The sea was rough. We were trying to outrun the storm that was hard on our heels. We were managing it – although the sea was choppy and the temperature discernibly colder the sky remained bright.
I gave up on the chances of further dolphins and whales. The chances of seeing more were slim. I walked the deck and put in my miles or sat at the stern out of the cool breeze and read. The arc of the stern was a nice little sun trap out of the wind. The temperature there still felt warm but we were, none-the-less, back in jeans and a fleece. It felt as if we were eking the last dregs.
Lisbon was our last stop. I’d heard a lot about it. It was reputed to be a beautiful city and I was eager to see what it was about even though it lacked the allure of Brazil and Argentina. Those more exotic destinations were a little bit more than a short intercity hop away.
Before sunrise I was up on the deck. As we glided in up the river Tagus the sun rose behind the headland bathing everything in the most gorgeous golden light and filling the sky with vivid mauves and reds. It felt as if the heavens were conspiring to produce a brilliant show for our finale. We approached the Vasco da Gama Bridge and the companion Christ the Redeemer statue to that we had seen in Rio. They looked spectacular in the glow from the sun. It was surpassing all expectations.
The Belem Castle and Padrao dos Descobrimentos came into view all bathed in fluorescent orange.
As we approached Lisbon itself the sun was rising above the headland. I was transfixed by the beauty. The whole city was bathed in orange light with glints from the windows and a sky as a backdrop that ranged from orange, through pink to purple. It was spectacular. I watched the Praca do Comercio slowly glide past with a ruddy Arco Triunfal da rua Augusta and knew nobody had ever seen it looking better. This was the epitome of a sunrise. Looking back to the Vasco da Gama bridge with the sun risen it glowed red just like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
We could not have been luckier. It could not have been more beautiful if it had tried. The day before it had been raining and the next day was due to be a stinker as that storm waded in. We had arrived on a window of opportunity.
I didn’t car now if it poured with rain for the rest of the day. I had seen Lisbon at its very best. The city looked gorgeous with its red roofs, multi-coloured buildings, cathedrals and castles. A magical scene.
We disembarked and walked along looking up at the brightly tiled and prettily coloured buildings close-up. They were just as beautiful as at a distance even if some were a little tatty.
I also liked the murals and graffiti. Some great artists.
We walked past the sign reading – Land-sick? Return to the ocean immediately. I thought that was amusing given our fifty odd days at sea and that this was the last leg of our journey.
We took the bus around the city and peered out at the incredible murals on three houses that we passed. There were tree lined avenues, churches, department stores and everywhere the characteristic tiled houses.
The circular bullring with its Arabian style looked magnificent despite the inherent cruelty of its purpose. We were told that bulls were no longer killed here. It did not alter the fact that they were angered, baited and used in a manner that was barbaric. Oh for a more civilized age.
The bus took us through a commercial area with an array of modern architecture which looked thoroughly interesting. There were bold primary colours, interesting shapes and glass. One could not help but be impressed. It wasn’t quite a Norman Foster or Zaha Hadid but it was pretty damn good.
At the Park de Pombal there was a great view down the green park, with its maze like bushes, to the bay below. The day was clouding over but the light was still interesting.
We passed the white and yellow painted old prison which looked more like a castle and then back through the city to the river. Our destination was the wonderfully ornate fortress that was the Belem Tower. It was so ornate and embellished that I could not imagine it being primarily a defence fortification. Yet it had served its purpose and repelled invaders. It’s cannons had seen action.
We looked round inside and went up on the ramparts to gain a view over the river and bridge. It was like a fairy-tale castle in miniature. I liked the way it was out a bit in the water which created a reflection and made it even easier on the eye. An incredibly impressive bit of olden architecture.
After refreshment we checked out the Padrao dos Descobrimentos statue which had been erected in memory of all the Portuguese who had emigrated from this dock. It was impressive. I also liked the striped lighthouse!
In the other direction the fort of Our Lady of Salvo was a very typical Portuguese structure very similar to what we had already seen in Brazil.
Amazingly the sun was still shining. Our window of opportunity remained open. We headed for the impressive Jeronimos Monastery. We did not have time to go in but the outside was impressive enough.
Then it was along further coloured tiled houses back to the centre.
We walked around in the huge square of the Praca do Comercio with its surrounding vaulted buildings and cafes and the central bronze statue of King Jose 1st. The square was huge and commonly known as the palace square because it was constructed on the site of the royal palace that was destroyed in the earthquake, tsunami and fire of 1775 which destroyed most of Lisbon. Talk about bad luck. To have any one of those was bad enough – all three is well beyond a joke.
We walked through the Arco Triunfal into the town beyond and then caught another bus. This time we were heading out to the Expo 98 site. It was an impressive site with the futuristic railway terminal and buildings, monuments and sculptures.
On the way back we passed the Lisbon Mosque and then out past the zoo. I was really impressed with the wonderful tilework of animals on the support structures of the flyover. They were very impressive.
To top off a great day we walked up to St George’s Castle with its great view over Lisbon and the bay.
On the way we passed through the poorer areas. The buildings were shabbier, and it may have been my imagination but the denizens looked darker. But this was Europe. There were no shanty towns or even favelas. The inequality was there for all to see but perhaps not to the extremes we had witnessed throughout Brazil. There was hope for a fairer society.
At the top of the hill we eventually, after getting hopelessly lost, discovered St George’s Castle. It was a big castle with majestic walls and ramparts affording great panoramic views over the city. The sun was dipping lower by now and the city was beginning to glow again. We partook of a delicious frozen yoghurt, walked on the ramparts, lost each other, and finally set off to find our way back. It was easier on the way down.
There was time for a beer in the palace square. It was our farewell drink to a spectacular voyage. We still had the notorious Bay of Biscay to negotiate but the storm had not yet caught up with us. We had hopes for a gentler crossing than we’d had at the start.
Back on board we stood at the rail as the sun was setting and watched the lights of the city come on. The sky filled with purple cloud and the buildings smoldered again. It wasn’t quite as impressive as on our arrival but it was pretty damn close.
Our voyage was ending in style! Lisbon had proved to be one of the most impressive stops of the whole trip.
We’d be back.
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