Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lisbon, Portugal

After spending a couple of days with auntie Joan in England it was off to Lisbon via Amsterdam for the Rotary International Convention. In Lisbon, I rented an apartment with another Rotarian. I got in a taxi at the airport and handed the driver the accommodation address, immediately realizing there was going to be a language barrier problem as he had no idea where the accommodation was located and could not hspeak english. After he talked to a few of the other taxi drivers to get directions we were off. However it was not long before he was lost and asked me to telephone my accommodation contact, luckily at the airport I purchased a SIM card and airtime for my cellphone (thank you Sean) . I finally made contact with Esmerelda but did not quite understand what she was saying - but I did get that there was a problem with the accommodation, so I let her talk to the taxi driver to give him the directions in Portuguese. A short drive and the taxi driver stopped the car and pointed across the street indicating this was my accommodation. The taxi meter read 13.90 euro plus 1.60 for my bag ( i was told by information at the airport the taxi should cost no more than 15 euro). I gave the taxi driver a 50 Euro note as this was all I had - he gave me back 14 euro but should have given me 34 euro - much arguing and anger on my part did not get me anywhere - lesson: carry small bills to pay taxi fares.

When I crossed the street the accommodation was a boutique hotel and not the apartment I had booked. Joan Peggs who I was to share the apartment with was already there and explained she went to the accommodation I booked and met Esmerelda, apparently there had been an error and they double booked the accommodation for our first night so they booked 2 rooms at a boutique hotel close by. They not only paid for the bed and breakfast but moved our bags to the accommodation the next day, gave us two nights free accommodation and a bottle of wine! What great customer service - helps make up for the bad taxi experience.

The accommodation ended up being In a great and convenient location of Lisbon, it was very large and spacious as you can see by the pictures below.


Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 547,631 within its administrative limits on a land area of 84.8 km2 (33 sq mi). The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of over 3 million on an area of 958 km2 (370 sq mi), making it the 11th most populous urban area in the European Union. About 3,035,000 people live in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area (which represents approximately 27% of the population of the country). Lisbon is the westernmost large city located in Europe, as well as its westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. It lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the Tagus River.

Lisbon is recognised as a global city because of its importance in finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, education, and tourism. It is one of the major economic centres on the continent, with a growing financial sector and the largest/second largest container port on Europe's Atlantic coast. Lisbon Portela Airport serves over 15.3 million passengers annually (2012); the motorway network and the high-speed rail system of (Alfa Pendular) link the main cities of Portugal. The city is the seventh-most-visited city in Southern Europe, after Istanbul, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, Athens, and Milan, with 1,740,000 tourists in 2009. The Lisbon region is the wealthiest region in Portugal, it is the tenth richest metropolitan area by GDP on the continent. The city occupies 32nd place of highest gross earnings in the world. Most of the headquarters of multinationals in the country are located in the Lisbon area and it is the ninth city in the world in terms of quantity of international conferences. It is also the political centre of the country, as seat of Government and residence of the Head of State.

Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, and the oldest city in Western Europe, predating other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by hundreds of years. Julius Caesar made it a municipium called Felicitas Julia, adding to the name Olissipo. Ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the fifth century, it was captured by the Moors in the eighth century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city and since then it has been a major political, economic, and cultural centre of Portugal. Unlike most capital cities, Lisbon's status as the capital of Portugal has never been granted or confirmed officially – by statute or in written form. Its position as the capital has formed through constitutional convention, making its position as de facto capital a part of the Constitution of Portugal.

Lisbon hosts two agencies of the European Union: the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). Called the "Capital of the Lusophone world", the Community of Portuguese Language Countries has its headquarters in the city, in the Palace of the Counts of Penafiel.

Lisbon has two sites listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site: Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery. Furthermore, in 1994, Lisbon was the European Capital of Culture and in 1998 organised an Expo '98 (1998 Lisbon World Exposition).

Lisbon enjoys a Mediterranean climate. Among all the metropolises in Europe, it has the warmest winters, with average temperatures 15 °C (59 °F) during the day and 8 °C (46 °F) at night from December to February. The typical summer season lasts about six months, from May to October, although also in November, March and April temperatures sometimes reach around 20 °C (68.0 °F).

