Portugal Day 5 – Lisbon

The fifth in our party would arrive that afternoon, so we took advantage of the morning and took a taxi to the Belém neighborhood. We started at the Tower of Belem, the beautiful (on the outside) tower that showed off the Portuguese’s new wealth and protected the river. It is in the Manueline architectural style, but I had to look that up. I would have guessed gothic, but what do I know? I read that the inside was not very interesting, so we did not pay to go in.

Jo and Sam defending the river from attackers at the Tower of Belem.

We walked along the river to the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). It is a massive and rather imposing monument to the Portuguese empire builders.

We skipped breakfast that day and decided we needed something to eat. In Belem, the pastéis de nata is referred to as a Pastéis de Belém as they claim the pastry was invented there. The bakery that invented this pastry carries the same name, so we stopped for a coffee and a nata. Unfortunately, I found these to be rather mediocre, but Sam thought these were the best he had. I found the crust mediocre and the custard a tad cloying. At this point, the sprawling bakery and cafe is designed for tourists. There was nothing special about the pastries; they added whipped cream to my cappuccino (gross), and the fried cod balls (bolas de bacalao frito) that Jo ordered were tough and lukewarm.

After food and coffee, we finally went to the place I cared about in Belem, the Jerónimos Monastery. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site started in the 1500s by an order of militarized monks called the Military Order of Christ. The stonework is incredibly ornate, but seeing the cloisters from the courtyard is jaw-dropping. These cloisters are only two stories tall, but the entire thing seems like something from a fantasy novel.

Cloisters in the Jerónimos Monastery

I don’t know a lot about St. Jerome. He always seemed like a weird ascetic that was super uptight about sex. Probably most of those early Christian saints were weirdos, but who knows? I do like the painting Saint Jerome in the Wilderness by Da Vinci. I saw it at the Vatican many years ago, but the fact that it is unfinished interests me more than the subject at hand.

Leonardo da Vinci, St Jerome

After the monastery, we returned to the apartment to take a quick nap and meet our friend Riad. After he settled in, we decided to explore more of our neighborhood. We thought we would check out the Botanical Garden but stopped at a nearby park called Jardim do Príncipe Real for a drink at one of the outdoor tables. It was very lovely in that way a European park almost always is. We introduced everyone to our new favorite drink, porto & tonic, and spent some time catching up with one another. When we left this neighborhood park, the botanical gardens were closed, so we headed to Edward VII Park. This is the city’s central park, with a significant slope, so you get a fantastic view of Lisbon from the park’s far end. Lisbon had a book festival in the park, so there were countless stalls of books for sale. We found a vendor selling Ginjinha out of edible chocolate shot glasses and got a round. I don’t find Ginjinha that interesting, but a chocolate shot glass improves it. This is the optimal way of serving this booze.

We had reservations at a restaurant called A Cozinha – Sr. Lisboa, which may have been our best meal during the entire trip. It’s a small restaurant with a cool and eclectic vibe. The best way to describe it would be Portuguese tapas. We ordered almost everything on the menu. There was a crispy shrimp dish that was heavenly.

During dinner, we learned that Sam’s cousin and her husband had arrived in Lisbon and were eating dinner near our apartment. We met them at the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara cafe for a drink before we all headed off to sleep. On our way from the restaurant, Jo and I jumped on the Glória funicular, a streetcar that goes up the hill. It doesn’t take long, it’s sort of a tourist thing, but it certainly saves you from walking up the hill.

Next: Portugal Days – 6, 7, 8, and 9


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