Monday 30 July 2012

Portugal - Cascais

This is my last post of my travel series about my holiday in France and Portugal during June and July 2012.

When in Portugal I was based at my sister´s house in Cascais, and since it´s such a charming place I wanted to end this series with a post about the town.

Cascais, is a small town on the Estoril coast, about 25km from Lisbon, just a 40min ride by train from Cais do Sodré station in Lisbon.

Once a fisherman´s village it is now a very popular residential area, as well as very popular with tourists due to the proximity to Lisbon, the white sandy beaches, the marina, sophisticated nightlife, proximity to the Casino in Estoril, and the charming historical centre with cobbled streets.

Cascais Bay and beach
Largo Camões with pubs and restaurants surrounding the statue

The centre is easily explored on foot, but you can also hire a free bike from the Town Hall (BiCas scheme) to ride around, and you just need your ID and accommodation address. Due to their popularity and depending on the time of year, the bikes aren´t always available, so first come, first served.
There is also a bus route (BusCas) which goes around town and surrounding areas, and at a cost of 50cts is very good value. You can get in at the Cascais train station and it comes around every 10 minutes.

When I was there, I was lucky to see Europe´s biggest concentration of Harley-Davidson´s - 12000 bikes for the 21st European Rally, held in June 14-17, a colourful and fun event, with over 60 thousand people flocking to Cascais to have a look at the emblematic bikes and enjoy the party atmosphere.

A stage for live entertainment was set up on the beach

Harleys everywhere!

The Fortress of Nossa Senhora da Luz (Our lady of the Light), with its triangular layout, is a military fort built in the 16th century to defend the Portuguese coast. From 1871 until the implementation of the Republic, the fort was used as a royal residence for King Luis I, and it was here that he died. 
It was in Cascais, that the royal family acquired the habit of going to the beach. From then on, prominent families started building their palaces and mansions in Cascais, turning it into a famous and cosmopolitan area.

The fort later became the official residence of  President Oscar Carmona who lived here during his term in office.

The fortress of Our Lady of the Light

A luxury hotel - Pousada de Cascais - is now set within the wall of this fortress, with spectacular views to the sea or over the internal patio spaces. It has bars, restaurants, shops, indoor pool and spa and conference rooms and each room is unique.

The town hall, located in the Praça 5 de Outubro (5th of October square) is a building from the 18th century, which was damaged in the 1755 earthquake but was restored in 1821. It is a charming building covered in hand painted tiles (azulejos) outside and inside. On the outside walls, in-between the balconies there are panels of tiles with Saints. One of the evenings, when we went to the city centre, there was a light show being projected on the walls of the Town hall.

Light show over the walls of the Town Hall
Tiles Saints in-between the balconies at the Town hall

Branching out from the Square there are some interesting cobbled streets to explore, full of restaurants, souvenir and speciality shops.
Walking along the cobbled streets of Cascais

If you like visiting Museums, go to Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães - a 19th century mansion complete with castle turrets and Arabic cloister, built by Irish aristocrat Jorge  
O´Neill as a holiday home, and later sold to the Counts de Castro Guimarães. The palace was decorated with Oriental furniture and tapestries and 17th century tiles and it houses an impressive collection of 25,000 books.  It´s built in a cove and during high tides the base of the building is touched by the waves.

Museum Castro Guimaraes

For a beautiful view of the coast go past Boca do Inferno - (Mouth of hell) right next to the Marina just outside the centre of Cascais. When the sea is rough it beats against the rock and creates a booming noise and the sea sprays everywhere.

Santa Marta Lighthouse

Walk or drive further along Estrado do Guincho to "Casa da Guia", a beautiful mansion transformed into a mini-shopping centre with restaurants and boutiques. Because this is set into an enclosed area with gardens you cannot take the cars inside. Magnificent views of the cliffs can be had from the esplanades of some of the restaurants.

View from Casa da Guia

The marina with the fort in the background

Before leaving Cascais, don´t forget to buy an ice-cream at Santini´s, the famous Italian Ice cream parlour in existence for over 60 years.

There is a huge variety of ice cream flavours to choose from which vary with the seasons.
The Cascais shop in Avenida Valbom, is open between April to October, and there is a shop in Estoril and Chiado (in Lisbon).

