Day 3 of my Portugal trip, I got up and went to the tram station to catch Tram Number 15 to go to Belem, a kind of suburb of Lisbon. Belem is located right at the point where the River Tagus pours into the Atlantic Ocean. Many of Lisbon’s most important cultural and historical sites are located in this area. The upside was being able to see so many things so close together, but the downside was that because it was a weekend, it was a bit crowded. The first place I headed once I got off of the tram was the Jeronimos Monastary. Though not nearly the size of El Escorial Monastery outside of Madrid, this monastery was interesting because it is one of the best preserved large buildings constructed in Manueline style. Manueline style is a kind of cross between Gothic and a passion for the sea. So there are vaulted arching ceilings with seashells included in the design. Only a small portion of the monastery is open for touring, and perhaps the most interesting room was one in which the monastery foundation had constructed a timeline of what was occurring in 1) Lisbon 2) the monastery and 3) the world over the last 400 years, so I could really see how Portugal’s historical events coincided with other world events. I also enjoyed getting a good look at the cathedral where Vasco de Gama lays entombed.
Also in the monastery is the Museum of Ancient Artifacts, which is quite impressive, but boring. There, you can look at slabs of stone from practically the beginning of time as well as pottery and tiles, although OLD, it isn’t much to see. Directly across a park from the monastery and standing right on the river is the Monument to the Discoveries. This Monument was recently constructed around 1960, and is designed to commemorate all of the Portuguese explorers by putting their likeness onto one grand gigantic monument. I thought the monument was impressive, but I really liked visiting the belvedere at the top, from which it is possible to see all of Belem and look out to the point where the river empties into the ocean.
The next place I went after taking in the scenery from up high was the Tower of Belem. A 16th century stronghold close to where the river ends and the ocean begins, the tower was also designed in Manueline style. The sailboat docks along the shore of the river were also a highlight of visiting Belem, the boats looked so pretty gliding down the river and resting in the sun. I went to the Belem Cultural Center after touring the tower, and took a look at some eccentric modern art before seeing an exhibit which I really found fascinating, advertisements from WWII. The ads were shocking, because they demonstrated how each side demonized and dehumanized the other. They also showed which lifestyle changes were encouraged in America, and most disturbingly, they were incredibly sexist. It’s hard to believe that those ads were designed just a few generations before, and that many people who were alive then are still alive now. I can only image what it must be like to see America through so many different lenses over such a pivotal time in history.
The next place I went to was the Pasteis of Belem to get some custard cream cakes (a Lisbon specialty & sooo delicious) to go. Then I sat down and ate a chicken sandwich with some orange juice at a cafe. Finally, I visited the National Coach Museum, which Portugal is very proud of. The museum features a large variety of coaches which were used in the 17th to 19th centuries for important people. This was the last spot I went to in Belem, and then I decided to go to the train station and catch a train to Estoril and the beach!
I got off of the train at Estoril and spent the next few hours exploring the coast of Portugal. I walked the 2 mile path down the beach from Estoril to Caiscais, stopping to watch the waves hit the wall and cascade onto the side-walk after flying 15 feet into the air at high tide. I wandered into Caiscais and looked into some shops. I walked through a beachside park and saw the citadel of Caiscais. I saw a cove called Hell’s Breath, which is a point at which the ocean rushes in to a cove, swirls a round a bit, flushes out only to rush back in. I have only seen a place similar to this in San Diego, and it is mesmerizing to watch. As the sun was dropping down, I headed back to the train station. I regrouped then headed to dinner at Antonio, a place highly recommended by my Frommers guide. I again ordered codfish, since the Portuguese are so proud of it and I thought it might be better, but again it was only average and the wine and dessert were much better. After taking the metro home, I went to sleep in anticipation of my last day at the beach.
On Sunday, my last day in Portugal, I was somewhat of a beach bum. After getting about 10 hours of sleep, I took the train to Caiscais and laid out in the sand for about 2 hours, reading and people watching. I decided I needed to eat something before heading to the Dive Shop to scuba dive, so I went to a place called Salamander Bar. The place was awesome! It played laid back beachy tunes like Bob Marley, and had a great spot overlooking the beach. I ate a pizza and drank some Sprite while watching the tide rise and then headed to the dive shop. I went on a beach dive with a dive master. We put on all of our gear, and then walked straight into the ocean to go look at the reef which was just a little further than where low tide starts. The depth of the dive was only about 25 feet, but I got to see lots of colorful plant life on the reef, some fish, and play around with starfish. Since it was my first dive in the ocean, I was super nervous to start. I kind of got the hang of it by the end of 40 minutes, but still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a kind of windstorm, with the ocean constantly moving around me and sand being blown everywhere. After my dive, I sat on the beach reading and watching the sun go down.
All in all, I did not spend that much time in Lisbon, but rather in the surrounding area. All the people who I met were very nice, and I was able to both go go go and relax as well. I had a good amount of time to absorb the local culture, enjoy the scenery, and have a uniquely Portuguese vacation.