Monday, July 8, 2013

We visited Portugal – Lisbon 27 April 2013

Bit of History

It is the Western most country of mainland Europe. To a large extent the history of Portugal in intertwined with Spain due to its proximity. The country also came under the influence of Moors.

Most importantly, Portugal spearheaded the exploration of the world and undertook the Age of Discovery. Prince Henry the Navigator, son of King Joao I, became the main sponsor and patron of this endeavor.

Of interest to us, Gama landed in Calicut on 20 May 1498.He landed once again in Calicut in October 1502. During both the voyages he could not get the Zamorin to sign any treaty. For the next two decades, Vasco da Gama lived out a quiet life, unwelcome in the royal court and sidelined from Indian affairs. Setting out in April 1524, with a fleet of fourteen ships on his last journey to India, Gama contracted malaria not long after arriving, and died in the city of Kochi on Christmas Eve in three months after his arrival. Vasco da Gama's body was first buried at St Francis Church, which is located at Fort Kochi in the city of Kochi, but his remains were returned to Portugal in 1539.

The Portuguese Navy has a Class of Frigates named after him. There are three Vasco da Gama class frigates in total, of which the first one also bears his name.

Disaster fell upon Portugal in the morning of 1 November 1755, when Lisbon was struck by a violent earthquake with an estimated Ritcher Scale magnitude of 9. The city was razed to the ground by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami and ensuing fires.

Portugal along with Spain was one of only five European countries to remain neutral in World War II.

In 1986, Portugal joined the European Economic Community (EEC) that later became the European Union (EU). Portugal's last overseas territory, Macau, was peacefully handed over to the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1999. Mainland Portugal is split by its main river, the Tagus that flows from Spain and disgorges in Tagus Estuary, in Lisbon, before escaping into the Atlantic. 

Portugal has been a democratic republic since the ratification of the Constitution of 1976, with Lisbon, the nation's largest city, as its capital. 

Portugal is among the 20 most visited countries in the world, receiving an average of 13 million foreign tourists each year. According to the 2011 Census, 81% of the Portuguese population is Roman Catholic. Football is the most popular sport in Portugal. Spain is five times larger than Portugal.

We Visited Lisbon – 27 April 2013

On our way to Lisbon, David kept us busy with lots of info about Spain and Portugal. He talked about the famous  ‘Running of the Bulls’ which is a practice that involves running in front of a small group of bulls that have been let loose, The run in Pamplona  is the most popular in Spain. Persons under the age of 18 cannot participate in the run. Also people who have imbibed the Elixir in a big way and those who are not in good shape are barred from the run. It all started when the farmers brought the bulls to towns to sell and butchers would run behind to select the best. This slowly developed into a yearly festival.

La Tomatina is a food fight festival held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Bunol near to Valencia in Spain. Thousands upon thousands of people make their way from all corners of the world to fight in this 'World's Biggest Food Fight' where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets. Rules being – smash the tomato and then throw, secondly throw it up, so that it falls naturally.

Average salary in Spain is about 1200 Euros – that makes it 2400 for a couple. Rental takes away 700 E, food etc another 200E, Car 150 E. Insurance 150, School 250. Studies at the university costs between 800 to 1500 Euros per year. All the citizens get medical coverage. Senior citizens have to pay a nominal sum for medicines – to discourage wastage. They also pay 1 Euro to see the doctor.

A good thing about Portugal - it allows city dwellers to rent a patch of land outside the city limits to cultivate for 40 Euros a month. They visit their plots on weekends to work and grow what they want. The whole family goes out to relax. A brilliant idea.

David also told us to be careful in the restaurants in Lisbon. If any item on display on the table is consumed, one has to pay for it – do not touch.
Development is generally slow in these parts due to down turn in the economy. Construction of new roads and railways has stopped – the bullet train between these two countries has also stopped.

Lisboa has a population o 2million.A city built on hills. Compared to Spanish cities Lisbon appeared a shade dirtier with a few beggars thrown in.
Interestingly 600,000 thousand people live in Lisbon and a staggering 900,000 commute ever day for work.

A good thing about the city - it is mandatory to retain the old façade of buildings, houses and apartments. One is allowed to refurbish and renovate inside. This has ensured the city retains its rich historical past. Wind power contributes 40% of the energy to the national grid.

Once again the city is full of monuments and buildings entwined in history, reminding us of the rich heritage of the city. We checked into Altis Park Hotel.

Figure 1 – Wind Mill on the way

Figure 2 – Cork packed in stacks for aging and curing

Figure 3 – With David Nadal during a technical stop

Figure 4 – Nair in a very pensive mood

Figure 5 – Relived after the technical halt

Figure 6 – Aqua duct bringing water to Lisbon. "Aqueduct of the Free Waters" is a historic aqueduct in the city of Lisbon. It is one of the most remarkable examples of 18th-century Portuguese engineering. The main course of the aqueduct covers 18 km, but the whole network of canals extends through nearly 58 km.

Figure 7 – This is bound to catch the attention of parents who have to look after naughty children.