The whole family enjoying their favourite flavour

As we sat enjoying our ice-creams my South African nephew who is a football fanatic noticed that one of the Portuguese soccer players - Carlos Martinswas in the shop and asked to pose with him for a photo, which made his day. 
(Sorry the wikipedia article is just in Portuguese). 

My nephew Roberto with soccer player Carlos Martins

Hope you have enjoyed the armchair trip around France and Portugal.
I will now settle back to my day to day life in Perth and will return to blogging about the A-Z of Australia series.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Lisbon Tour - II

Following from the previous post, the tour continues with us crossing the road to savour the most famous of Portuguese pastries - Pastel de Belém - better known all over the world as "Portuguese Custard Tarts".(from the link, on the pastry box at the left, and you can you see the street view and inside the shop, and other info about the famous Patisserie).
The queue wasn´t too long, but had it been a Saturday or Sunday, it would be down the road...

Rows of pastry boxes ready for sale

A sprinkle of cinnamon and icing sugar...the wafer thin pastry, melt in the mouth custard...yummmmiiiii!

From the bus you can see the queue on a Saturday morning. Across the street the Jerónimos Monastery

There was a sugar cane refinery and small shop next to the Monastery of Jerónimos, and when in 1834 the convents were closed in Portugal, the workers and clergy were expelled. To make ends meet, someone from the convent started selling pastries in that shop. Although Belém was considered to be a fair distance from Lisbon in those day, due to the visitors visiting the Monastery and the Belém tower, the pastries started becoming well known, and in 1837, the original factory started operating by making the Pasteis de Belém, with the original secret convent recipe. Today, they are still made the same way.

You can buy them in packs of 6 to take away or take time to enjoy the atmosphere by sitting down in one of the various rooms and order a cup of tea or coffee to go with the pastries. You can buy similar pastries in all cafés and bakeries all over Portugal, known as "Pastel de nata", but the pastry is not as fine or crunchy as the original.

Our sweet craving filled, we cross the park and large avenue to see the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries).

Located along the Tejo River by the spot where ships departed in the 15th and 16th century, it celebrates the Portuguese age of discovery.

This monument was originally constructed in a smaller version, as a temporary monument in another place in Lisbon, for the Portuguese World Fair of 1940. That original structure was then demolished in 1943.
In 1958, the construction of a a permanent monument to the discoveries was approved, and the enlarged version of the 1940´s building was finished and inaugurated in August 1960.
This monument was one of several projects built nationwide to commemorate the 5th centenary anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.
In 1985 an observation deck, auditorium and exhibition hall were added to the top of the structure, with  public access via lift or stairs, offering views of the river and the Belém area, including the Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery, which date from the same Age of Discovery.

Henry, the Navigator at the helm holding a caravel 
This huge structure is made of cement, steel and rose-tinted stone from Leiria, while the 33 statues are sculpted from limestone from Sintra.

Looking like the prow of a caravel it has a 52mt high slab, with ramps at either side joining at the 

river´s edge with the figure of Henry "The Navigator" at the helm. On either side are 16 figures from the Portuguese age of discoveries, including kings, explorers, artists, scientists and missionaries.
Each figure is designed to show movement to the front (the unknown sea).
In front of the monument is a square with a 50mt diameter Compass rose executed in marble of various colours, gifted by the South African government. It includes a 14mt wide world map, showing the routes the Portuguese caravels took during the discoveries.

Marble map showing places where the Portuguese landed during their discoveries in the 15th and 16th century
Marina in Belém with the Discoveries Monument
The bridge over the River Tagus from Lisbon to Almada
From this area you can clearly see the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge), which until the Revolution of 1974 was called Ponte Salazar (Salazar Bridge).
It´s a suspension bridge connecting Lisbon to Almada on the south banks of the Tejo river. It was inaugurated in 1966 and a train platform was added in 1999. It is often compared to the Golden gate bridge in San Francisco, but it was built by the American company that built the Francisco-Oakland bridge. It has a lenght of 2,277mt, with 6 car lanes in the upper platform and 2 train tracks in the lower platform. Even though another bridge has been built over the Tejo river, it´s still heavily used with more than 150,000 cars making the daily trip, and more than 160 trains cross the bridge daily.

