The previous few days we had spent in Montpellier where Sylvia was attending meetings. I got on the net and watched a few tutorials about our camera and then set off to get some practice wandering the streets of old Montpellier and also coming across a sports festival being held on the Lez River, which runs through the city.
I also drove out to my favourer little town in this part of the world called Sommières. There I had lunch in the local square and a good chat to a retired French couple, formerly from Paris, now living locally, who assisted me getting fed and wined as there was no way my one French word, or even my point and pay, was going to work too well in this lovely little town. After lunch I wandered up to the castle (Chateau de Sommières on the hill) then wandered the streets taking a few pictures.
Friday 31 May 2019
We drove to Marseille mid-afternoon catching a Portuguese Airlines flight to Lisbon arriving in the evening. We were picked up by a driver who was keen to tell a little about the history of Lisbon. As we passed a large statue he explained it was in honour of the mayor who had rebuilt the city after a massive earthquake in 1755. At that stage most of the houses were made of wood and a large fire ensued causing the people to race down to the Tagus River, where many were killed by the huge tsunami that engulfed the river. Lisbon had also suffered major earthquakes in 1321 and 1531. It was after the event in 1755 that all buildings were rebuilt in stone.
Arriving at the Palacio Belmonte Hotel the very friendly chap on the reception took us on a tour of the building. Formerly a palace, it has a maze of formal rooms including a library, ballroom, lounges, a terrace with great views over the lowers slopes of the city and the vast estuary of the Tagus River, and a small garden area and swimming pool. Tiles are a big deal in this part of the world and are placed on walls ceilings and even on the outside of some buildings.
After settling into our room we adjourned to the court yard for an evening drink. Interestingly the courtyard is also a public walkway where there is a constant stream of people heading to and from the city below; they do close it off at midnight.
Saturday 1 June 2019
We enjoyed breakfast on the terrace overlooking the city while enjoying the sunshine and views.
Just up the street, past a rather interesting urinal, is the Castle of Sao Jorge. This is by far the best place to go to get a great view over the city which is no doubt why, in the 11th century, the castle was first built although the area had been inhabited since 700BC. Conquered by the christians in the 12th century it became a royal palace from the 13 to 17th century and then a military barracks or garrison until becoming a national monument in the 20th century. With nice surrounding grounds, a disused moat and lots of high walls ,which one can walk around and view the city through arrow slits and turrets, it’s a great experience to wander around.
As we left the castle we realised that our decision to go early had paid off as we didn’t have to queue. The queue to buy a ticket was now over a 100 meters long,
We strolled down the hill through the narrow, steep streets that somehow the small electric trams seem to be able to make their way up and down. Lots of the streets have bollards at the entrance allowing only locals to enter with a code that lowers the bollard. There is a spring festival going on just now; cheap decorations have been hung up above the streets, somewhat spoiling the look. There is also lots of graffiti and rubbish laying around taking the edge off what is probably one of the world’s nicest cities.
As we neared the centre of the city the place was a lot tidier. Like most old cities in the world now they rely on tourism to support the local economy and with two large cruise ships in port the streets in town are packed with people like us here to enjoy the experience. Not surprisingly there are lots of statues and memorials around the city. Portugal was once an empire that ruled a large part of the world and claimed responsibility for being the founder of the Silk Road. We enjoyed lunch in the main boulevard, which is pedestrian only with me ensuring that the camera strap was attached at all times as the place has a reputation for pick pockets and thieves, just like many European cities. There are lots of street acts here with people dressed in various costumes. There is a tall, rather ugly tower in the middle of town that is a viewing platform. Lots of trendy shops with all the major brand names line the streets in this part of town. Sardines are a big deal here with one shop having a huge variety in colourful cans on display; funny I always though sardines were something my mother put in our sandwiches when she ran out of ideas.
We wandered up the hill to a square and past a military museum and an old church with views back over the city.
Heading down the hill towards the river we walked along a rather nice pink street with a nice arch under the road heading up the hill. From there we caught a cab to the Belem tower which is situated on the rivers edge. Built between 1514 and 1521 to defend the city it is in surprisingly good repair having had bits added over the centuries and with a dungeon below the water level, which of course held political prisoners at one stage. There is a great outlook over the river from the top floor, which is accessed via a narrow spiral staircase that has lights to indicate when one can go up or down. I was a bit surprised at one stage to see not one, but three busses heading down the river. It’s going to be a long ride across the Atlantic to New York.
