No problem getting out to Kennedy or locating the group.† Everyone seems very congenial -- particularly Nancy, the tour leader, two young to middling women, Elaine and Deborah, and the Heislers, a couple traveling with their junior high aged daughter.† The 8:10 flight was late getting started, but we did get a glimpse of the Concorde as it was preparing to head for London.† For looks (not money) Iíd take that over a 747 anytime.† Our flight was fine though.† The plane is just too big -- hundreds of passengers and SLOW service in pleasant/indifferent Portuguese.† Maybe I was just tired since I slept through everything including the movie -- The Turning Point -- except the meals.†
Good old flight 311 (TAP) landed on a beautiful sunny day in Lisbon -- 8:1 5am.† It took at least an hour to get all the group's bags off.† Somehow they don't seem to be geared up for a 747.† A tour guide met us at the airport and "transferred" us straight to the hotel.† The first thing you notice is the sun: it is direct, hot and baking.† Daddy wouldn't do well here at all, at least not in the summer!!† Our hotel, the Altis, is definitely deluxe.† Everything is done in muted contemporary.† My single is downright luxurious.† For example: the bathroom (marble and smoked glass partitions) offers the usual shower /bath, two sinks, bidet and toilet.† Thick plushy towels all over the place.†
I settled straight in with a nap then set out with the Heislers in a rented car for the afternoon.† (Sandwich lunch in the bar of course!) Jack H set off masterfully and gave us the Grand Tour including: Belem Tower (a nutty thing built out in the river), Museum of Ancient Art, Royal Coach Museum, Monument to the Discoveries, and the (Fabulous) Gilbenkian Art Museum
Dinner for the whole group was a communal affair at the Celta Restaurant.† We had the house's recommendations for fish, a delicious beef concoction, and wines, and strawberries and cream.† It was a veritable feast.† Note: we were speaking of the hotel's luxury: the tub is big enough for ME to stretch out in.† Overall impressions of the first day are of a slow-paced (Sunday) shabby city baked in the sun.† I don't -- yet -- feel the activity of the port or city- although there are one-million+ residents.† To me it seems an old charming, lazy place --with the touches I expect of my first "Mediterranean" (whether the term is exact or not) city.† streets of stairs, narrow cobblestone alleyways, white bleached stucco and tiles.† I could happily do an apartment in the stark white and blues/green/brick red colors that are predominant here, sort of on the order of the Greek home shown in Architectural Digest.†
Today started off luxuriously enough with room service breakfast complete with silver teapot.† (Dahlink, it's the only way!)† Then we hit off on our official city tour starting up at St. George Castle.† This is mostly a park though the battlements, etc. look pretty darn imposing from the city below.† Then we walked down through the Alfama, the old district.† It's still teeming with dock/factory worker families, but it is so romantic to go exploring down these stepped streets and alleys where you can easily reach from one side to the other.† This was one of the things I'd hoped would really be here and it is!
We then headed out to the Monument of the Discoveries.†† Complete with marble map showing all of the major Portuguese explorations.† Belem Tower was next and this time we could actually get inside and see the dungeons and rooms.† Lots more fun than just seeing it from the outside.† The monastery of San Jeronimos was next with the most beautiful cloister imaginable: brilliant flowers in the center surrounded by an ornate manuelline two-tier cloister.† And blessedly cool.††† Lunch was followed by what I had intended to be a solitary stroll down the Ave de Libertades then on to the river.† Not so! I was approached by a pleasant young man named Manuel who spoke fluent English and who showed me along my intended route then bought me a cherry liqueur, then took me up the funicular to the Port Wine Institute for some sampling then walked me back to the hotel.† I chose not to continue our acquaintance, but it certainly sparked up my afternoon.† Finally the day was topped off with a marvelous dinner at Restaurante Tipico where we were able to hear some fado singing.† All in all a grand time.†
[Later note the rest of the group was disappointed by my lack of response when Manuel showed up at the restaurant.†† Sweet guy, but more time would have been boring!)
