Venice, Germany and Lisbon, in that order, outside France, and Turquant near Chinon, closer to home.
Venice comes first because of our wonderful gondola experience (which sounds very touristy I know) and all our other less touristy visits as it was our second time in the Floating City. Strange as it may seem, it was not until I had read my way through Donna Leon’s 23 Commissioner Brunetti crime novels a few months later that it became really apparent to me that there are no cars in Venice.
I see Venice as being full of canals and bridges and boats and alleyways rather than being without cars. I was fascinated by all the different types of boats and activities on the canal. Last time we were there, I had a foot problem and we spent a lot of time on the vaporettos. This time, we did a lot more walking.
Next, Germany, where we cycled for a month, first along the Moselle River, then the Rhine, followed by the Elbe, which took as into the former East Germany then up to the North Sea and Friesland, chasing the sun and windmills.
September found us in Lisbon which we loved when the sun come out but found somewhat seedy when it rained, which was more often than not. The best surprise was the marvellous monastery of Jeronimos in Belem, which is among the five places in the world that have left an indelible mark on me. The others are Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, Tasman National Park in Australia and Rila Monastery in Bulgaria.
Lisbon is a city of vistas and tiles and we even bought some 18th century azulejos to incorporate into our future kitchen. The other place we really enjoyed was Sintra with its beautiful palace and hilltop castles.
We didn’t go very far afield in France this year, because we spent a lot of time cycling along the many paths around Blois and the neighbouring châteaux of Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny, but we did go to Turquant on the Loire not far from Saumur for a surprisingly early cycling weekend in March.
We went back to visit the austere and beautiful 12th century abbey of Fontevraud with its extraordinary kitchens.
Our first trip in 2015 will be to Granada for a week at the end of January to soak up the Spanish atmosphere of Andalucia, which we discovered (and loved) in Seville a few years ago and get some much-needed sun.
We have a home-exchange in Istanbul to redeem, but haven’t fixed the dates yet.
With Black Cat now living in New York I would like to visit the city through her eyes and take in Boston as well.
I’m still hoping to go to Australia before the end of the year but don’t know yet whether that will eventuate.
This summer may be a series of short cycling trips, along the lines of Turquant, as we plan to renovate the kitchen and add at least one large and several small windows to bring in more light. And, as everyone knows, renovation always takes far longer than expected!
It’s an intermittent fast day so we prepare a picnic to eat in nearby Estrela Gardens with their exotic trees and shrubs and 19th century bandstand, obviously a Saturday rendez-vous for the locals.
There’s even an outdoor cinema. What a pity it’s in Portuguese or we could come back in the evening and conjure up childhood memories of sitting under the stars on canvas seats at Magnetic Island in North Queensland, particularly with all the tropical trees around us.
Just opposite the park is the imposing Estrela Basilica but there is a mass inside so we don’t visit – it doesn’t look any different from most of the other churches we’ve seen in Lisbon anyway.
Instead we take the famous n° 28 tram which is a great favourite with tourists so is usually completely full. But this is the terminus even though the tram does a loop so we manage to get a seat. If you are on the tram and want to continue you have to get out and walk to the next stop a few metres further on.
As we’re almost at the beginning of the queue, we both get a single seat on the right. It takes us up the hill to the cathedral and through the Alfama quarter we visited in the rain but as today is fine and sunny, there are a lot more people. We decide to stay on the tram until the second terminus.
With a big clunk, the tram stops and the driver announces finished. Some of the people look completely bewildered because they don’t know about moving along to the next stop. Jean Michel checks the map and says we’re in Largo da Graça and we can walk to the Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, which we also visited in the rain. It, too, is full of people today.
However, it still offers the best view of the castle on the next hill over. Up and down we go until we reach a very decrepit area that is part of the Alfama but last time we came from the opposite direction and it didn’t look nearly as bad.
