Sunday, December 21, 2014

A rocky start to Portugal

Christmas lights in Lisbon

So off we traipse to sunny Portugal to experience warmer climates. Well, best laid plans and all that but it was damn cold in Lisbon. They are apparently having unseasonably cold weather 10 degrees below normal. At least it was fine, as a few weeks earlier it had been raining cats and dogs.

View from the castle
Lisbon had some other surprises for us. While walking up towards the Castle of St George, Elizabeth felt someone bump into her. She turned around to see a woman so close that they bumped into each other again. Prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt Elizabeth started walking again, but suspicious and on alert. She soon heard the zipper being opened and said 'She just opened my bag' after whipping around to see the lady looking up and around like a tourist and the two men with her huddled around. I checked the bag and the zipper was open but when I looked up they had all vanished. We spent the rest of the day with our bags in front of us. Then that night a rather shady looking gentleman sidled up to me showing me something that looked like a cigar and asked 'Want to buy some hashish?' It was so stereotypical I actually giggled as I shook my head, said no and walked off. According to our hotel manager it is legal to smoke marijuana here but not to sell which comes across as a bit of a chicken before the egg type of thing.

Despite the less than stellar introduction Lisbon and the surrounding towns have shown us a great time. The Castle of St George with its marvellous towers and walls, archaeological ruins and garden with its panoramic views of the city filled a relaxing afternoon. Followed by a walk down through the old streets and culminating in strolls through two city squares full of Christmas decorations.

Cabo Da Roca - Most westerly point of 
continental Europe
We moved to the nearby town of Sintra into a unit with a lounge, bedroom and kitchen including washer and fridge for only $37 AU per night. Oh, the joys of the off season. This was a convenient base for a number of attractions, including the heritage listed city of Sintra itself, Castle of the Moors, Convent of Capuchos, the marvellous coastal cliffs (reminiscent of Ireland except sunny), and town of Cascais. And the town of Belem, home of the famous egg tart pastry and the shop Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, still owned by the descendants of the family who bought the original recipe from the monks back in 1837. Elizabeth could not resist two of them, one for immediate consumption and one for later. Apparently they were very yummy.

Pastries in Belem
But as much as we were enjoying the freedom of our own place it was time for a road trip up north to see a bit more of Portugal. Driving here is a bit of a challenge: speed limits and indicating seem to be optional, their hands are glued to their horns and their favourite pastime is tailgaiting, all while driving on the wrong side of the road, sitting in the wrong side of the car and changing gears with the wrong hand (car rental did not stock autos, period). This should be interesting...

On the Castle of the Moors



The town of Cascais

Convent of the Capuchos

Monument to the sea in Belem

Side view of the same monument in Belem

Cliffs at Cabo Da Roca

Just walking in Sintra

Castle of the Moors

The heritage listed town of Sintra



Fountain in front of Jeronimos Monastery in Belem