Next stop, not too far from the Discoveries Monument is the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower).

Belém Tower

Another Unesco World Heritage Site, in 2007 it was also included on the registry of the "Seven wonders of Portugal" along with the Jerónimos Monastery.
It was commissioned by King John II as part of a defense system at river mouth and as a gateway to Lisbon. The king died in the meantime and it was King Manuel I, who twenty years later ordered the construction of a military fortification on the southern margins of the river.
Concluded in 1519, it was built in the Manueline style, from limestone with a 30mt, four story tower.
In the 1990´s restoration work was started with reinforcement of the structure.
Studies indicate that the tower was constructed on a small island near the banks of the river opposite the beach. As development extended the shoreline, more and more of the northern bank crept southwards into the river, and the tower eventually became integrated into the riverbank. It can now be reached across a short drawbridge.

Replica of the plane used by Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral to fly over the Atlantic
 Facing the Tower is a monument that commemorates the first Portuguese aviation pioneers to cross the Atlantic sea. The pilot Gago Coutinho and navigator Sacadura Cabral, flew from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro (in Brasil) in 1922.

Back to Praça do Comércio, we walked the short distance to the Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift). It´s a beautiful neo-classical ironwork elevator that connects the Rossio area to Igreja do Carmo (Carmo Church), 45mt above on one of the Lisbon hills. It is opened daily from 7am to 11pm, costs 2,80E (free with your Yellow bus tour ticket or bus day ticket). If you travel by metro, take the green line to the Rossio station.

The Lift was designed by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, an engineer born in Porto, to French parents, who was an apprentice to the great architect and civil engineer, Gustave Eiffel. Building started in 1900 and the lift was inaugurated on the 10th of July 1902. The original lift was powered by steam and converted to an electrical motor in 1907. (If you happen to visit Lisbon, visit the lift and you will be able to buy a special postcard with a commemorative stamp).
There are two elevators whose cabin interiors are lined with wood, brass, glass and mirrors, and each carriage can carry up to 29 passengers.
Once you get out, there is a viewing platform above, reached via a narrow spiral staircase with great views over downtown Lisbon. You descend via another spiral staircase at the other end of the tower.
In 2002 the Elevador de Santa Justa, as well as the cable railways (funiculars) of Lavra, Glória and Bica (in Lisbon) were classified as National Monuments.

Intricate iron-work tower with viewing platform at top
View from the top - the Saint Jorge Castle can be seen above another one of Lisbon´s hills
Castelo de São Jorge - Saint Jorge Castle
View of Rossio Square in downtown Lisbon, with statue of King Pedro IV and the National Theatre (with central columns)
The delicate filigree and iron work on the narrow spiral staircase to the viewing platform
Lovely iron work balcony on the viewing platform - view over one of Lisbon´s hills

As you step out the platform you come onto the bridge that leads to the Carmo Square, going past the Igreja do Carmo (Carmo Church), a Gothic church, whose stone roof over the nave collapsed during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. It was never rebuilt as a reminder to Lisbon´s residents of the horrors faced during the earthquake, and only the pillars and arches survive untouched until now. This church now houses the Archaeological museum.

Coming out of the Lift into the ruins of the Carmo Church (note the little café on the left corner on lower lift platform)
The arches and pillars that remain (photo from Wikipedia)
Down the road is the Chiado district, known as the meeting place of writers, radicals and intellects, and the area where Lisbon´s most popular theaters are located.
A huge fire destroyed this area in August 1988 burning over 18 historical buildings, and after the Earthquake of 1755, this was considered the second greatest disaster in Lisbon. Its reconstruction to replicate the 18th century buildings took over one decade, but the area is now one of the most important commercial areas of downtown Lisbon with traditional shops as well as multinational chain stores, and is also a very cosmopolitan area popular with tourists.
Rua Garrett with the Chiado shopping centre
Some of the most popular cafés in the Chiado area - A Brasileira with the statue of  the writer Fernando Pessoa

Stop by the most popular café in the Chiado district - A Brasileira - (the Brazilian), founded in 1908 by Adriano Telles, who used to import genuine Brazilian coffee. After the establishment of the Republic on the 5th October 1910, the people had once again the liberty of meeting and free speech, and this café was then the meeting area for artists and writers of the time. From 1925 it started to exhibit paintings by some of most important Portuguese artists who frequented the café. 
In 1980 a bronze statue to one of its most frequent visitor, the writer Fernando Pessoa was inaugurated, representing the writer sitting at a table at the café´s esplanade.

