Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Iberian Discovery - Part 1

Exploring Lisbon - Day One

Our recent tour of Portugal and Spain was truly wonderful! Although neither country previously held special interest for me, I'm glad we decided to sign up for a tour. We learned so much, and saw many beautiful things while traveling through countries rich in history. Our witty, erudite guide shared his knowledge and entertained us along the way. The food and weather were outstanding. I'm so glad we took this trip!

Our tour began in Lisbon, Portugal. After checking in to our conveniently located hotel, we set off walking on our own to explore nearby parts of the city. Here's the scene on the Avenida da Liberdade at the beginning of our hike just outside the front door of the hotel. (Click on any picture for a bigger view.)
We soon passed through two attractive, sunlit squares. The first was Praca dos Restauradores, and the second was Praca Dom Pedro IV, or Rossio Square.
Along the way we passed uncountable sidewalk restaurants like these.
The linear density of restaurants per foot along our route was astounding! It seemed every other doorway was a restaurant, many with waiters urging passersby to stop.

Before long we arrived at a pedestrian street, Rua Augusta, lined on either side with shops. Down the center ran an almost unending line of shaded outdoor tables leading towards an enticing monumental arch at the far end.
Heading toward the arch, we strolled past shops like these.
Eventually, we passed under the arch leading to the Tagus River.
The arch opened to a large open square, Praca Comercio, whose immensity was difficult to capture in one photo. The view looking away from the river is shown in the first picture below. In the opposite direction was the Tagus River itself seen in the second picture.
On the green hilltop above and beyond Comercio Square in the next picture is Castelo de Sao Jorge, or Saint George's Castle, our planned destination for the afternoon.
You may have noticed beautiful black and white stone pavement mosaics in many of the pictures above. These mosaics, ubiquitous in Lisbon, were characteristic of many streets, plazas, and sidewalks everywhere we went in Portugal. We learned individual mosaic stones were all installed by hand. Look at the sidewalk in the next picture, and the pavement beneath the motionless street performer in the second picture below.
A street vendor sold beautifully made examples of the mosaic patterns nearby.
The way to Castelo de Sao Jorge passed along steep twisty roads of the Alfama district. Before the trip I was anxious about getting lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets leading to the castle. Navigation turned out to be easier than expected. A few well-placed signs guided us. Heading uphill eventually brought us to the castle on top. We followed trolley tracks much of the way.
Restaurants continued appearing with incredible frequency as we climbed, although now they seemed smaller, neighborhood places rather than tourist traps. We also passed many examples of beautiful tile work.
After winding through more uphill twists and turns on streets like the one in the next picture, we finally arrived at the castle.
The castle hilltop has a long history. First fortified by Romans in about 48 BCE, it was more strongly fortified in the 10th century by Muslim Berbers. The "Moors" were defeated in 1147, and, for many years after, Portuguese kings resided in the castle. When Vasco da Gama returned from discovering the route to India in 1499, he was received by King Manuel I at Castelo de Sao Jorge.

We spent time exploring the castle grounds.
The plaza in front of the castle offered beautiful views of the city below.
Leaving the castle, we headed downhill again, and, after a few errant turns, returned, a bit weary, to our blue-sided hotel shown in the next picture.
It was an exhilarating afternoon. We felt good about ignoring jet lag and seeing so much independently during our first day. The next day we would explore more of Lisbon with the tour group and our guide.     

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

John Lennon