Prior to the 18th century, Lisbon had experienced several significant earthquakes – eight in the 14th century, five in the 16th century (including the 1531 earthquake that destroyed 1,500 houses, and the 1597 earthquake in which three streets vanished), and three in the 17th century. On 1 November 1755, the city was destroyed by another devastating earthquake, which killed an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Lisbon residents of a population estimated at between 200,000 and 275,000, and destroyed 85 percent of the city's structures, after the earthquake came a tsunami and massive fire. Among several important buildings of the city, the Ribeira Palace and the Hospital Real de Todos os Santos were lost. In coastal areas, such as Peniche, situated about 80 km (50 mi) north of Lisbon, many people were killed by the following tsunami. In Setúbal, 30 km (19 mi) south of Lisbon, the water reached the first floor (second floor, in U.S. terms) of buildings. The destruction was also great in the Algarve of southern Portugal, where the tsunami dismantled some coastal fortresses and, in the lower parts, leveled many houses. In some places the waves crested at more than 30 m (98.43 ft). Almost all the coastal towns and villages of the Algarve were heavily damaged, except Faro, which was protected by sandy banks. In Lagos, the waves reached the top of the city walls. For many Portuguese coastal regions, the destructive effects of the tsunami were more disastrous than those of the earthquake proper.

Our first full day in Lisbon we had a tour guide (organized by a Portuguese friend in Australia). It was great having Catarina orientate us to the city - we walked for hours! Beware of tripping on the sidewalks which are made out of small square shiny stones and although they look lovely they are extremely uneven and slippery.

Around the corner from our accommodation in the park area Sa o Pedro de Alacantarahat that overlooks the city an outdoor coffee bar is located - great place to sip a bailey's coffee at the end of the day! The view of the city at night with all the lights is magical. I love all the outdoor cafes, restaurants and bars - it is a great lifestyle as this is how the Portuguese socialize.

The weather is extremely hot - up to 41 degrees some days!

Train station at night
Sao Pedro de Alacantarahat (park around the corner)

Inside on of the many cafes
Changing of the guard
One of the churches destroyed by the 1755 earthquake
View from the cable tram going up the hill to our apartment - Joan and I did walk this steep hill several times
This tram was on the amazing race show!
Art on the cable car hill
Joan and I enjoying our nightly bailey's coffee - this was the one evening that was a little chilly but they provided us with blankets
Jerónimos Monastery
We managed to see a wedding couple outside the monastery

One of the many bakeries where the popular pastel nata tarts are made

Lineup outside the bakery
Joan, Catarina and I with the famous Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa
One evening we heard music coming down our little back street and this was the view from our apartment.
Lisbon is brimming with events throughout the year, but in early June, the city is jam-packed with festivities which represent the heart of the EGEAC sponsored Festas de Lisboa (Parties of Lisbon). the Iberian Masquerade Show kicks off the city wide party with loud expositions, various musical concerts, and interesting cultural events such as Theatre in the metro and Fado on the trolleys. But the most extravagant and outrageous summer events are the Festas dos Santos Populares (Popular Saints Parties); a mix of traditional pagan celebrations honoring the summer solstice and the religious feast days of Santos Antonio, João  and Pedro (Saints Anthony of Padua, John and Peter). This festival was in honour of Santo Antonio, the native born patron saint of Lisbon.

Born in Lisbon in 1195 as Fernando Martins de Bulhões, the son of a very rich noble family, Saint Anthony went against his parent’s wishes when he decided to enter the Augustinian Abbey of St. Vincent where he studied Scripture and Latin Classics. Ordained a priest, he later went on to preach the Gospel with a group of Franciscan friars throughout Morocco when a detour in Italy led him to be highly praised for his sermons and teachings of the Gospel all throughout the Mediterranean. Today, Saint Anthony is known as the keeper of lost things, but in Portugal (and Brazil), he is known as the marriage saint, believed that he conciliated couples during his time. So every year in Lisbon, since the late 1950′s, a lucky group of “modest†young couples receive the blessing of Saint Anthony when married on June 13th in one large wedding ceremony called,the “Santo Casamenteiroâ€, at the historical Sé Cathedral in the antique Alfama neighborhood.

Each neighborhood competes for the best costume, dance and song and at the end of the month a winner
Is announced
Of course we could not resist but to go out and investigate
Uneven slippery sidewalks - Patricia do you think they receive many insurance claims?

