Thursday, April 28, 2005

I Bought Boots!

Our final day in Portugal was a busy one. There were a few sights left we wanted to make sure to see before we left the country. The alarm was set again for us to get up, but not as early today. We heard the beeping of Johnny's mobile at 10 am and we did have the option to snooze a bit. By 11:30, we were ready to go!

It was the same walk to the Metro and we bought the tickets, boarded the train, and headed to Rossio, a stop on the green line. The stop opens up onto a square where hundreds of pigeons walk around amongst the people rushing to catch the subway, trolleys, cabs, and buses. I watched as Deya found herself surrounded by the birds. A few started flying around, circling the square, and I briefly saw myself in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The taxi stand was on the other side of the square, so we headed over, pausing to watch the man feed the birds, and asked the driver, without using English, I might add, to bring us to Belém, a district in Lisbon (Lisboa) where we could see the St. Jerome Monestary, catch a glimpse of the Monument to the Discoveries, and hopefully see the 25th of April bridge, the Cristo Rei, and the Torre de Belém.

The driver brought us to the monastery, and it was magnificent. The architecture is amazing and the building goes on and on. Deya's camera was sans battery power today, so we have pictures from my camera. The day itself was over 500 pictures! Don't worry, they are not ALL the monestary, I will also share what else we were able to see.

After leaving the place of worship (where we saw the devil, standing with his red face and smoking! Inside a holy place! I have a picture), we wandered past a public gardens to see if we could catch photos of the bridge, the Monument to Discoveries, and hopefully the Torre de Belém and the Cristo Rei. We saw the Monument, it is large and near to the monestary. Views of the bridge and the statue of Christ were a bit more difficult, but we do have a few images of each from different days. We skipped walking down to see the Torre de Belém, mainly because the day was our last and it was a long walk! We wanted to get as much of Alfama in as possible and maybe do a bit of shopping. There were still a couple of gifts to pick up.

We caught another cab and asked the driver to take us to Alfama. The man was very helpful and even told us about where to go from where he dropped us off. The Porties are extremely helpful and have made our stay a dream come true. We decided against visiting the castle, only because it was an uphill walk. There was a little kiosk with sandwiches and soda where we stopped and of course, we had to have a bite to eat. The "Coke" was not as advertised. But the sandwiches were fairly good and Deya had a blast hand feeding pieces of the bread to a little sparrow who kept flying over to us. We would watch the sparrow fly off to a tree and return again and again. The tree was a part of the amazing view we had of Alfama. The red rooftops showed us the classic character of Lisbon and kept screaming Europe to each of us. Even now, as we are just a few hours from leaving, we still find it hard to believe we are actually in Europe. Maybe I am just a silly American speaking, but traveling to another continent is a fascinating experience.

Pictures were taken at the different overlooks and our path headed down a steep hill. We found an open door and a friendly elderly man offered us to enter the church. It was the Chapela de Santa Luzia and he walked us to the different displays and statues. The chapel was small and in comparison to the monestary, not what I would call extravagent, but utterly charming. Deya and I both agreed, the man showing us the different things made the chapel amazing. His smiles and excited voice tone was terrific.

We kept wandering down the hill, making our way to the Sé, famous in Lisbon for its Rose Window (I will get to that), and we found a couple of little souvenier shops. Of course we stopped to buy those last minute gifts. Satisfied with what we are going to share with everyone back at home, we continued on and found the side of the Sé. Walking around to the front, I captured the moment on film and we headed inside.

The Rose Window is a large, round stained glass window, vibrant with color. It was stunning. I would call it a highlight of our day. There was a man outside, selling watercolor pictures as we exited the cathedral (the Sé is a small scale cathedral). Both Deya and I bought some of the art, continuing my tradition of buying art while on vacation. It happened in Vegas and now Portugal. Luckily, this is a little smaller and actually FITS in my suitcase.

All the walking, viewing, and Lisbon sun made us both thirsty and when we saw another little café, we stopped in for Coca-Cola, the real kind in a red and white can. There were some pastries in this restaurant and it was a sweet treat for our palettes before we tried to find the Metro again.

There is a tram that heads up and down the hill of Alfama. Trams have tracks on the street. We used this as our guide to find the Metro station. On the way, the buildings and windows called out to us to check out the different items being sold inside.

Along the street back to the station, my attention was stolen by a shop selling fantastic shoes! I bought two pairs of lovely high heel tennis shoe boots. They were under 15 Euros each!

Deya and I got back to the subway station and took a crowded ride back to Johnny's. Once off the Metro, we stopped at a little park on the way to Johnny's that we visited each time returning or going to the subway. It is a small little escape from all the buildings and hectic nature of a big city. There are only three benches in the park and the common area is covered in cobblestones. Trees and bushes line the outer rim, providing a bit of shade to weary passerbys.

Tonight was our last time to stop in this place, a place we've come to identify as a special part of our trip. There were four children playing in the park with a few parents on the nearby bench. The youngest one, a girl that had to be under three years old and still wearing a diaper, was climbing a portable slide and sliding down the plastic, again and again. Watching her was a pleasant experience. The other three children were sitting on the ground near a part of the cobblestone that is open to dirt and ground. The eldest boy was clacking two rocks together, over and over, and the other two were watching fascinated. Then he made all of them smell the rock.

Deya and I looked at each other, trying to determine if smelling rocks was a Portie custom (which we figured it was not) or just something children were doing. The kids got up and ran around, picking up sticks, pestering the parents for newsprint, and pulling bits of dry grass up to use as thatch. Great! We were watching Portuguese children try to make a fire.

The parents sat idly by as the kids kept trying to create a spark onto their pile of burnable items, but we never did see them make a fire. Deya and I were both happy to know that the children, curious but maybe a little bit misguided, were unable to start a fire in our presence.

We got back to Johnny's and packed up our stuff. In about two hours, we will be heading to the airport and starting our 13-hour journey home.

During the day, Deya and I made a top ten list of what Portugal was to us. This is list is in no way complete, to share all the joys of Portugal, we need more than 10 spots. But these are some favorite moments.

10. My boots. (For Deya, it was having a sparrow take food right out of her hand)
9. The Rose Window at the Sé
8. The Oceanarium
7. Finding out how friendly Porties truly are and how helpful (the fact that we could holiday here without speaking the language)
6. Évora, the bone chapel, the Roman temple of Diana, and lunch
5. The Monet at the Gulbenkian Museum
4. The Monestary of St. Jerome
3. JIP, Hum-Hum, and Papoila
2. Seeing and playing in the ocean
1. Meeting Johnny in real life

It is sad to leave. There are many things about home that I do miss, but this has been a fantastic vacation and meeting Johnny was worth every moment of planning, running around, worry about travel, and traveling itself. Our homes are open to her to visit any time, we are hoping she will come to visit in late August (when Minnesota is not unbearably chilly).

Life may not provide material for daily updates when we get back, but I am sure the daily grind will still show us fun times and good people. I am going to miss Johnny, JIP, Hum-Hum, Papoila, and the amazing country. I am thankful for the time I was able to spend here and the friend that I have finally met. The next time I will be writing, I will be back home, sitting at my computer desk and dreaming of Portugal.

Oh, and it was the worry about the vacation that caused my eye to twitch. I just noticed now that it has not twitched in over a week. I did need the break from real life.


As I was typing this post, we discussed the Portie children and the fire. Here is Johnny's direct quote: Any self-respecting Portie should be an accomplished pyro-maniac.