Figure 8 – An ancient building with Islamic influence

Figure 9 – Rassio Square – City centre

Figure 10 – Parts of City centre

Figure 11 – Rassio Square

Figure 12 – Photo op before lunch

Figure 13 – Male models from India

We Visited Lisbon – 28 April 2013

Travelling in a Group

There are a number of advantages travelling in a group – company, security , familiarity and the very idea of being together – sharing the events with jokes and anecdotes, easy banter and the rest. The girls also get a chance to indulge in nonstop chit chat and catching up. There is always someone to relate to and share the experience with.It is a very rewarding experience.

On the flip side, one has to deal with a number of opinions on every subject – we were twelve and generally ended up with at least a dozen plus views. One may easily slip into endless discussions, weighing the pros and cons and so on. Lot of precious time is lost in the mean time. Where to go, what to see, what to eat are some of the common issues which occupy one’s mind. Ordering food is a Herculean task – fraught with hidden dangers. Vegetarians have their own difficulties in countries like Spain, Portugal or for that matter China. Some wish to experiment, many want to tread the beaten path, few are indecisive and the list is endless. How to spend the evening after a tiring day also becomes an issue – some prefer a quiet evening in the hotel, the more energetic people wish to explore the city by night, have a Porto wine in the room and retire as against a drink in a cafe or a noisy pub. Lot of people plan their meals around what is available in a food mall – cheese, cold cuts, fruit, bread, yogurt and so on. On the other hand few want to taste the local food – Calamari, Pulpo a la Gallega - Octopus, tapas, peri peri et al. Adding to all this confusion is the factor of extreme closeness – seeing each other day and night - treading on each other sensibilities.

There is no golden rule which ensures a happy group travel. All have to work at it and develop an inclusive attitude – I have a view but others too have their say. Lot of give and take is essential in any travel. The essence is in the participation.

After a city tour, we visited ‘Cascais’ - is a coastal town 30 kilometres west of Lisbon, with about 35,000 residents. It is a cosmopolitan suburb of the Portuguese capital and one of the richest municipalities. The former fishing village gained fame as a resort for Portugal's royal families in the late 19th century.

City Tour

Figure 14 – Early morning freshness and chill of Lisbon

Figure 15 – War memorial in the background

Figure 16 – Suspension bridge on River Tejo – similar to Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Built by the same company – American Bridge Company.

Figure 17 – Very pleased with themselves.

Figure 18 – Some have run away

Figure 19 - Hieronymites Monastery

Figure 20 – Tomb of Vasco da Gama in the Jeronimus Monastery in Belém, Lisbon

Figure 21 – Sanctum Sanctorum Church of Santa Maria


The drive to Casais is excellent, another example of the mesmerizing Estroil coastline of Portugal. The sea descends on the coast with a ferocious intent, followed by gusty winds, bathing the sandy beaches and surfers alike. Casais is a hunting ground for the rich and the famous, the jet set and the young merry makers. The cocktail is volatile and it explodes at night in the cacophony of music dance, drink and mayhem. Unfortunately we saw the town by day.

The vegetarians from our group had a field day in an Indian restaurant run by Mr Happy from Jalandar. Their joy knew no bounds, after nine days they got a chance to belt down Maki Dal, Mixed Veg, Butter Tandoor Roti, Papad, Pickle and Curd Rice. I understand they abandoned the ‘Fork and Spoon’ farce and went straight with their fingers. Like the owner they also came back ‘Happy’.
Self and Kats went in to have ‘Peri Peri’ chicken – the best I have tasted.  Pili pili is the Swahili word for 'pepper pepper'. This dish evolved in Angola and Mozambique, once Portuguese colonies.

Rooster is the symbol of Portugal. The rooster of Barcelos comes with a story. A pilgrim stayed in a room rented by a lady. Pilgrims always carry simple things - they are supposed to be humble. In the morning she found some silver missing. She accused the pilgrim, who claimed to be innocent. On the other hand the police wanted him to show something to prove his innocence. On the way to the court they passed by a restaurant. People were eating chicken – seeing that the pilgrim is supposed to have told the police that “If I am innocent the chicken on the plate is going to stand up and crow and it did. A legend of faith.

Figure 22 – Ceramic work in the city depicting historic events.

Figure 23 – Beauty of the sea

Figure 24 – A hotel overlooking the Atlantic

Figure 25 – The rugged coastline

Figure 26 – The main thoroughfare of Cascais

Figure 27 – Navin with a shop keeper who thought she was a priest – 
language - ??

Figure 28 – Busy afternoon scene outside a restaurant

Figure 29 – Peri Peri underway

Figure 30 – A view of the town

Figure 31 - The Cascais sky

Figure 32 – An imposing building

Thereafter we went to the ‘Sintra National Palace’ located in the town of Sintra. It is the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal, having been inhabited more or less continuously at least from the early 15th up to the late 19th century. It is an important tourist attraction and is part of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Figure 33 – The palace of Sintra

Figure 34 – One of the state rooms

Figure 35 – An imposing main dining hall

Figure 36 – Saroja making a point

Figure 37 – 21 Swans in the Swan Room.

Figure 38 – View of the city