We walk around the ramparts of the castle but they are hidden by more delapidated housing. We walk through a tiny street and come out on an a vacant alotment with masses of artificial flowers. This, we learn from the sign, is a work of art called the Disoriented Pavilion by Camila Cañeque, Spain, 1984. Taking “disappointment as a starting point, the sign explains, her art interrogates unending paradoxes on how humans create and modify the cultural/material landscape they inhabit”. Yes, well …
The castle is surrounded by souvenir shops and cafés. There is a long queue even to visit the grounds so, instead, we decide to go to the nearby 17th century Mosteiro de São Vicente de Foro (Monastery of Saint Vincent outside the walls), renowned for its azulejos and in particular a collection illustrating La Fontaine’s fables.
We give the church a miss and enter the monastery via a bougainvillea-covered courtyard. Inside are two-storey cloisters with blue and white azulejos on every wall. There is virtually no one in sight.
Various rooms lead off the cloisters, including a lugubre royal pantheon of the Braganza monarchs and a marquetry marble chapel.
A staircase with azulejos on both sides leads up to the La Fontaine collection on the first floor. I don’t recognise any of the 38 fables but our guide book tells us that many of them are relatively obscure. I like the one about the astrologer who is so busy looking at the stars that he falls into a well.
By now, my feet are aching but we remember that the lady who sold us the tickets said there was a good view from the roof terrace. Good is not the word – it is breathtaking. We can see the National Pantheon, Alfama, the Tagus River and rooftops of Lisbon spread out before us.
There are lots of columns on top of the balustrades that remind me very much of Gaudi’s chimneys, especially the ones on Guell Palace. This is not the first time that I am reminded of Gaudi in Lisbon.
We walk back to Largo da Graça to get the n° 28 tram down to our bus in the historical centre. We’ve only been in it for a few minutes before it comes to a stop. The driver climbs down to check the tyre of a big black stationwagon badly parked halfway up the pavement next to us. We can’t get past because the tyre is turned outwards.
As the passengers don’t believe we can’t get past, the driver, who seems very young, gets out with a template and shows that it’s impossible. He blows his horn very loudly for a long time but nothing happens.The next tram soon pulls up behind us so the drivers have a conflab. Our driver gets back into the tram and phones the police. There is a lot of photo-taking and questioning from the passagers, most of whom are tourists.
I whip out my dictionary and ask the Portuguese lady behind me if this happens frequentemente. She shakes her head. Eventually the driver tells us in English that it’s going to take an hour for the police to come and tow away the car. People start to leave the tram including ourselves.
Then several men all try to lift the car out of the way. Jean Michel joins them and they manage to move it enough to let the tram go past. Everyone cheers. The driver gets back into the tram and edges his way forward. We all breathe a sigh of relief!
We’ve checked the weather and it looks like it isn’t going to rain. We walk down to Rossio Station to take the train to Sintra. We’re amazed to see the long queue of people, even at the ticket machines. We soon understand why – the system is quite complicated because of the Via Viagem travel card.
If all these people are going to Sintra, I think, it’s going to be very busy. However, we easily get a seat, the windows are clean (unlike the train to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris!) and it is a comfortable 40 minutes to our destination. As soon as we get out of the train, it feels like we’re in a different part of the world.
The charm that is often lacking in Lisbon abounds in Sintra. It’s cooler and we are surrounded by what looks like a tropical forest. We stop for coffee and a cake at a little café opposite a house covered in bougainvillea. I order a cappuccino for the first and last time. Jean Michel wants a bigger cake than the pastel de natathat I choose. It turns out to contain ham …
To quote the Unesco World Heritage Site: “In the 19th century Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture. Ferdinand II turned a ruined monastery into a castle where this new sensitivity was displayed in the use of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements and in the creation of a park blending local and exotic species of trees. Other fine dwellings, built along the same lines in the surrounding serra , created a unique combination of parks and gardens which influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe.”
We start walking up the hill towards the castle. The promenade is quite delightful, with forest on both sides and modern sculptures and views of the palace and town along the way.
The white royal palace with its two tall chimneys looms into sight. It was probably constructed on the site of the Moorish Alcazar and its buildings result from two main periods (15th and 16th centuries). We buy a double ticket to the palace and nearby Pema Castle for 22 euro each and begin our visit.
