From Dervishes to Samba - Fall 2011 travel blog

Alfama

Belem Tower

Marquise of Pompal

Monument of the Discoverers

plaza

skinny street

St. Jerome'sMonastery

detail

vaulted ceiling

tiled walls

view from the park


The first time we came to Lisbon we landed, went to bed, and got on a cruise ship. The second time we took a tour which whisked us out to the suburbs where we saw beautiful tiled buildings and drank sherry. We were glad to be here again to focus on the city itself. Since most folks got off the cruise ship today and left, we were not surprised that no organized tours were offered from the ship, so we arranged one on our own. We met three couples who were also planning to take take this tour, and they were getting off with their luggage. The misgivings we had about how all of us and the suitcases were going to fit were confirmed when a guide arrived with a van. As she talked about ferrying the bags to hotels and coming back for us, we could see wasted hours going by and we asked for our money back.

Last night we got an unexpected message from the tour ship saying that they decided to disinfect everything and they wanted us all off the ship for a few hours, so they were giving us a free city tour. We were annoyed since we had already paid for a tour, but after that didn’t pan out, we scrambled to rejoin our fellow back-to-back cruisers arriving on site too late to get the required ID stickers. Things were a bit confused and time went by as the guides struggled to separate the Portuguese and English speakers so we were delighted to join the purported English speakers. Many of these folks didn’t speak Portuguese, but they didn’t speak much English either. A jibber jabber of United Nations conversations swirled around us as we tried to listen to the guide talk about her city.

Although Lisbon has as much history as any of the other places we’ve seen lately, a huge earthquake in 1755 destroyed almost every building that came before. As frightened residents rushed to the River Tagus to escape falling buildings, the quake caused a tsunami and there was huge loss of life. Fires destroyed what little was left. The Marquise of Pombal is honored with a statue and a big square since he organized the rebuilding. While he took advantage of this opportunity to create some open squares and wide boulevards, getting housing rebuilt ASAP was the overwhelming need and many of the areas we saw today were drab and ordinary looking.

The Alfama was a residential neighborhood that did survive the quake and it has become the aging hippy, bohemian, night life area today. Long time residents live here for rents as low as $20/month and many of the buildings we saw there were worth about that much. Regulations prevent knocking down any of these old buildings and they are very expensive to rehab, so time and gravity are doing the job. We walked the narrowest street in the city which was barely wise enough for our bodies.

There are some impressive buildings and monuments on the edge of the city on the Tagus River near where we are docked. St Jerome’s Monastery and massive church survived the quake, a miracle when you study the massive stone vaulted ceilings. The nearby Belem Tower also gave visitors/invaders an impressive look at the power of Portugal as they sailed up the river. A more recently built monument near by honored Portuguese sailers and explorers is part of the area today.

As we switched from one cruise to another we were moved from the free upgraded mini suite we enjoyed the last two weeks to the balcony cabin we paid for. Getting our stuff packed and moved went smoothly, but getting new cabin keys was a hassle. They had a key for me, but not for Ken. This little card is more than a key; it is the ID you show when you get back onboard. We were assured that all would be taken care of while we went on tour, but when we returned there was no record that Ken was supposed to be on the ship at all. The local authorities were not inclined to let him past the initial document check. Much standing in line and being passed from staff to staff finally remedied the situation, but then he was assigned to a different meal time and table than I was. While our troubles were more severe than most, many of the other back to back cruisers had key problems as well and the folks boarding for the first time stood in lengthy lines outside as it began to pour. It all turned out OK at the end, but it was not Royal Caribbean’s finest hour.

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