Portugal: NATO Infrastructure Committees Visit

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Europe » Portugal
April 6th 1987
Published: September 30th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Our next NATO Infrastructure Committee visit was to Portugal. Mom and Dad volunteered to babysit Tamara, so that Linda could go. Linda was now three months pregnant with our second child. So this would be her third trip while pregnant; the others being Norway and Germany in 1985. My parents arrived in Brussels on 2 April, so they had a few days before we left to settle in.

6 April 1987 Monday. The committee members and spouses met at Zaventum Airport in Brussels where we caught a commercial flight on TAP to Lisbon. The committee then proceded to the Ministry of Defense for lunch, briefings, and an overview of what we would see in the coming week. Following this meeting we checked into our hotel where we had the rest of the evening free. Several of us walked around Lisbon Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) and the Alfama, which is the oldest part of Lisbon with narrow cobblestone steets sprawling downhill to the bank of the River Tejo.

7 April 1987 Tuesday. Following breakfast we boarded buses for a tour of military installations to the west of Lisbon. Our first stop was Sintra Air Base where we were briefed on the Infrastructure funded facilities and had a tour.

Our next stop was the Cabo da Roca ("Roca Cape" in English) on the Sagres Peninsula, located just a few kilometers west of Sintra, which is the westernmost point of mainland Europe. Tradition holds that Prince Henry the Navigator founded a school of navigators and map makers at his villa at this cape. The first discoveries were the Azores and Madeira, which he soon colonized. He sponsored explorations by Vasco De Gama and others along the African coast all the way to the Indian Ocean and Asia, establishing colonies all along the way. The voyages of discovery started at the nearby port of Lagos. Although there are no buildings remaining from his time, we stood on the promontory looking out to sea, and could understand why Henry might have been drawn to the unknown beyond the horizon.

We had a hosted lunch at Cascais, where we had the traditional meal of rice and cod. We learned that Portugese fishing boats sailed vast distances to get the cod, mostly in the North Atlantic at the Grand Banks off the eastern coast of Canada and the waters around Iceland. Iceland almost went to war to protect their waters within the 200 mile economic zone from foreign fishing fleets.

We returned to Lisbon and visited several cultural sights on the way, including the Belem Tower, built in 1515 to guard the entrance to Lisbon's harbor, which now serves as a monument to Portugal's Age of Discovery. We also walked around the 18th century Pomboline, named after the Marquis of Pombal who oversaw the rebuilding of this downtown area following the earthquake of 1755.

That evening the committee and spouses were hosted at a restaurant in the Alfama where the evenings entertainment was the traditional music and dance called the fado. What the flamenco is to Spain, the fado is to Portugal. It is characterized by a plaintive crying song, accompanied with colorful dancers. It was a great evening.

8 April 1987 Wednesday. The next morning after breakfast we boarded the bus to visit south of Lisbon, driving across the Tejo River via the April 25th Bridge to the Alfeite Naval Base. Again we had a briefing of the construction projects funded by the NATO Infrastructure Porgam, and then had a tour of the base. This was followed by a hosted lunch at the base.

We had the rest of the afternoon free to explore Lisbon. That evening were had a reception hosted by the Chief of Staff of the Portugese Armed Forces at an officers club. This was a very fancy affair, although not black tie as no one had brought their tuxedos. It was a stand up cocktail party with more than finger foods. A Portugese officer with alot of medals noticed Linda's condition and asked if he could help her by going to get her food. After she got her plate of cheese and strawberries, one of the other committee members asked if she knew who it was. She didn't know. He told her that it was the Chief of Staff. It was a wonderful evening with great food.

9 April 1987 Thursday. After checking out of our hotel we took buses to a military airfield where we caught a military transport aircraft to Ponte del Gada on Sao Miguel island in the Azores. The NATO Infrastructure program had funded a fuel depot and airfield here so we took a tour of the installations.

After a hosted lunch we reboarded the aircraft and headed to Madeira. Landing there is an exciting experience as the airfield, located on the east side of the island, is short and bounded by steep cliffs. Nevertheless, we landed safely and boarded buses into the capital if Funchal. We checked into our hotel which was on a hill looking over the city. Some of us used the pool before heading out to explore the town and find a place to have dinner.

10 April 1987 Friday. We visited the military installations at Porto Santo for briefings and a tour of the facilities, and then were off to see the rest of the island. Madeira is a very mountainous island with steep cliffs meeting the sea with very few beaches. Driving around the island was very slow and the twists and turns caused a similar reaction in many stomachs. We finally arrived at a restaurant on a sea shore (I wouldn't call it a proper beach) on the north side of the island. Linda was in a race with the baroness wife of the Assistant Secretary General to get to the bathroom, followed by all the other ladies. I think they worked it out as Linda was much relieved when she came out. We had a great lunch. We continued over the mountains back to our hotel at Funchal, arriving by late afternoon. We had the rest of the evening free to tour the town, and have dinner.

11 April 1987 Saturday. As this was the weekend, we had the day to see the cultural aspects of Funchal. Mostly it was an opportunity to shop as there was a great open air market. Others took advantage of the hotel pool to relax.

12 April 1987 Sunday. We returned to the airport for the flight back to Lisbon on the military cargo aircraft. We had the rest of the day free in Lisbon.

13 April 1987 Monday. We returned to Brussels on TAP.

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