The reason I am in Lisbon is to attend the 104th Rotary Convention - the opening ceremonies were topped off with an hours performance from Il Divo - what a thrill. During the three days there were also great speakers such as Jane Goodall, Celine Cousteau (jack cousteau's granddaughter), Archie Panjabi who plays colinda on the show the Good Wife (she is a rotary ambassador), Craig Kielburger (a young impressive canadian) to name a few.

Jane Goodall
Archie Panjabi

Joan and I skipped the convention one day and took a train to Sintra (50 minute comfortable train ride cost about $5 return each) - where we spent 12 hours wandering this picturesque and historic city that is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Sintra is a smaller village approx. 49 km outside of Lisbon. Sintra, once Mount of the Moor, is filled with archaeological presence, a place of choice by royalty, poets, artists and monks. Sintra of the mists of the Serra (mountain ridge), place of fairy tale palaces and a lulling and overwhelming ocean. Sintra is magical to visit, it is also a designated UNESCO world heritage site. Sintra's unique microclimate has, since the times of the Muslim occupation, made a favourite summer retreat for royalty and aristocrats. The palaces that they built and gardens and forests they planted are a priceless legacy not to be missed if you visit Portugal.

Inside the city hall
The fountain of youth -I hope!
We came across the most beautiful little restaurant set up for a special event - all the wall murals are originals

We visited the Quinta da Regaleira summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family. The residence dates back to the 1600's. The exuberant decorative scheme involved some of portugal's best and most famous artists. The stone sculptors and wood carved furniture and ceilings are incredible detailed craftsmanship. The residence is set on a hill above the village and you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Sintra Hills and Atlantic Ocean from the turret. The grounds are spectacular hosting promenade of the gods statutes, a chapel, labyrinth grotto, fountains, waterfalls and gardens - I could easily spend my summers here.

Inside chapel
Fireplace in dining room

Amazing wooden ceilings

Views from the turret

One needs to fit in with their environment

We spent most of the afternoon exploring the town and all the little shops. We stopped to have delicious crepes at an outdoor cafe. Late in the afternoon we took the public bus to the Park and Palace of Pena about 4km up the side of a mountain on the edge of Sintra. The park and palace are finest examples of 19th century Portuguese Romanticism and the integration of natural and built heritage occupying almost 85 hectares of land. The earliest buildings date back to the 1500's when it was originally a monk monastery. In 1755 it suffered severe damage by the earthquake. In 1838 it was purchased by Don Fernando ll following the extinction of religious orders in 1834. In 1889 the palace and park were acquired by the state and in 1910 it was converted to a museum. There is still much restoration in progress. We only had time to view the palace before the grounds closed but I think the park area would also be worth exploring with its fountains, lakes, grottos, bridges and gardens.

Park and Palace of Pena

Dining room
King's bathroom - notice the shower head, I believe we call them rain shower heads today!
A king's bed
View from king's bedroom
Fit for a queen!
Sculptured ceilings and walls covered with silk!
View from outside the palace
This is one guy I would not hang on the front of my house!
It really does look like something out of a fairytale

On the way back down the mountain, we asked the bus driver if he knew of a local restaurant that was good and not touristy. He dropped us off at the other end of town and pointed to this makeshift restaurant. Well we had the most delicious salad, ribs, fries and rice - came on a platter and was 16 Euro for to people (about$10 each). These ribs were cooked in the BBQ out the back and I think the pig was probably slaughtered and butchered that day - I have never tasted ribs like this they were amazing - so was the rest of the meal.

There was some sort of festival going on in this area so we walked around and then back to the train station which the bus driver said was a 10 minute walk - more like a half hour walk - but nonetheless we had a fabulous day. It certainly would be worth getting accommodation and spending a couple of days in this area and taking the 1/2 hour bus ride to the coast.

Walking back to the train station

The food in Lisbon is very reasonable and quite good. This time of year the cherries and strawberries are in season and boy the are delicious. We tried a number of Portuguese desserts such as salame fatia (like a chocloate roll with nuts) and pastel nata (custard filled tarts but the shells are made out of phyllo pastry) delicious calamari, pork ribs and croquettes - i will need some serious dieting when i get home! There are so many bakeries with lovely croissants, breads etc.

The convention spirit was dampened by the looming portuguese general strike on June 27th, when 28,000 Rotarians will be leaving town. A number of people including my roommate changed their plans and left on June 26th. I stayed as I have a bus ticket to Vilamoura in the Algarve and have been told long haul buses will be running. We will see tomorrow - keep you fingers crossed!