The weather in Lisbon has improved in the last week and we are seeing temperatures in the low 20’s with blue skies. Had a relaxing day on Sunday the 24th just enjoying the city and the warm weather.
Must say that although the exterior of the trains are full of graffiti, the interiors are very clean. We have found all modes of transportation, whether that be tram, bus, metro and trains to be all very efficient and all very clean. We have also used Uber on several occasions. We were told to be very careful with taxis as they are known for charging too much; they try to make bargains and normally these bargains are over what a metered fare would be. Even the locals warned us against taking taxis.
On Monday, we take the train from the Rossio train station to the Palacio Nacional de Quelez, which only takes about 15 minutes. This palace is halfway between Lisbon and Sintra. The Quelez Palace is often overlooked, as most tourists go to the palaces of Sintra/Pena. We had been to Sintra when we were here some 10 years ago, so did not feel we had to see it again.
In 1747 this hunting lodge was transformed into a “Rococo” style summer palace. Over the years the palace was expanded and gardens were designed and planted. Maria, the eldest daughter of Jose 1, lived in the palace after her marriage to her uncle. As one guide told us, the rich and the royalty certainly knew how to keep the wealth in their families. The guide book says that Maria suffered from “melancholia” and when her son died, she went mad. They say that visitors to the palace could hear her shrieking. Her younger son took her to Brazil during the French invasion in the early 1800’s.
Since 1940, the palace has been opened to the public. Part of the palace is used for official ceremonies.
The guide book and markers at the palace indicated there were several lakes; in fact it appears that they refer to fountains. There was also many sculptures throughout the well manicured gardens.
One of the most amazing structures in the gardens is a channel that was built so the royal family could enjoy boat or gondola rides. The sides of this channel were completely covered in tiles depicting hunting and landscape scenes. A few individuals working on restoring the tiles. Looked like very meticulous time consuming work. We have never seen anything like this, quite unique.
We spend about 2 hours touring the palace and grounds and made our way back to Lisbon.
One of the things I have been meaning to mention is the way in which one orders coffee in Portugal. The first few days we arrived, I was ordering cappuccinos, but found them quite strong. One of our tour guides mentioned that even the Italians think that the Portuguese coffee is strong. I had remembered that the guide book had made mention of coffee, as had the young lady who managed the apartment. So I learnt that what I really wanted was called a “galao”, probably the closest to a latte. It is normally served in a glass. An espresso is referred to as a “bica” and a coffee drink with half milk and half coffee is known as a “meia de leite”. I think I mentioned before that we like to make the effort to try to speak as many words or phrases of the local language, so I started ordering “um galao”.
We spoke to one of our guides about the amount of graffiti on the buildings and vans in and around Lisbon. It seems to be an attitude that the government simply does not have the will or resources to tackle the problem. We find this so unfortunate.
On Tuesday we arranged a tour to a few villages and a National Park south of Lisbon. We were picked up by our guide Rodrigo. We used a different company as the company we previously used did not offer this tour. When Rodrigo started talking, I asked him where he learnt his English, as it was very different than what we have heard. He told us that he was born in Canada and lived there with his parents till he was in grade seven, and they moved back to Lisbon. His parents had originally gone to Canada on a two year working visa, but stayed much longer as when they were due to come back to Portugal, the country was in the midst of its revolution. His father was in International Banking and had worked for several banks in Canada. They had lived in Montreal and Toronto.
We left Lisbon via the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and as we passed the southern end of the bridge, we got a good view of the Christo Rei statue. Our first stop was the small town of Azeitao. This area is known for its Moscatel wine. The main building in this small town is the Jose Maria da Fonseca cellars. A majestic building. This family owned business has been producing wines since 1834 and is the oldest table wine in Portugal. It has been a family business for seven generations. Rodrigo tells us that Portuguese wines used to be mainly blends; but the industry is now moving towards producing single varietal wines. He says that there are 600 varieties of grapes in Portugal of which 250 are natural to Portugal.
Stopped at a small cafe for a morning coffee/tea and pastry. Rodrigo says that most of the ancient pastries were made of egg yolks. This was due to the fact that the nuns used the egg whites to starch their wimples and the egg yolks were surplus, thus the pastries!
Driving through the area we see lots of vineyards and cork trees.
We continue our journey into the Parque Natural da Arrabida. The park was established in 1910. Beautiful forests of pine and cypress trees. A narrow winding road winds its way across the mountain (hill) range to the Bay of Setubal and the very small towns of Galapos and Figueirinha. We walk through these very small towns. There are some residences here, mainly used as summer escapes. No additional homes can be built as they are located in a National Park. They are allowed to remodel the existing homes, but cannot expand the footprints. A few secluded beaches along the way.
Then on to Setubal which is the third largest port in Portugal, after Lisbon and Oporto. Rodrigo tells us that container ships come here when the port of Lisbon gets too busy. Setubal is still classified as a fishing village, even though it is more like a city now. Rodrigo tells us that many people live in Setubal and commute to Lisbon by train as housing is more reasonable than Lisbon.
Setubal is also known for its dolphins. One sees many statues and murals of dolphins in the town centre. Apparently lots of dolphin tours during the tourist season. The dolphins are protected.
We visit the local market and stalls abound with fish of all types, certainly some we have never seen before. Even lots of fish eggs for sale. I asked Rodrigo about these and he indicated they were delicious when grilled…..not sure about that! Some fruit and vegetable stands in the market as well. Rodrigo tells us that unlike North America, Portugal labels any produce if it is not organic, interesting.
The far wall of the market is covered in ancient blue and white tiles. Rodrigo tells us that if he had the room in his home, he would collect ancient tiles. Portuguese tiles are influenced by Roman mosaics and the Moorish tiles. Portuguese tiles that are simply blue and white date back to the 16th century and those with more colours date to the 18th century. All colours are based on metal oxides; for example greens are copper, red is magnesium, etc. A lot of tiles also have yellow, orange and blue colours.
Back in the car and we drive up to the highest point above Setubal to visit the Castelo de Sao Filipe. This star-shaped fort built in 1595 to watch for invaders. It was transformed into a pousada, but was closed last year due to safety reasons as the building starting to sink! Part of the upper ramparts are also closed. Funny thing, there is still a restaurant and people are still allowed to visit. A beautiful chapel where all the walls are decorated with tiles, mostly in very good condition.
The views from the fort are quite wonderful. We look down onto Setubal but also see the bay. Beautiful beaches all along, probably stretching for several kilometres.
Stop for lunch at a small restaurant that serves local fish, very good.
Our last stop of the day is an old water mill. The Mourisca Tide Mill is in the Sado estuary and was working until the 1950’s. It had eight millstones. The tide is out so we see lots of different birds in the mud flats. Apparently lots of bird watchers come here during the migration seasons.
Another great day discovering areas that one would not normally venture to.
Wednesday, the 27th is our last day in Lisbon and basically a laid back day, getting ready for the next four days on the island of Madeira.