I started the morning feeling wretched; little sleep the night before and a breakfast coffee that still isn’t giving me the kind of satisfaction I’m used to. Free breakfast in the hotel is very convenient but the coffee is not very good–it comes from a machine!
Thinking I had a lunch date later I dashed out, via metro to the tony, yet still touristy, section of town, Chiado. Specifically heading to Rua Garrett which was described as having Portuguese shops plus scenic buildings. And, the guide book was right. It was delightful. I wandered in a shop where the two women spoke no English and I speak no Portuguese. I managed to buy the dress that drew me in. We were all of a same age so when one salesclerk showed me the sleeveless version and I jiggled my under part of my arm a bit she chuckled. A dress with sleeves was found! And we managed. I came in with a cup of divine gelado and they graciously accommodated me. It was fun and everyone persisted in spite of language challenges. Lots of wide hand gestures.
Here’s the Saturday morning book fair/flea market.
I walked around, checking out tile patterns on the streets and sidewalks. And tiled buildings. I keep thinking about the time that would have taken to lay all of those tiled patterns. I’ll post a whole combination photo of tiles at some later point (you can find them on Instagram, I’m wjt62).
It feels fun taking all this in, at my own pace. No agenda, no time constraints, though today I rushed back to my hotel at noon, then went to meet the man who had invited me for lunch. He obviously threw it out casually when we had lunch the day before (backstory for another time!) because when I walked into his shop he shrugged and said, “family”. Oh well; he did give me wonderful suggestions for the rest of the day.
I took off again, got on the metro, deciding this time to go as far south as possible. Terreiro do Paco–as I walked up the steps from the metro the first thing I noticed was the smell of the river. I grew up on a small creek, so water smells like home to me. The first thing I saw was the Rio Tejo with sailboats dotting the water on this sunny Saturday and lots of people sitting on the stairs that go right down into the river. The plaza behind me was colorful and filling rapidly with tourists. A group touring on Segways, a group of people posing in some native costumes (I was too far away to tell if they were Portuguese) and lots of other folks just wandering around. The buildings surrounding the plaza are big and square–somewhat reminiscent of Russia, except that one was a bright sunflower yellow. I had a leisurely lunch with a light white wine and a Caesar salad with almonds, delicately seasoned chicken, and a few slices of apples–while watching two people near me get octopus. I’m trying to be adventurous but I don’t know that I’m willing to go that far…. maybe if someone offers me a bite!
For the past two days I’ve found myself in cathedrals–one in town, Largo de Sao Domingos, and today the church at the Jeronimos Monastery. In both instances I found myself in tears. This often happens in sacred buildings and I’m not quite sure what is stirred up. As I placed my hand on the old stone in the monastery church I imagined the energy of its builders and later, the monks who lived there. It was erected by King Manuel, his rule began in 1495. Maybe it’s awe at the scale and the dedication required of the workers? Here’s a photo from the church at the monastery, not the main worship area.
The monastery is in Belem. Belem was relatively unharmed by the earthquake of 1755 so there are many older buildings there. It’s also where the president of Portugal lives. On this sunny Saturday afternoon he was in residence, as I found out when trying to charm the cute police officer into taking a picture with me. It would have gone into the collection of me with Russian, British and French police! There’s still time. The palace walls were a lovely shade of pink with palm like looking trees shooting up over the walls. The helicopter circling overhead reinforced the police officer’s comment, “It’s a bit complicated.”
Another photo of the palace and one of the guards (not the cute officer!).
I went to the famous cafe to get my custard tart, pastel de nata. Two in fact. Nice but worth the wait? I’ll need to test out a few more over this week to make a comparison!
I walked a lot on Saturday and got to see the very old and the very new. Leaving Belem I took the bus, all the way to the farthest metro station–reasoning that I’d get to see lots on the way. The bus winded its way along the edge of the river, past docks and various industrial areas to my right, with scenes of the city on my left. I ended up at the Oriente Station–trains, buses and metro. It was fairly busy for 5pm-ish on a Saturday night and across the street from a casino. I’m heading back there today (Monday) for the train to Evora.
By the time I got to my hotel I was exhausted. Water, a baguette and nuts and fruit sufficed for dinner after all the varied rich treats of the day. And an early bedtime knowing that the next day I took the train to Sintra, for a day of sightseeing.
You can read my first article on Portugal here.
Also published on Medium.