The first thing I see are what look like leather Henri II chairs and a table, similar to those in Blois castle. We go from one room to the next, admiring the beautiful azulejos tiles of which there is a different set in each room, the unusual ceilings and intricately carved furniture, harmoniously blending Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance elements.
Lovely little patios lead off the main rooms and there are views in every direction.
My favourite is the breathtaking Heraldry Room, built in 1515 to 1518, with its magnificent coffered domed ceiling. It reminds me of the beautiful rococco libraries along the Danube, such as Melk and Wiblingen Abbeys, except that the scenes on the walls are blue and white tiles.
I also love the Galley Room whose painted ceiling depicts various sailing ships representing the great discoveries.
By the time we finish it’s 1.30 and time for lunch. We wander off into the very touristy old town, with its steep little streets and I eventually see a sign saying Miradouro (panorama) providing an excellent view of the palace and surrounding countryside, including the steeple in the second photo.
There is also a little restaurant called Miradouro da Villa that still has a free table on the minute terrace. We are soon esconced on our high stools and can watch other people coming to “ooh” and “aah” over the view and take selfies.
We order pork spare ribs, rice and salad and a ½ bottle of local red wine. There are no half-bottles left so the waiter suggests wine by the glass, although he warns us to drink it slowly so it won’t go to our head! One glass doesn’t seem to do much harm and although it has no nose it is a dark red and full bodied.
At 28.40 euros for both of us, including olives and coffee, the restaurant with its beautiful view and quiet surroundings is an excellent choice.
Now we’re ready for the next part of our visit – Pena Palace, the most visited monument in Portugal. We take a return ticket for the local hop on, hop off bus which stops at the train station and in front of the tourist office in Sintra (tickets on board) (5 euros each). For the entire 15-minute ride to the palace, up a steep winding road, it pelts with rain! Just as we reach the bus stop, the rain stops. Good timing indeed.
We have the choice of either walking for 15 minutes up a pleasant path to the palace or taking a 3 euro bus. We walk of course.
By now, the palace is more visible. It looks like a pink and yellow Walt Disney castle and I think it is ghastly. Built in the 19th century, it is considered to be a work of pure Romanticism, designed by the Portuguese architect Possidónio da Silva.
Inside, however, are the richly decorated church, two-storey cloister and refectory of the monastery built by King Manuel 1 and donated to the order of Saint Jerome following a visit by King John II in 1493, accompanied by his wife Queen Leonor, who made a pilgrimage to a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena built, it seems, after an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
For centuries, Pena was a small, quite place of meditation, housing a maximum of eighteen monks. I wonder what they would say if they could see the Disney castle and swarms of tourists today!
Lightning first damaged the monastery in the 18th century but the famous earthquake of 1755 reduced it to ruins. The marble and alabaster chapel, however, remained relatively unscathed.
It was left to rack and ruin until 1838 when the young prince Ferdinand who was a bit of a nature lover acquired the old monastery and much of the surrounding land. He turned it into a palace to be used as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. The work was entrusted to a German mining engineer, Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, which is why it is reminiscent of some of the castles along the Rhine.
The King suggested that vaulted arches and mediaeval and Islamic elements be included and Queen Maria looked after a lot of the decoration and symbolism.
We decide not to visit the nearby Palace of Montserrate designed for Sir Francis Cook by the distinguished British architect, James Knowles Jr, an example of mid-19th-century eclecticism, combining neo-Gothicism with substantial elements derived from the architecture of India. Two palaces are enough in one day.
Instead, we walk down a fairly steep path to pick up the hop on hop off bus at the second last stop as we think there might be quite a few people waiting at the main entrance at this time of the day, but we needn’t have worried. There is plenty of room. We arrive at the station just as our train is about to pull out. Back at Rossio Station, we have time to enjoy the artwork on the walls.
How to Get to Sintra: Trip Advisor has excellent advice. Click here.
To use the Via Viagem card: See the metrolisboa website
What I love most about travelling is coming across something that is totally unexpected, totally overwhelming and totally unforgettable. It can be the Rheinfalls in Germany, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Tasman’s Arch in Tasmania, the Cathedral in Reims, Plitvice lakes or the S-bend in Austria. Today, it happened in Lisbon with the Jerónimos Monastery.