Don´t miss a trip on one of Lisbon´s old trams still in operation in the most touristic routes.

Try the route 28 tram , it takes you past the Estrela Basilica and the Parliament (São Bento), but it´s the eastern route that has more tourist appeal (direction Campo de Ourique), taking you to St George´s castle (see photo from the the Santa Justa lift), narrow streets of Alfama and Graça districts, the Miradouro Santa Luzia (the highest viewpoint in Lisbon), Saint Vincent church, the National Pantheon, where some of the country´s most iconic figures are buried.
Some of the streets are so narrow and steep, that the only trams able to do this route are the old yellow trams. Due to crowding during certain times of the day and the number of tourists using this route, be careful of pickpockets on this tram line.
Route 28 tram to Martim Moniz
Inside the 28 tram - (my nephews standing up)
The narrow streets of some of the suburbs, taken from the 28 Tram - the 25th April Bridge can be seen at the back
I leave you with a most interesting and informative page about the 28 tram, with a tram route and links to all the interesting sights that can be seen on the way, as well as a lovely youtube video of the route.(click on the 28 tram for the link)
Sadly a lot more was left unseen, the city is big and there is a lot of historical buildings and monuments that add up to centuries of wonderful history. So I will have to return one day to discover more.
Hope you have been enjoying my series about my overseas holiday, and just like me have learned something about some of Portugal's amazing monuments.

Monday 16 July 2012

Lisbon Tour - I

My sisters and I went for the real tourist experience and took a bus tour around Lisbon. The hop on- hop off bus is a great way to visit a city, as you can get out anywhere, visit that museum or monument and join the next bus.
In Lisbon "The yellow bus company" has various bus and tram tours and even a river cruise. There was a 24h or 48h ticket, but our time was limited so we just bought the 1 day ticket for 15Euros. The 48h tour is a lot cheaper as for 19Euros you can do 3 tours - the Tagus, the Olisipo and the Belém tour, and you can throw in the Hills tramcar tour for an extra 6Euros (on it´s own it would cost 18E). Included in any of these tours are the use of any Carris public transport, such as trams, Stª Justa lift and other funiculars and buses. (underground (metro) transport not included)
We chose the Tagus tour as we had already seen part of the sights on the Olisipo tour route. The starting point for our tour was in Praça da Figueira (Fig Tree Square) in the centre of Lisbon.

Having lunch at one of the cafés in Praça da Figueira. On the hill you can see St George Castle and on the left corner the statue of King John I.
This area was originally occupied by a huge hospital that was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and later demolished to make way for an a large covered market of about 8000m². In 1949 the market was demolished and the area is now an open space with a statue of King John I in one of the corners, so as to make it visible from Praça do Comércio (Commerce square) near the Tagus River.

Praça do Comércio
Praça do Comércio - through the arch you can walk in Rua Augusta to Praça da Figueira

Bronze statue of King Joseph I, from 1775 (the Lisbon earthquake took place during his reign)
Praça do Comércio or Terreiro do Paço (Commerce Square or Palace Square) as is commonly known was also designed after the Lisbon earthquake, in the shape of an U open towards the River, with a tower at each end. The symmetrical buildings of the square with galleries on the groundfloor housed government offices that regulated customs and port activities. The arch toward Rua Augusta (Augusta Street) has a clock and statues of the Glory, Ingenuity and Valour, as well as other Portuguese heroes such as Vasco da Gama, Viriato and Marquis of Pombal.
On the 1st of February 1908, this square was the scene of the assassination of King Charles I, the penultimate king of Portugal. On the way back to the royal palace, the carriage where he traveled with his family was shot at by 2 men. The king died instantly, while his heir Luis Filipe died a short while later. Queen Amelie of Orleans survived, as well as the youngest son, Prince Manuel was hit in the arm, but survived to be crowned King Manuel II the next day. The two assassins were shot by royal bodyguards, and were later recognized as members of the Portuguese Republican party, which two years later overthrew the Portuguese monarchy on 5th of October 1910.
Queen Amelie left Portugal with the rest of the royal family to live in France. During World War II the Portuguese government invited them to return to Portugal but the offer was declined, and she last visited Portugal in 1945. The monarchy was never restored.

