Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Warm, Sunny, and Bankrupt!

Yes folks, we are in Portugal, and while the country is indeed broke, it is not very warm or sunny yet - but at least it's been warmer than NYC when we left. Here's a wrap-up of our first few days:

Saturday/Sunday --Our flight from Newark was delayed 4hours, the first two due to bad weather, then they load us on the plane and take us off again because there’s no pilot (!!) and some guy had to drive in from Connecticut in the rain. Made the most of our $60 in vouchers for the food court while we waited! Everyone slept a bit on the plane.
Long lines at the airport for immigration and taxis. The Sheraton Hotel in Lisbon was pretty nice, and for the first time, the kids had their own room connected to ours. We all took naps for two hours then headed out to walk around and find dinner.

We took the metro (a boring subway with a few lines) to the Alfama, a hilly neighborhood of sailors and little restaurants with Fado Music. There was a beautiful Church up the hill with a Palm Sunday service going on. We walked further uphill to a restaurant near the Castelo de Sao Jorge, Restô do Chapitô. Had an outdoor terrace with views of city and the river. We sat in the no-smoking bar and had T-Bone steak, grilled fish and squid. Great mojitos and caipirhinas for the adults!
Came back to hotel neighborhood and walked around looking for dessert. Found a place that had all kinds of pastries and brought them back to the
hotel lobby lounge before we all went to bed around 11pm.

Monday -- The hotel breakfast was a very good buffet. Could never offer same selection of foods in USA because people would pig out. Took a 35 minute train ride to town of Sintra on the Lisbon coast.
In Sintra, we took a very scary bus ride up a curvy mountain road to Pena Palace. The 19th century palace is a great example of why monarchs were overthrown in favor of more responsible government. It was a converted monastery in a crazy mix of architectural styles with copious amounts of furniture, paintings and knick-knacks. Built by a German prince who married the Queen of Portugal. The last king who lived there was thrown out in a revolution.

Next stop was a walk down the hill to the Moorish Castle, which was a 12th century Middle Ages church and buildings. It was built up by Muslim invaders and then re-claimed by the Portuguese.
You can climb up on the ramparts and walk around and up to the towers. Vertigo inducing for sure, but fabulous views! We walked a long ways down to the historic touristy town for some popcorn, then back to train station for some Pizza Hut pan pizza and the train back to Lisbon.

Tried a Portuguese restaurant recommended on Chowhound for dinner. Yummy garlic shrimp, more grilled fish and a seafood and white bean cassoulet. Matt and I polished off a bottle of vinho verde.

Tuesday -- After breakfast we choose between the museum in Lisbon everyone said to see and the Monastery everyone said to see - didn’t have time for both. We picked the Monastery because it was near another museum - The Museum of Coaches - that sounded fun. Huge line to see the Cloisters of the Monastery, so we just went into the beautiful church. Cool thing about the church is that a poet, the “Shakespeare of Portugal,” and Vasco da Gama are buried there. Vasco da Gama was the first European to find an all water route to India by going around Africa. This led to the Portuguese skipping over the old land trade routes through the Middle East, saving them lots of money. It also led to the beginning of Portuguese colonies in India and other parts of Asia, so da Gama was a HUGE hero of the Age of Exploration. (See, got my Global History lesson in!) The coach museum was really cool too. Saw the carriages that all these royals used to ride in, including one that belong to Philip II of Spain, the King who built the Spanish Armada. Very cool.

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