Monday, November 9, 2015

A Week in Portugal

This post got delayed because of the big family visit almost as soon as we got back from the trip.
Last year, in October, we went to Malta with friends, four other couples and us, the husbands of which all lived at the Pierwige when they were in engineering school. I lived at the Pierwige when I spent my first semester abroad in the Spring of 1970. This year, one of the couples was unable to join the rest of us, so there were only four couples all together, two from Paris and two from Biarritz. There wasn't so much catching up to do, since we did a lot of that last year. We only had one year to go over, which was enough to keep the conversation going for the whole week.
The Parisians arrived in Porto in time for lunch, which was excellent. The bonus was warm sunshine. (I had spend a month in and out of a really bad cold -- maybe it was two very similar colds close together. I ended up with a touch of pneumonia symptoms and the doctor had me come into the office the day before departure to check that the medication was working and the lungs were clear, so that I could go. We had already cancelled our trip to England at the beginning of the month for Constance's birthday.) Anyway, I enjoyed my fish and Paul had his first cod dish. Portugal is known for cooking salt-cured codfish in every possible way and he was determined to have his dose of cod. After lunch and a rest, we all set out to discover the city a bit.
There was a tram right in front of the hotel, so we jumped on and did a little tour. Porto is a hilly city. The streets are narrow. The tram, which is small, does not leave much room for people on the tiny sidewalk, and forget about cars parked wherever they can find a space. There are churches everywhere and they are all decorated with azulejos, the tiles that cover most buildings, but on churches they are blue, generally, and tell a story. This gave us an overview of the city before the others' flight arrived. They got the to the hotel just as we were settling in for a cup of coffee. Once they got registered and the baggage was up in their rooms, we set out on foot. (A word about the hotel -- the Hotel Infante Sagres -- we were all happy with it. I forgot to mention, in my review, that if you opened the windows, it was noisy at night because of the clubs nearby, but if you used the air conditioning, it was OK.)
Because we were going to take the train to Lisbon, we headed towards the train station, which looks like any other major train station until you see the tiles inside! We wanted to get information and see about getting tickets. It was a well-advised stop, since the trains to Lisbon leave from a different station. It was good to find that out sooner, rather than too late. From there, we continued up hill to the Cathedral, where there is a terrace with a magnificent view of the city below. The inside of the Cathedral was our first glimpse of the golden opulence of Portuguese baroque. Not my cup of tea. We had a beautiful sunset view from the terrace, though.
After the visit inside the church, we headed downhill into the city and we ended up going down and down and down until getting back to the hotel meant a climb back up. Dinner at the restaurant next to the hotel with our 10% discount coupons -- even with the discount, this was the most disappointing and expensive meal of the trip.
Wednesday and Thursday, we spent walking around Porto and more sightseeing. Friday, we took taxis to the right train station for our trip to Lisbon.
Rainy day in Belem
Lisbon is much bigger than Porto, more majestic, which is logical, since it's the capital. It also has more hills, and, in my mind at least, steeper hills. It was completely rebuilt after the terrible 1755 earthquake and, we learned, the new buildings were built with seismic tolerance in mind, the first such building code. Since the country was very rich in the 18th century, the rebuilding was quick and majestic. We visited Belem, the convent, the cathedral, the tower... We walked around, took trams, buses, and walked some more. We went up to the Castle St. George, where there is a wonderful view of the modern city below. The castle itself, what's left of it, is a big, 11th century castle, much like the Norman castles in France and England, but maybe with a bigger floor plan. From there, we walked back down to the modern city and ended up walking all the way back to the hotel after a late lunch! I haven't calculated the kilometers, but my feet felt them.
We had good meals. Unfortunately, we missed the art museum, just steps from the hotel, because when we decided to do a little museum visiting, Monday, it was the day they were shut, so we finally took the "hop on, hop off" tour that gave us a better overview of the city.
It seems to me that there was so much in Lisbon, that I have less to say than for Porto. I think I enjoyed Porto more. I need to go back and take a real look.

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