Today has got to be a highlight not only of this trip, but of all time.† Everything took off at our first stop, Palmela.† There is a castle there that is now "ours." It's up on a crag overlooking Setubal.† We were the only ones there and I think all fifteen of us got off on a Portugal High.† We clambered all over that castle from dungeon to tower top.† Up there looking at the ocean with the wind whipping at you, well it was the top of the world spiritually.† They're opening a pousada there this year and we managed to sneak in and check it out.† It has the feel of an old monastery, but with all the conveniences.† I could happily come back and spend a week or more just there being.†
Eventually we all managed to get down to the bus and set off over the Arrabeda Mountains toward Sesimbra.† What a drive -- worse in many places than the Sorrento trip in Italy -- but the views down to the glorious sea well, it was breathtaking.† There was a convent built up there and, as someone said, a setting like that would make up for a good many of the nunsí deprivations.†
Lunch was at a hotel in Sesimbra and then we all hit the beach for a swim in the Atlantic.† (It felt like Maine!!) A brief and unexpected touch of comedy followed.† We got stuck in (or created) a traffic jam on one of these tiny streets.† A cop then a crowd surfaced, Portuguese smoked back and forth, a fire truck was trying to get through and we were all trying to change† (casually) out of our bathing suits on the bus.† Thank God we can all laugh! Our final stop seemed like the end of the earth Cabo Espichel.† Here out on a forsaken point stands a church.†† We walked out to the cliff against some of the strongest wind you could go for.† (Note: the cliffs are higher than Moher) It was so deliciously wild and southern Gothic.† It just set you free.† How could you top something like that? Well, we didn't try.† Back to the hotel we came for a quiet meal and a long sleep.† Heaven on earth.†
Today was another full trip from Lisbon.† Our first stop was Mafra to see the monastery /palace there.† By far the most impressive thing was the library -- a simple room about -50 yards long filled with volumes and manuscripts.† It looked delicious, but unless I learn Latin or Portuguese, it wouldn't do me too much good.† From here we went along to Sintra which Mummy would love -† - Lord Byron stayed here.† The town is terribly romantic -- lots of (big) villas tucked on the sides of the valley around the royal (summer) palace.† The tour of the palace itself was fantastic.†
Many of the rooms were done in a single motif and were just fascinating.† After a fine lunch at the Galleria Real we headed up the mountain on a road I wouldn't want to drive a bike up let alone a bus, to the Pena Palace.† The atmosphere was something like the nutty castle of Mad Ludwig.† It even has a view across the ridge of the ruins of the old Moorish battlements.† I could†† happily live with a view like that! We headed then for the Sunny Coast stopping on the way at a pousada (Hotel do Guincho) which is on a glorious (wildly windy) blue green beach.† Just up the way is Capo Rocca, the westernmost point of Continental Europe.† Finally through Cascais to Estoril where the younger contingent (me, Elaine, the Heislers) swam while the others hit the casino.† The beach wasn't great -- right in the sort of honky tonk town -- and the water was even colder than yesterday, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything.†
The same general group† (with Deborah) topped it all off with dinner at the local Chinese (what else?) restaurant.†† Today Lisbon, tomorrow, more and more!
We have a good stretch of bus touring ahead of us, but I don't see any reason to complain.† Our first stop this morning was in Obidos, a small walled town north of Lisbon.† Then we went on to Nazare which is billed as a fishing village.† Unfortunately it has become the hokiest, most crowded beach resort going.† The beach with its sun tents looked like a ghetto.† To be honest, I couldnít wait to get out of town.† The next stop, Alcobaca, was a total contrast.† Here we saw a Cistercian Monastery.† Glorious.† It was cold and unadorned and absolutely breathtaking.† Our last stop of the afternoon was at another monastery, Batalha, not as gorgeous to my eye†† architecturally, but with a note of interest for me.† It was built by the husband of Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt -- straight out of my old favorite Katherine.† From there we went on to the hotel, normally a low point in the day.† But no! We are staying at the Palace Hotel in Busaco and WOW!! Iíll have to let my pictures do the talking, but believe me, I rarely get fresh flowers in my room!
Today -- well, it was hard to get started.† Who'd want to leave such nifty surroundings? Our visits today were all churches Vouzela and Viseu where there is also an attached museum with some very striking Early Gothic statues.† The thing that was most noteworthy though was the countryside (Beira province).† Everything was unbelievably lush and fertile.† The more southern areas now seem dry and barren by comparison.† Some places were almost tropical seeming, there was so much greenery squeezed into small areas.† On the way back to the hotel, we were dropped at the top of the Bussaco mountain and walked down a Mohonk like trail (Stations of the Cross) to our hotel and formal gardens.†
Right now I'm sitting in my own room with my own balcony and my own view (almost) of the Convento do Cristo, home of the Knights Templar in Tomar.† Well, maybe I'd do better to start at the beginning of the day.† The first stop was at a convent in a place called Lorvao, which is now, unfortunately, an insane asylum complete with screams and bars.† Still, we had an interesting tour and we almost "got stuck in a small town." The road out was so†† narrow, the house so close on either side that our driver Manuel couldn't get through until he folded up the side view mirror.† The whole town of Lorvao turned out to watch our adventure, but we finally made it through unscathed and undented.† Bravo Manuel!† Then it was on to Coimbra to explore the university, old cathedral, and a lovely museum that we were allowed into even though it was not officially open.† They had a fantastic 13th C knight on a horse.† After lunch we headed for Coimbraga for Roman ruins.† The site was excavated starting in 1967 and really impressed me.† You could truly see how the houses would have been and the baths and the walls.† The only drawback was that the sun was absolutely blazing.† (The tops of my feet were burned!) From Rome to Tomar then via a neat town-with-castle called Penela.† Tomar as Iíve described, plus pool.† Lovely.
