Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cruise Day #12, Lisbon

New city and country today!

We arrived in Lisbon a little after 8 o’clock this morning to mostly sunny skies and mild temperatures. Disembarkation was typical of the other ports: no lines, no waits, and no hooligans. We took the free shuttle bus from the port to Praca do Comercio, the grand entrance to and heart of Lisbon in the Baixa. Our original plan was to make use of the hop-on, hop-off tourist buses and trams. While the routes looked appealing, we were actually there a bit before the ticket office opened and the queue was fairly lengthy (with both NCL Jade and Cunard QM2 in port today). Being the resourceful type, I consulted the map and realized that our two primary destinations were within walking distance of the square. So, we made the somewhat arduous but picturesque uphill walk to the Se Catedral (Lisbon’s cathedral dating from the 1100’s) and Castelo de Sao Jorge (which provides magnificent views of Lisbon from its esplanade battlements). Actually, I say arduous, but it’s not a difficult trek for anyone with average physical stamina and good, high-traction walking shoes. Somewhat inexplicably, none of the NCL shore excursions go to either of these destinations – yet, many travel books list them among the top sights in Lisbon.

After the castle, we trekked back down the hill and then made our way to Rua Augusta, a long pedestrianized street with shops and cafes leading back to the triumphal arch at Praca do Comercio. An interesting sight on the Rua Augusta were the street musicians playing accordions. Now that, in and of itself, is fairly typical. What made this unique is that they each had little dogs (Min-Pins no less, like our beloved Harley and Annie) holding tiny little cups in their mouths for the passersby to deposit change into (which was usually accompanied by an even more appreciated head pat or ear scratch). Needless to say, we made our contribution… more for the dogs than the music. :-)

From the square, we took a taxi all the way across town to Belem (cost of taxi: 5 euro). We began our exploration here with a visit to Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a beautiful example of Portugal’s unique Manueline architecture. Given our time constraints, we only visited the church and not the cloisters of the monastery or attached museums. However, this still allowed us to see the tomb of Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator, as well as enjoy the interior and exterior architectural embellishments of this historic monastery. From here, we made our way to the waterfront to view the Torre de Belem (a quintessential example of the Manueline style built between 1515 and1520) and the far more modern Padrao dos Descobrimentos (“Monument to the Discoveries,” built in 1960 on the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator). After our sightseeing, we paid a visit to the renowned café Antiga Confeitaria de Belem to sample their famous pastesis de Belem (custard tarts). Libby and I both agree that these tarts are simply sublime… and yummy!

We traveled back to the ship via taxi (for another 5 euro). The driver was exceedingly friendly and provided us with a mini-tour along the route to the ship. Overall, we’ve found the people of Lisbon to be proud of their city and culture, as well as extremely helpful and friendly. Also, while we’d heard reports to the contrary, the official taxis in Lisbon were remarkably affordable and had some of the nicest drivers we’ve experienced anywhere.

All in all, this was a perfect day in Lisbon. Our only regret is not having a few more days to spend in this delightful place!

Tonight we mostly relaxed and enjoyed a dinner at the buffet. Tomorrow we visit our last port of call: Vigo, Spain.

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