the cost of a bus ticket. We also rode the Elevador da Gloria, which is the funicular up one of the steep streets – a 17.7% gradient. It’s famous for all the graffiti art on the street sides as well as the carriages. We then walked back down and made our way to Alfama for dinner.

It’s amazing how many buildings use painted tiles on the outside for decoration. They are the only country in Europe, maybe even the world, that continues to hand-make their tiles. It’s very pretty.

Wandered through a few more suburbs across the two days and got a good feel for Lisbon. I’d like to stay in Bairro Alto next time, as it is supposed to be the place at night for good food. We stayed around for sunset and tried to get night shots but there aren’t enough buildings lit up to make it worthwhile, so we had dinner in town and came home.

There is one thing that really annoys me about both Spain and Portugal. It’s the seemingly free but paid starters. When you sit down in a restaurant, they bring you a basket of bread and some olives. This is nothing new, as they do the same in France. However, when you get the bill, you discover that they’ve charged you for those seemingly complimentary starters. They never do this in France! Tonight we paid €8 for a basket of bread, olives and a plate of salami – none of which we ordered. I tried disputing it with the owner but he wouldn’t budge. From now on, those freebies are going back to the kitchen! If we didn’t order it, we don’t want it on our table.

Apart from that, Lisbon has been great. There is hardly any language barrier as most people speak English, there is English on almost every sign and menu, and there is no siesta.

I definitely like it more than Cordoba and Seville, but less than Granada.

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