I’ve been distracted for the last month or so by going on holiday and coming back, and generally never settling in one place. But this does at least mean that I have a lot to post about!
I started a week of wandering through Portugal and Spain in Lisbon. Since I’m not a Pensinsular War geek, it’s not a place – or even a country – that I knew very much about, but it turned out to be a really nice one.
I started my time there by going out to Belém, closer to the rivermouth, since that was where all the maritime things seemed to be. It was Sunday, and very hot, and everyone seemed to be going there, with the tram getting more crowded at every stop, so that I ended up getting off at the first stop with Belém in the name and walking the rest of the way to the tower.
The Tower of Belém was built as part of a defense system at the rivermouth in the 16th century – when it may have been a bit further into the river, which has shifted since then.
I thought about going inside, but it was busy, and the river was more interesting to look at.
The Monument to the Discoveries would probably be very imposing if all its figures weren’t covered in scaffolding, but as it was the map in the space in front of it was more interesting, with sea monsters and mermaids as well as the dates of Portuguese discoveries.
Another mosaic was laid out in front of the fountain in the square on the other side of the road, this time with the zodiac running across it. Almost everything in Lisbon seemed to be tiled in some way, sometimes with real slippery tiles on the pavements as well as the houses, which wasn’t great on the very steep slope up to where I was staying!
Over the road again was the Jerónimos Monastery, built through the 16th century, and containing the tomb of Vasco da Gama.
I wasn’t very keen on the church at the eastern end, which is a bit fancy for my tastes, but did like the long rows of windows and arches.
The western end of the monastery is now the maritime museum, which again began with a map of Portuguese exploration.
I had forgotten until I got there the extent to which Portugal had been a seafaring and exploring country in the early days, although it was obvious once I remembered to think about it.
I did find this British frigate in one of the paintings on the walls, though.
I had been confused all along by the name of the river – it’s called Tejo on all the modern maps and information, and I knew that wasn’t the name I was expecting, but couldn’t think what was, and wondered if the estuary had a different name from the river itself – it wasn’t until I saw this that I realised it was just that English traditionally used the Latin name!
A long hot way uphill from Belem is the Palace of Ajuda, which I was keen to see because it was the Portuguese equivalent of Georgian – built around the turn of the 19th century, and not finished when the royal family fled to Brazil in 1807. Ajuda and Belém had been some of the places least damaged in the great earthquake of 1755, leading the royal family to move out of Lisbon itself.
It’s an impressive building, and did remind me more of Georgian architecture, but it’s in the middle of some very ordinary looking streets, and I had the impression that no one really knew what to do with it.
The arches of the entrance were impressive.
Further up the river, though, was what had really brought me to Lisbon – the Tall Ships.
Neither of my particular friends – the elegant Norwegian Sørlandet and the little Russian Shtandart – were there, but it was an impressive show all the same, and I wandered along admiring the ships and watching the soft southern light fading. (And thought of Stephen Maturin talking to Jack and Sophie about the south – I would take the long slanting northern light over it any day, but I can definitely understand why someone brought up with it would miss it.)
Later on the night ended with fireworks, and all the ships sounding their horns, which is a very sad sound.
Lisbon is a city built on many hills, and I started the next day by climbing the one that I was staying halfway up anyway, to look over to the castle on the opposte hill.
It was another blazing hot day, and the botanic gardens seemed tempting, since there had to be some shade there. And there was – it was mostly trees, although with a few flowers, but generally all a bit run down.
The opposite hill, which I visited in the evening, had not just the castle but the cathedral, in lovely golden stone.
Again, I could have visited the castle, but didn’t, because by that time I was more interested in finding some dinner! It’s something to go back for…
In between I had been back by the river at Belém, to watch the parade of sail – which is really a parade of no sail at all, although a few people were pretending. Still, it was nice to see the river mouth full of ships, as it might have been once upon a time.