After a good night’s sleep, we leave the apartment around 10 am, take the 758 bus to its terminus then the 714 to Belem. When we get out the bus at 11.30 am, it is pouring with rain. We put our rain jackets on, open our umbrellas and walk towards the Monastery.
There are so many tour groups and individual tourists under the porch leading to the church that we abandon ship and decide to go and see Belem Tower first. Maybe at 12.30 pm, all the tour groups will be gone.
On the way, we stop off at Casa da Cha de Belem and have two empadas, one with spinach and fresh cheese and the other with cod, washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice to keep us going until a late lunch.
As Belem Tower comes into sight in the distance, we cross a footbridge over the tram lines and walk down to the Tagus and the Tower, one of Portugal’s greatest icons.
Built in the early 16th century, it is an excellent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, which is sumptuous late Gothic incorporating maritime elements and representations of the discoveries brought back by Vasco da Gama and Pedro Alvares Cabral, mainly financed by the proceeds of the lucrative spice trade with Africa and India. Surprisingly, the tower, built on a small island in the Tagus, was not destroyed by the famous earthquake of 1755.
We walk back along the shore towards another, much later construction, called the Monument of Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) built in 1960 for the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.
In front is a giant marble wind rose. A world map in the centre charts Portuguese explorations showing the most important dates in the Portuguese maritime history with ships marking the locations where Portuguese explorers first set foot on land.
By now it’s nearly 1 pm so we’re hoping all the groups have hopped back on their buses. I take a photo of the monastery from the Praça do Imperio gardens.
Just as we leave, Jean Michel looks back and says, “It’s a pity you missed the fountain.” So I go back and take a second photo.
We arrive back at the entrance to the monastery and there is not even a queue! We think that due to the heavy rain this morning, the groups probably rescheduled their visits with everyone arriving at once.
The monastery was built by King Manuel I at the beginning of the 1500s on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India.
When we step in side, I am immediately reminded of the soaring columns of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. The vaulting is quite extraordinary and the octagonal pillars are covered with intricate sculptures.
Vasco da Gama’s tomb is just inside the entrance, opposite that of the poet Luis de Camões, author of the epic The Lusiads recounting the exploits of Da Gama and his compatriots.
As we leave the church, Jean Michel says that his guide book says the cloisters of the monastery are worth visiting. We pay our 10 euros each, walk up a flight of stairs and turn to the right.
And there it is! The most magnificent cloisters I have ever seen.
First, they are two storied, which is most unusual. Second, the columns intricately sculpted, each with a different motif – coils of rope, sea monsters, coral and other birds and beasts all evocative of the great Portuguese sea discoveries.
The monastery was founded by the Order of Saint Jerome (Hieronymites) whose spiritual job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul.
We see a door on the right and walk in. It looks like a smaller church, with more vaulting and a gallery at one end.
On the opposite end, I come to the refectory. These monks did not dine on bread and olives, I’m sure. Around the walls are magnificent azulejos scenes.
Jean Michel remarks that the fireplace at one end would not have heated the room very much in winter! I imagine the monks with their own private braseros.
We follow a staircase up the gallery. It resembles the one we saw at Fontevraud l’Abbaye but what we find when we come out is certainly very different!
We wander around in amazement, looking at every arch and every pillar. The details are amazing. I can’t take enough photos but none of them do justice to the splendour before our eyes and I only have my iPhone with me. We stupidly forgot our Lumix in Blois!
I’m not surprised to learn that it is a World Heritage Sight. The magic of Jeronimos Monastery will remain with me forever.
After virtually no sleep during our first night in Lisbon due to a barking dog, jets constantly flying overhead, merry makers under our window, the arrival of the rubbish truck at 1.30 pm with much clashing and clanging and shouting, leg cramps from being squashed into a plane for a couple of hours and a smaller-than-usual bed, I wake up to rain and hammering at 9 am.
It’s an intermittent fast day but there is no coffee or tea (I discover the coffee supply three days later!) and the closest café is 10 minutes in the rain. Hardly a great start to the day. Where is yesterday’s sun?
