The cruise ship which we will board tomorrow holds about 100 people; they will all be in our Grand Circle Tour group. Overseas Adventure Travel, the company we have come to love, is a subsidiary of GC and its tours are limited in size usually to less than 16 people. We're not sure how well we will like this large scale approach. We have been assigned to a subgroup and will be lucky to know their 25 names by the time the cruise ends. Some of our fellow travelers have been here for a few days touring Lisbon on an official pre-trip. We decided we could do that on our own choosing activities and sights we have not seen before. We hear that there are a few other free agents like us, but most folks flew in today. Since I am still not feeling 100% sleep-wise, we're glad that we came early so we can make the most of the tour once it begins. Our official tour began with a brief evening briefing followed by a multi course mega meal with bottomless wine pouring. That drove most people to an early bed time.
While we waited for everyone to show up, we took a five hour e-bike tour to every nook and cranny in the town. Since we own our own e-bikes now, Ken was curious to see what the competition was offering. We saw a number of other bike tours out and about on regular bikes, but for this very hilly town, "e" was the way to go. Most of the ride was on cobble stones; our crotches may never be the same. I think our guide was a bit surprised to see two geezers as his only riders today and we were delighted to have him all to ourselves. I have no idea how far we rode, but we were in the saddle for about five hours with occasional stops to try local eats and drinks. Most of the day we were in tiny neighborhoods and saw few other tourists. It really gave us a feel for local life. There are still many small bakeries, coffee shops, and eateries that are patronized by locals and are not part of some mega franchise organization as ours tend to be. The golden arches are here if you want them, but the local fare seems to be surviving just fine. The pastéis de belem (custard tarts) were my favorite. They were invented by a local monastery which had lots of left over egg yolks, having used the egg whites to stiffen the priestly vestments after they were laundered. Once the government stopped supporting the clergy, they had to earn enough to sustain themselves and these extremely popular goodies should be listed on the stock exchange. We also liked the empadas, which were empanada-like and could be filled by sweets or savories. The local coffees are so small, you could take your caffeine by injection. Two sips and you're done.
Lisbon still reels from the earthquake of 1755. The quake ultimately obliterated a third of the Portuguese population. It occurred November 1 and much of the city's population, estimated to be around 200,000, was gathered for mass in Lisbon's opulent churches and cathedrals for this holy day. Beginning at around 9:30 am, three separate jolts spaced a few minutes apart violently shook southwestern Portugal. Those who survived collapsing buildings fled into the streets, leaving behind lighted candles on church altars and cooking fires in kitchens. Intense fires that were likely ignited by curtains and woodwork that fell into the flames spread within minutes throughout the city and burned out of control for days. Some residents sought refuge in the harbor at the mouth of the Tagus River, but their relief from the fires and falling debris was short-lived. Approximately half an hour after the first shock, massive tsunami waves up to 36 feet in height began to arrive from the sea, wrecking ships and drowning thousands of people. Towns along Portugal's western and southern coasts, southwestern Spain and most of Morocco's Atlantic coast also suffered significant damage and loss of life. The effects of the tsunami were noted as far away as England to the north and in the Caribbean islands across the ocean.
This gave Lisbon a chance to start over and rebuild their city from scratch. The Alfama where the Arabs lived, had a sand foundation which maintained the foundations of the original buildings, but a Frenchman named Pompal was brought in to layout the street and parks in the mostly leveled part of town. You can see the French influence in the wide boulevards, huge traffic circles and generous allocations of the city property to parks. In the Alfama neighborhood where buildings remained upright,the streets are still so narrow you can touch the walls on buildings on both sides of the street, much as the whole city was before the quake. The contrast is dramatic.
Lisbon is due for another big one, just like California. We hope it never comes or at least waits until we leave.