|Surprising Portugal by Rosario Albar|
|The Oriente district of Lisbon|
|The Pena Palace in the mist|
|The House of Pointed Stones|
|The Cloisters of Jeronimos Monastery|
How times have changed since the days of good old Henry (the Navigator) when Portuguese sailors explored unknown and far reaching corners of the world. What stories they had to tell of discoveries and adventures. Today, tourists flock to Portugal to discover its quiet simplicity and "somewhat" unspoiled character. But not for long. The tides of change are evident everywhere with new skyscrapers and massive restorations. My advise to you is, get there before the facelift is complete!
Lisbon is easy to know and to explore. Although those uphill climbs can spell pain in large letters to some poor, flat-footed tourists. From the Alfama quarter (the oldest surviving section of the city), there are spectacular views of the Tagus River that divides Lisbon in two. I am reminded of San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge when I see the 26th of April bridge. The similarities between Lisbon and San Francisco continue - Lisbon is quite hilly, prone to earthquakes (devastated by a big one in 1789) and there are electricos taking passengers up those hills (just like San Francisco's cable cars).
Portugal is dotted with enchanting little towns like Obidos which is beautiful and serene. No wonder, there are only 500 residents living in these white washed town surrounded by walls. I marvelled at the gothic limestone columns of the Cistercian Monastery church in Alcobaca. And enjoyed the juxtaposition of its baroque facade with the gothic interior. I was touched by the love story of Ines de Castro and Dom Pedro IV, Portugal's Romeo and Juliet. They are now together for eternity at this church. The seaside town of Nazare with its wide expanse of empty beach (in off season) and the beautiful Atlantic Ocean at its feet captured me. In Batalha, I was enthralled by the rich Manueline decoration inside a gothic monastery that begged to be explained. I felt blessed having visited Fatima where Mary appeared to three shepherd children. Venturing north to Porto, I panicked as I was going down the long winding stairs in the Ribeira district. Maybe I should have heeded the guidebook. But then again, I would have missed out on one of the best experiences of visiting Porto.
There are many discoveries to be made. But time is running short as "cranes" are the order of the day throughout the country. I just wish that these restorations will bring out the best of Portugal without taking away its soul.
I like Baleal on Rua Maddalena. The "espada" (swordfish) dish they prepared for me was quite tasty. This seems to be a restaurant frequented by locals. Down home prices here. The Snack do Ritz has bar style seating and the waiter is always close by to see to your every need. I ordered salmon and was surprised to receive a dish with two fat salmon steaks. Prices are average. The entrance is on Parque Eduardo VII side of the Ritz Hotel.
The Aquario Marisqueiro dishes out the best fried sardines and it is served in abundance. Prices are average and the menu is long and varied.
|Praca Ribeira in Porto|
|A View of Obidos|
|Inside the walled town of Obidos|