The rain finally relents and we set off for the supermarket, stopping for coffee at Pastelaria 1800 on the way. They also sell Lisbon’s famous pastel flans that everyone tells me are a must, but that will have to wait for tomorrow.
On the way, we pass several beautifully tiled entrances and many tiled façades.
When the sun finally comes through the clouds after lunch we set off immediately, taking the n° 758 bus down to the Tagus using our Zapping transport card, glad to be inside while it pelts with rain again. It all looks rather sad and dismal.
Our initial destination is the cathedral halfway up one of Lisbon’s seven hills. The most popular way of reaching it is on the N°28 tram. They are all full, with people leaning out the windows taking photos. We’ll try another day, making sure we get on at the terminus so we’ll have a seat.
The cathedral itself is something of a disappointment – very sombre inside and uninviting. Not nearly as rich as Sao Roque’s with its incredibly rich chapels full of gold sculptures.
After the cathedral we turn right and start walking up the hill to the Alfama quarter. Despite the intermittent rain, it is more attractive than anything we’ve seen so far in Lisbon and there are more stunning views.
A little garden covered with azulejos reminds me of the ceramics in the Cloister of Santa Clara in Naples, though on a much smaller scale. One mural depicts Paços da Ribera (Royal Ribera Palace) before the massive earthquake of 1755 that destroyed much of Lisbon’s historical buildings. It was rebuilt and remodelled shortly afterwards and is now called Praça do Comércio.
Shortly afterwards we come to another large square, Santa Luzia, with more amazing views of the Tagus and the rooftops of Lisbon.
In the distance we can see an enormous church so decide to continue our upward climb to Igreja Graça which offers another incredible view, probably the best to be had of the castle of Saint George that we haven’t been to yet. The inside of the 16th century church itself, refurbished many times, is nothing special.
The rain is falling steadily again so we decide to walk down the hill to the closest metro, Martim Moniz. On the way, we go past a series of alotments and a myriad of tiny shops, in various states of delapidation, each selling a different type of product. We reach a main street and a sign saying “shopping centre” so we follow it underground and discover a labyrinth of Chinese and Indian shops selling everything you can possibly imagine.
The metro looks much the same as any other metro in the world though we’ve read that there are art displays. The trains take a long time to come and, at 4.30 pm, are not very crowded. We already have our Zapping Transport Card* which makes things easier.
When we emerge at Rato station, just next to Pasteleria 1800, the sun is out again – but not for long. We arrive home to a loud television above us but the dog doesn’t start barking for another hour or so. I sleep on the sofa for a while and feel much better afterwards. I’m hoping it will rain most of the night – to drown out the other noise and leave room for the sun tomorrow!
My first contact with Portuguese was during my honours year of university in Australia when I studied and fell in love with Romance Linguistics, which is the story of how Latin turned into Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. It was like a jigsaw puzzle – and I had always liked jigsaws.
I found it absolutely fascinating to learn that flos, the word for flower in Latin should have become fleur in French, fiore in Italian, flor in Spanish and Portuguese and floare in Romania. Castellum turned into château, castello, castillo, castelo and castel. Not only that, but the changes are systematic: fl in Latin nearly always gives fl in French, fi in Italian, fl in Spanish and Portuguese. And ditto for ca which remains the same in all the languages except French where it becomes ch.
I have since studied French, Italian and Spanish in greater detail and still get a kick out of the systematic changes you can see: blanc, bianco, blanco for white ; pluie, pioggia, lluvia for rain, and so on. But this is my first real contact with Portuguese.
The first thing I noticed is that the “l” has disappeared from definite articles : o, a, os, as and not il, la et les.
N often becomes m : jardim, im, bem (bien), bom.
Otherwise it often seems a mixture of Spanish and Italian when it’s written – but not when it’s spoken.
I’m kicking myself for not having at least learnt some basics with the help of my Portugueuse cleaner before I left!
I’ve now mastered obrigada (thank you) which is like saying (I’m) obliged. As a result, Jean Michel has to say obrigado.