Our day started out with breakfast on the balcony which was about as romantic as you can get† (at least when traveling alone!) Then it was on to explore the monastery that served as HQ for†† the Knights Templar.† That was fabulous with an octagonal church, cloisters and battlements.†† All in all, Tomar turned out to be quite a town.† Then it was east towards Spain and oh boy do I miss the temperate area nearer the sea! We stopped in Castelo de Vide (Castle and old town) where we were told that the temperature was 37įC (99įF).† It is really brutal.† All the moisture is just sucked out of you and I felt absolutely parched.† Portalegre where we were staying is no better [Understatement!] so we all sauntered into Nancy's room for a party.† We did manage to put quite a dent into her traveling stock, but I think we needed it.† Sort of a Wexford/Waterford kind of feeling.† All you can do is relax, drink, and laugh!!
We found another castle today: Marvao, about 3km from the Spanish border.† It's a big place and I (with Anne Heisler) hit every tower, turret, terrace, outcrop, battlement and wall.† It was like being on the top of the world.† The thing is big enough to keep one quiet busy.† There is the usual whitewashed town-within-the-walls to explore.† (Note: there's also a very nice looking pousada Santa Maria here too.) Maybe I'm part mountain goat, but I had a ball.† Lunch back at the hotel (least said, soonest forgotten) then we were off to Evora.† Climate: hotter.† I may melt yet.† The one notable stop on the way to our un-notable hotel was in Arrajolos to see the† tapestry/rug "factory." Really it's more of a homegrown cottage industry: a houseful of women and girls hand-stitching the rugs.† The finished product is simply gorgeous, but in practical terms there was no temptation.† I'm afraid that our stay in Evora is going to be a bit trying.† The hotel leaves something to be desired and the weather is hot, HOT, HOT.† (Two days to Madeira.)
Well, it has finally happened.† I am totally sated, sightseed out and pooped.† We did the tour of Evora this morning including: the temple of Diana and the Villa Vicosa and to be truthful, I was just hoping to go home and sleep.† I think it's just time for some R&R.† Even tonight's dinner at the Pousada do Lojos left me (after the gin and tonic) cold; mezzo mezzo service, and double†† the price at the hotel.† I'm getting jaded in my old age.† To a perkier tomorrow.
We left Evora this afternoon after a bit of freelance touring in the am: Hermitage and Museum.†† But I can only think and talk about Madeira: this is living! The island is fantastically mountainous (spare me the driving) and volcanic.† Our hotel is beyond belief.† The must be how the BP live.† My "room" consists of an enormous foyer with 3 (count 'em) closets all mirror fronted.† Off this on the right are my 2 bathrooms: one with 2 sinks, a shower, tub, and heated towel rack; the other with sink, bidet and toilet.† Both, of course, are completely done in blue and white tiles.† But my room!! For starters, it's bigger than my apartment.† The focal point is a stunning canopy bed with lots of floor space to show it off.† Note the eyelet canopy and brocade spread and bolster.† Now you can't stop yet.† Step through the glass wall onto my balcony which overlooks the first olympic size saltwater pool and the ocean beyond.† I am absolutely staggered.†
Elaine, Deborah and I ordered up room service G&T's plus USA type sandwiches) and sat on the balcony just drinking it in.† I cannot believe that I am so lucky, so blessed, so Ö speechless.† I could stay a week and not budge from the hotel.†
Madeira keeps getting better and better.† I know that I'd be starting at the wrong end, but where else do they not only turn down your bed, but also hunt out your nightgown (on hook of bathroom door) and lay it out on the bed, neatly nipped in at the waist.† My tip just doubled.† Anyway, I really should at least mention the rest of the day.† Morning was devoted to a Funchal city tour which, honestly, taxed my patience.† I wanted desperately to be back at the hotel pool.† Well lunchtime provided a chance for a nice swim, a delicious lunch (BLT and milkshake) and some†† sun.† Then we headed off for the afternoon tour.† What an improvement! This included the famous toboggan ride which turned out to be marvelous.† Exhilarating, but not paralyzing.† Then it was wine tasting/embroidery and back to the hotel.† The Heislers hosted a city-view Madeira party the Elaine, Deb and I made it another G&T and hamburger night.† I couldn't be happier.†
[Later notes:† Hotel strike meant we almost didn't get off the island (boo hoo) but we finally did a crack of dawn departure.† Some sneaky types tried for a 4am pre departure swim, but we were scared off by security.† Pity.† Back in Lisbon, we hit the effects of a European air traffic controllers' strike.† Flights at random random times, if at all.† Finally got confirm that our flight would probably leave 9ish after (if) it got back from Paris which was the CENTER of the strike.†† Don't come to†† the airport, have dinner, for heavens sake call first.† So off we went to the Gilbenkian and then to dinner when some eager beaver called T AP and came zooming back to say that the flight was leaving in 1/2 hour with or without us.† Mad Mad dash for cabs then through airport.† Scouting parties sent to hold plane.† Flight leaves (half full only) about 8:30.† Remind me to avoid TAP forevermore.† Flight off Madeira in clear weather one of the bumpiest scariest windiest ever.]
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