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Published: July 20th 2019
I left Porto and travelled by bus towards Lisbon
, capital and largest city of Portugal. The city of about 2.5 million inhabitants lies on the shores of the Tagus River. It was also the capital of the former Portuguese Empire which owned territories on most continents. Once I arrived in Lisbon, my Venezuelan cousin Antarajú came to pick me up. A few family-members from my father’s side migrated to Venezuela in the 1950’s and he’s the third generation from that migration. I saw him again after 5 years since Caracas, Venezuela back in July 2012 and it was great to catch up again! After going home to leave my stuff and relax a little, we went later in the afternoon to Sintra
, a city just outside Lisbon with about 350.000 inhabitants. Sintra is well known due to its several palaces, castles and gardens. The city centre of Sintra is small, but nice and well maintainted. Because we had little time, we decided to visit just one of the palaces and therefore I did not visit the popular Palacio de Pena, located very high up the hill. I’ll leave this one for a possible next visit. We went to “Quinta da Regaleira”,
a gorgeous complex dating back to the 17th
century. It lies in a huge garden, full of green and ponds with a tunnel complex you’re able to walk through. There is a deep well with stairs all around it which is very popular, called Pozo Iniciático. From the complex you’re also able to see the walls of the Castelo dos Mouros running high up a hill. Quinta da Regaleira was the mansion of very wealthy family, in 1997 it was sold to the goverment.
Now back to Lisbon
itself. Because my cousin had to work, most of my time exploring Lisbon I was by myself. In the evening we would go out in this lively city where especially the area called “Bairro Alto” is very popular with nightlife. It’s a must to stroll through Lisbon with its narrow, often steep streets full of little balconies and tiled walls. Just like in Porto, in Lisbon you often have to climb a lot, which is a good exercise anyway. The old trams that still drive through Lisbon are an excellent and cheap way to travel through the city and to avoid some of those climbs. These trams give the city a unique
look! The main square in the city is “Praça do Comércio”, located along the Tagus River and surrounded by government buildings, of which there is one with a big arch leading to the popular street “Rua Augusta”. The castle “Castelo São Jorge”, built around 1200 years ago on top of a hill, can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. From the viewpoint “Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara” you’ll have an excellent view over the castle and other parts of Lisbon. We also took a look at the Parque Eduardo VII, not far north of Praça do Comércio. The park ascends from near a roundabout up towards a huge Portuguese flag with huge green space in between containing plants planted in symmetric form. While at the park, there was an event going on with many people on the meadow while there was a DJ playing.
In the western part of the city I visited the monastery called Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, located across from the beautiful square Praça do Império”. This huge complex dates back to the late 16th
century and it houses also a church (Santa Maria de Belém), an archaeological museum and a maritime museum. Especially
the size and its Gothic architecture makes it a prominent building in the city. The tomb of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, is also located here. Vasco da Gama made his first voyage in 1497 and was the first from Europe to reach India by ship. Not very far from the monastery you’ll get to the Tower of Belém, an old defense tower dating back to the first half of the 16th
century. The tower was built with some decorations, façades and sculptures of Moorish influence. One day I met my other cousin Gerson, who was also living in Lisbon at the time. That day we were three cousins together, born in three different countries since Gerson was born in the Netherlands. I also had a chance to catch up with my Zimbabwean friends Gerald and Clarence, who hosted me in Harare back in 2015. I had no idea they were living in Portugal, until they saw that I was in Portugal and they contacted me. It was a pleasant surprise and I was happy to see them again.
My cousin had a few days off and we decided to head further south for two days,
to the Algarve region. The region is a very popular destination for those seeking sun and beach, not me of course. But there was one particular reason for me to go there: the Benagil Cave (Algar de Benagil)! We travelled by bus to Portimão
, a little city of about 60.000 inhabitants. Before going to our accommodation, I saw a tour-agency selling tours to Benagil Cave with pictures from the beach inside of the cave. We immediately went in a booked a tour for later on that same afternoon, 17:30. I was happy and excited! We had lunch, then walked around town a little bit. Town seemed small and charming, but it was very quiet and empty because probably due to the heat and it was also "siesta" time. A bit later went to the bed & breakfast to rest a little bit and headed back to town to get the boat. The trip started in the harbour of Portimão and went slowly towards the open sea. Then the boat turned eastwards along the coast consisting of several gorgeous rock formations. When we got to Benagil Cave, the boat entered just a little inside and then went back out. Here we
were able to swim and while I was getting ready to go in the water and swim towards the cave, I heard that we were not allowed to swim to the cave. It was for safety reasons, supposedly. I was very angry because this was the main reason I wanted to visit Algarve in the first place. I complained to the captain who didn’t want to hear anything and even gave a rude attitude. I did not care and kept telling him how their advertisement is misleading, showing the beach from inside of the cave on their flyers while we’re not even allowed inside. It ruined the whole day, until one of the employees later offered to bring us to Benagil beach the next day at a low price. That is what we did and I was grateful. He picked us up, dropped us at Benagil beach and picked us up about 2.5 hours later. From the beach it was about a 200m swim to get to the cave. The water was cold (18/19°C), but I didn’t care and just went for it. And when we got there, “wow”!! Amazingly beautiful, no doubt. I enjoyed the moment thoroughly and didn’t
want to leave! The cave has two arches opening towards the sea and a hole in the ceiling. I couldn’t be happier that day because I did what I came to do. Mission accomplished! Back in Portimão we strolled a little along the water, relaxed and spoke a bit before grabbing the bus back to Lisbon in the evening.
Portugal did not disappoint at all, I liked it and I hope to go back soon. From Portugal I flew in eastern direction towards one of my favourite European countries. More in the next entry!
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