I downloaded an app on my iPhone (not lost or stolen yet) to help with pronunciation. We weren’t sure how to say azulejos (those beautiful ceramic tiles they have everywhere). It sounds like a-zu-lie-si (with s being pronunced like the s in Asia). I can tell you, it’s going to take me a lot longer than a week to master that one!
I also learnt something very interesting about the days of the week. Unlike the other Romance languages, Portugueuse has a totally different system. Sabado (Saturday) and domingo (Sunday) correspond to most of the others but Monday to Friday are a different kettle of fish: segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira and sexta-feira meaning second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth feast day.
There are a couple of explanations, one being that they were called according to the fair (feira) that used to take place on that day many moons ago. A feira is a set of tents pitched in the street where you can buy vegetables, fruits, and other foods.
Another explanation is that, because of the pagan origin of the original names of the days of the week, Martinho de Dume, a sixth-century bishop of Braga, in what is Portugal today, changed them to correspond to the full observance of an Easter week.
Domingo (Sunday) has its origin in the Latin expression for the Day of the Lord, sabado was named for the Hebrew word Shabbat while the other days come from the Latin terms for “second/third/fourth/fifth/sixth day on which one shouldn’t work” (in observance of Easter week).
Whatever the explanation it’s a bit confusing when reading a bus timetable!
When we arrived in Lisbon at 4 pm, it was 26°C, a welcome change from Paris. We walked from our home exchange on the western tip of Barrio Alto down to the Tagus and back to get a feel of the city. Here are my first impressions. Very dilapidated. Many outdoor cafés. Some stunning views. Tiles (azulejos) everywhere. Very strong light. A steep climb back home!
This week’s Blogger Round-Up takes us to Lisbon in Portugal with Jenny and John in Brittany, a place that is definitely on my shortlist while Adelina from Pack Me To visits the inside of the Parliament Building in Budapest which we didn’t see on our visit to Hungary last summer. Margo Letsz from The Curious Rambler, whom you met last week explains the importance of being polite in France, which you may remember from my post on bonjour. Enjoy!
Things to see and do in Lisbon, Portugal
by Jenny and John in Brittany, who recently left Stockport, England to live in France where they are renovating a house to create a B&B.
Lisbon is an amazing city, there is so much to do and so many places to visit, I am not going to go into much detail as the pictures say more than a thousand words.
The one thing I would recommend though is to go on the trams, we did not work them out and just jumped on one we saw, you can pay on the tram or get a day pass (the day pass is highly recommended as this allows you to travel all day and costs approx the same as two rides when you pay on the tram).
We travelled to the end of the line and then back again, the tram ride is fascinating as at times you can touch the buildings you are passing it gets so close. Read more
Inside the Hungarian Parliament Building
by Adelina from Pack Me To, a Chinese American who’s been traveling for as long as she can remember and has lived in the Netherlands and Hungary. She loves telling stories, and eating and exploring her way around the world.
Visiting the Parliament building in Budapest has been on my to do list for a long time. I had seen photos of the inside of the Hungarian Parliament building, which looked spectacular, and I wanted to see it for myself. A building that looks so magnificent on the outside is sure to look glorious inside right? I was not wrong.
I had a bit of a false start on my visit to the Parliament. The first time I went, I was informed that the tour for the day was only 30 minutes long instead of the regular 45 minutes, but the price was the exactly same. I decided to go back another day. Read more
It pays to be polite in France
by Margo Letsz from The Curious Rambler, who lives in Nice, France where she likes to bask in the sunshine, study the French language and blog
At this café in Nice, France, minding your manners can significantly reduce the price of your coffee.
Of course, this was meant as a humorous way to remind customers to be polite, but it’s a great illustration of the French attitude toward good manners.
In France the “courtesy words and phrases” are very important and NOT optional. Fortunately, they’re easy to master, but if you can’t manage them in French, at least say them in English. More than likely, the French will understand you and think that you’re a polite person who doesn’t speak French – which is, of course, much better than being thought of as a rude person who doesn’t speak French. So if you want to be polite in France (and I’m sure you do), here are some easy words and phrases (along with my attempt at phonetic pronunciation) to help you on your way. Read more