We strolled from there across and down the road to the Mosterio dos Jeronimos, a rather grand monastery that has been around since the early 1400s, with a large gothic type church attached to many large buildings. Although we only saw a small part it was well worth a visit.
I waited in a park while Sylvia went off to the famous Pasties de Belem shop, which had a hundred plus people queued up waiting for a table. The takeaway queue was somewhat shorter so soon we were sitting on a park bench eating a couple of small, relatively cheap, nothing to rave about, but famous Portuguese pasties.
The day almost over we taxied back to our hotel and headed to the courtyard for some refreshments with the intention of maybe heading down into town for dinner. As it turned out there is a cafe and a restaurant in the courtyard that both share the space. After a couple of drinks the cafe closed and the restaurant opened; we were moved to the middle of the courtyard by the waiter, Quentin, and sat enjoying not only watching the people go by but also chatting to a few. Last night we had received outstanding service here and tonight was no different. We dined and the food was better than fantastic. As the night wore on we chatted to Quentin and discovered that he and his mate the chef, both from Paris, had only recently opened the restaurant of which the premises are part of the hotel. We spent a great evening chatting and enjoying the friendly environment, finishing the night with a celebratory Taylor’s Tawny 325 Anniversary port and a cigar. Grenache, the restaurant comes highly recommended by us.
Sunday 2 June 2019
We had decided to head to Sintra this morning. Sintra is a Unesco World Heritage site about 40 kilometres away from Lisbon. It has a unique beauty, set in a forested mountain dotted with amazing castles. We had a flight to Barcelona this afternoon so packed up, left out bags at the hotel and caught an Uber to the first attraction we planned to visit, the Moorish Castle. All was going well with our very friendly Uber driver until we reached Sintra and he started muttering. Eventually we reached a point where a policeman was standing and found out that the road up the hill was closed – open to buses only.
We joined the line for the bus with multitudes of other tourists and made our way up the steep winding road, eventually arriving at the castle of the Moors. Set 412m above sea level the ramparts of this 10th century castle stretch across the mountains and past giant, mss covered boulders that reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings. I fully expected some goblin or hobbit to appear around a corner. Despite it’s incredible beauty and remarkably unspoiled feel it seems to attract relatively few visitors and it was great to walk along the ramparts with sweeping views over the surrounding landscape including back to Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean.
At one point our next attraction, the multi-coloured fairytale Pena Palace comes into view, perched atop the next ridge. After finishing our exploration of the Moorish Castle we headed over, catching the tourist bus again to reach the top. This utterly bizarre and eclectic palace was built in the 1840s. We, along with hundreds of other guests enjoyed exploring the multiple levels of the multi-coloured and well-embellished palace. The interior was equally lavish with decoration ranging from the magnificent to the bizarre to the downright ugly. In my opinion there is no accounting for taste – although Roger appreciated the stag room, bedecked with the skulls of multiple stags and other animals.
We headed back down by bus to the pretty town of Sintra. There is a new sight around every bend and tourists to go with it.
We stopped for a gelato and then arranged for an uber to pick us up to take us back to the hotel to collect our bags and meet our driver to take us to the airport. Initially the waiting time of 19 minutes made me glad I’d allowed plenty of time but thirty minutes later the car was not moving on the map. Several phone calls to the driver and a wee bit of stress later we were eventually picked up but by now no time. A quick call to the very helpful people at Palacio Belmonte and our bags were on their way in our chauffeur driven car to meet us at the airport. Raphael, the chauffeur rang me twice to confirm arrangements and could not have been more helpful.
A quick and painless flight has is in Barcelona where I have a meeting for the next three days before we head back to Singapore.
Monday to Thursday 3-6 June 2019
Having been in Barcelona a couple of times before I have just added a few photos from around the place taken over the past few days.
The forever nearly finished Sagrada Familia
The markets next to the Bullet where the best view is the reflection in the polished ceilings.
Park central Del Poblenou
Beaches go on for over 4ms here. Yep its beach after beach after beach where thousands of people enjoy the sun, some completely naked.
Cascada de Parc de la Ciutadella
Castell dels Tres Dragons
More from Park de la Ciutadella