We got an early start this morning. The sun was shining…..intermittently…..so, with high hopes, we decided to take the tram out to Belem, a district at the mouth of the Tejo River near the Atlantic Ocean.
We were going to start today’s walk at the Belem Tower, built in 1515 to guard Lisbon’s harbor and the launching point for many of the Voyages of Discover.
We crossed the bridge and walked toward the tower, awestruck by it’s beauty. The sun was still playing peek-a-boo with the clouds making it was hard to decide which light was the better counterpoint to the tower’s brillant white limestone.
A short walk away was a monument to the first flight across the Atlantic (Portugal to Brazil) in 1922….five years before Lindberg’s flight. Interesting…..why don’t we know about this first successful flight?
Onward, past the marina and to the Monument to the Discoveries, built in 1960 to honor Prince Henry. Its shaped like a caravel and portrays the men and women who made the Voyages of Discovery possible. I took copious pictures of this monument…..which was sparkling brilliantly in between rainbursts, but my digital camera failed me…..the pictures are lost…..this one was found on the Internet.
After a pizza lunch washed down with a bottle of Vinho Verde (oh, how we’ll miss this), we crossed the street….thankfully at a crosswalk this time……and entered the Monastery of Jeronimos; built in 1502 on the site of a chapel used by sailors before heading off to sea. The tomb of Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, is inside the church. The pics we took here have gone AWOL, too.
The cloisters, next to the church, were the most beautiful I’ve seen. The sun’s rays illuminated the intricate stonework and cast beautiful patterned shadows on the vaulted passageways, a group of schoolchildren on the second story was on a joyfully noisy tour, a young man was enjoying the serenity of the courtyard….to the chagrin of all the amateur photographers anxiously awaiting his departure. Special memories of a special place.
Craig’s an avid, if non-practicing sailor, so our next stop was the nearby Maritime Museum. While Craig wandered among the large displays, I happened upon an exquisite wooden figure. It was a small carving representing the Archangel Raphael…..and its only surviving piece from Vasco da Gama’s journey to India.
The replica boats and paraphernalia held Craig’s attention, but my time was better spent resting on a bench in hopes of revitalizing my tired leg.
My hopes were ill-founded. After Craig finished touring the museum, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our Fado dinner.
Fado (Portuguese for Fate) is Portuguese folk music about sadness, lost love, bittersweet longing or death……and, according to all the guidebooks, it’s a must-do in Portugal, so we chose one of the many Fado restaurants in Lisbon and headed off to the Bairro Alto district for dinner.
The Bairro-Alto district is next the Baixa (the area where we were staying) but its up what must be a sheer cliff because funiculars and elevators are used to connect the two areas. We chose to use the elevator in the Amazens do Chiado, a six-story shopping center. The first floor is in the Baixa, the sixth floor is in the Bairro-Alto.
As we punched the 6th floor button, Craig didn’t trust that this would actually work….but we were, indeed, whisked to the upper town where we walked along mosaic sidewalks, then on cobblestone roads until we found the restaurant….Canto de Camoes……usually full of locals and tourists, but not tonight.
We were their first patrons when we arrived about 8 pm. We were seated at a table near the corner where the musicians would perform. After perusing the menu, we ordered a prix fixe dinner. As we munched on tuna pate and local cheeses, we looked up expectantly whenever the door opened…..hoping against hope that we’d have some company in this empty room…..but it was not to be.
We were the only patrons when the Fadista took the stage. She was a “woman of a certain age”……perhaps in her late 60’s…..and she sang haunting songs with an operatic voice. We were entralled. When she left the corner “stage” after a few songs, we applauded appreciately hoping she’d return later. We needn’t have worried, she was soon at our table selling her CD. We hadn’t picked up many souvenirs on this trip so we happily purchased her record.
The door opened and two Japanese tourists were encouraged in. They ordered two drinks and sat in a corner behind us.
After these new guests were attended to, our server brought two steaming bowls of creamy vegetable soup. As soon as we picked up our spoons, the two guitarists returned to their seats….this time accompanied by a blind gentleman. We thoroughly enjoyed his melodic and hypnotic renditions so it was a no-brainer when he was led to our table with CD’s to sell. Needless to say, we bought one.
Then came our main courses…..Meat Kebab for Craig and Pork Alentejo for me. We were looking forward to having the first singer return but she remained seated at a table behind us as a slightly younger chanteuse took to the stage. This woman didn’t possess the same depth and breadth of emotion as the first woman but, when she finished her set and came to our table, Craig, not wanting to hurt her feelings, obligingly bought her CD.
Dessert came as more Fado singers joined their compatriots at the table behind us.
There was no doubt about it…..we had to get out of there before we became the owners of the world’s largest Fado collection. We took a few bites of dessert and searched anxiously for the waiter. Time was running out…..it looked like the guitarists were getting ready to take their positions. Where was the waiter????
Ah ha…..he poked his head out of the kitchen and Craig made eye contact. The young man tried to avert his gaze but it was too late. Craig mouthed, “A conta, por favor” and we were soon presented with the bill. Craig took out his credit card. The young man had to return to the kitchen for the charge machine.
Hurry, hurry…..I think I hear strumming behind me!
The young man returned and tried to process the charge, but it was taking forever. Time was running out…..any more CD’s and we’d be paying excess baggage charges! Craig asked the young man to cancel the charge and put 60 euros on the tray. Hurry, hurry! I hear guitars being tuned! The young man obliged and we left before the next Fadista made it to the stage.
Whew…..that was a close one. Anyone know what Fado CD’s are going for on Ebay these days?
It was after 10 and the elevators had closed for the evening so we walked down long, steep streets to the safety of our Fado-free hotel.
In the prophetic words of The Animals……
We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life
For me and you