Our next stop was the Basílica da Estrela (Estrela Basilica). On giving birth to a son, Joseph, king of Brazil, Queen Mary I,  ordered the building of this church. Her tomb is is in this church. Construction stared in 1779 and finished in 1790, after the death of Joseph in 1788, at the age of 27 from smallpox.

The basilica with its huge dome, is located in a hill in the western suburbs of Lisbon, so it can be seen from far away. Built in baroque and neoclassical style, it has two bell towers and includes various statues of saints in niches outside the building.The floors and walls are covered in grey, pink and yellow marble in geometric patterns.

The Estrela Basilica with the double bell tower and various Saint statues
Inside the Basilica, with the daylight streaming from the dome
Across the road is the Jardim da Estrela (Estrela garden) with its well maintained gardens, exotic plants, duck pond, full of young families enjoying the good weather, sipping a café or having a light lunch at the restaurant closest to the Estrela entrance. The garden has 6 entrances with wrought-iron gates.
A focal point if a green wrought-iron bandstand built in 1884, which was originally located in what is now Avenida da Liberdade, and was moved to the gardens in 1936. In summer it is used for outdoor concerts. North of the garden is the British cemetery, where the tomb of the English writer Henry Fielding is located. There is a small green book kiosk that is part of the Municipal library.

The duck pond at the Estrela Garden
The cute Garden Library is used as a meeting place for a chat

The wrought iron bandstand, used for music concerts during the summer months

On the road again and our next stop was at Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) in Belém. The construction of the Monastery began in 1501 and took over 100 years to be completed.

King Manuel I funded the original project with the tax money from the African and Asian commerce (equivalent to 70kgs of gold per year) during the discoveries period. 

The order of the Hieronymite monks were chosen to occupy the monastery, to pray for the King´s eternal soul and provide spiritual assistance to the sailors who departed to discover the new world. This religious order was dissolved in 1833 and the monastery was then unoccupied for many years.

When Portugal regained independence in 1640, the monastery regained its importance, becoming the burial place for the Royal family.It´s design is in a style later known as Manueline (from King Manuel) or late Gothic: very ornate designs incorporating maritime elements and objects discovered during the naval expeditions, carved in limestone. Construction stopped when the King died in 1521 and in 1550 building was resumed with the addition of the main chapel, choir, and the second floor of the monastery. Construction stopped again in 1580 when Portugal and Spain became the Iberian Union, as funds were now being used for the construction of the Escorial, north of Madrid. In 1604, Philip of Spain, ruler of the Iberian union, prohibited anyone but the Royal family and the Hieronymite monks from entering the building.
During the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the monastery withstood it without too much damage.
Because it had stood empty for many years it had to have restoration work, which was undertaken from 1860 until the late 1890´s.

The Western portal, added in 1577 -  transition from the Gothic style to Renaissance
Inside the Chapel (from the Western portal)

Together with Belém Tower and the Discovery Monument, the three monuments symbolise the Age of Discovery and are the main tourist attractions of Lisbon. In 1983 the Monastery was classified as a Unesco world Heritage site, along with the nearly Belém Tower.

When Portugal joined the European Economic Community in 1885 the formal ceremonies were held in the cloister, and in 2007 the Treaty of Lisbon was also signed here, laying out the basis for reform to the European Union.
The Maritime Museum, created in 1909 and the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetary in 1962, are both housed in buildings annexed to the monastery.

Luminous Fountain in front of the Monastery
In the garden square in front of the Monastery, there is a Luminous Fountain (Fonte Luminosa), that projects about 70 designs in water to music. It´s show last about an hour - in the evenings only.
In the next post I will continue the tour with the other Discovery monuments, and other interesting sights not to be missed when visiting Lisbon.
Don´t you think the Jerónimos Monastery is such an imposing building? I often wonder how so many centuries ago, they had such clever and enterprising people who designed and built such beautiful monuments.