Belem fort and the Lisbon cross with the bridge in the background
Lisbon was wonderful! The day dawned clear but cool as the ship docked around 9am. We finished breakfast, found our bikes, and got off the ship by 945am to a clear area adjacent to the ship at the pier.
Marilyn waits pierside near the Sun
We rode and walked to and through the cruise passenger terminal and found our way past a few tour busses to the driveway and eventually to the street. On the way, I used my newly learned Spanish with two young women who identified themselves as locals and learned that Avenue de Brasilia could be found by riding through a park adjacent to the four lane road rising entrance to the freeway skirting the coast in this area. Once reaching the end of the park 200 yards away, we rode in a driveway-like area toward the east. I stopped to take a photograph of a store in a shopping center to our left along the coast which was called Hawaii. We then interrogated two landscape workers fixing a water line and found Ave de Brasilia was right here. I crossed the area where they were working and one of them helped Marilyn across—very nice fellows. We rode on this four lane road for a half mile before spying a walking path on the left and maneuvering through the sparse traffic to reach it. One hundred yards down the sidewalk, I spied a biker riding closer to the water and maneuvered through a parking lot to join him. Here, I found a broad walking/bicycle path right along the water. We found that this path ran for more than five miles along the river except for a few jogs around small yacht basins. This is an almost perfect path for riding and seeing this modern part of Lisbon.
The path along the river is well paved and marked both for walkers and bikers. Here in the river, one can see seabirds fishing, sailboats practicing their tacking, large sail-powered tour boats taking people out to the river exit to the ocean, and some freighters loading and unloading grain at a terminal one mile across the river. Along the river were hundreds of fishermen using long spinner-equipped poles to catch small sunfish, and hundreds or even thousands of other walkers and riders—a few cruise passengers and many more other tourists. Looking back, one could see NCL Sun nearly under the famous high Lisbon Bridge to the south side of the river and the huge cross atop the hill. Opposite the river lies a more modern part of Lisbon with universities and schools, many museums, a few older churches, and a varied residential area rising into the hills in the distance. A transit railroad parallels the river here along one of four separate rail lines. The stations are modern and clean. Ferry and
Monument to sailors along the river
tourist boat terminals also line the river, also very clean and modern.
One can see much public building including museums, roads, and stations. Perhaps this is part of the problem Portugal finds itself in with its economy. The building may have gotten a little ahead of the financing. Our conversations at dinner on the ship with citizens of other EU nations also revealed they had a very generous pension and unemployment insurance program alongside similarly generous health benefits. A Belgian passenger revealed he received 3 months vacation per year, free health care, and expected to receive a 1300 EU pension at a relatively young age. Some adjustments may be necessary, but this didn’t take away from my admiration of life in Lisbon. This 500,000 person (2.5 million in metro area) city is one of the wealthiest in the EU. Marilyn mentioned during the ride that she might consider adding Lisbon to our list of places we would consider as temporary two or three month homes sometime in the future.
We passed at least four yacht harbor basins along the way to our turn around point beyond the new construction for an art museum beyond the Belem fortification. On the way back, we had to make way for a large tractor trailer removing a new 50 foot hull to a customer somewhere else along the river. The river was busy with sailboats, too. During lunch, we saw two much smaller sailboats being pulled along the path in a trailer by a single man each. Boating is obviously a very important business and pastime here in Lisbon. I saw no commercial fishing boats, though, although I am sure that fishing is an important economic factor here in Lisbon.
We passed a huge modern art museum along the road and considered spending some time there but decided to continue on some more and try it on our return if we had time. Unfortunately, the port visit to Lisbon today was a relatively short one and we had to return to the ship by 330pm. We passed a military history museum along the river and a large monument dedicated to aviation over the past 100 years. This area was guarded by camouflage-dressed standing guards complete with swords standing in small guard shacks. More similarly dressed soldiers, both male and female, circulated in part of this building. Commonly, we saw small cannons lining the walkway and decorating various public buildings along the path. We saw no military ships in this area of the river either.
Then we came to a large four story high castle-like facility along the river and decided to stop and walk around inside. This was the Belem fortification constructed in 1547. We entered along a newly-built bridge, although the building had its own moat area and was now almost surrounded by water as the tide was rising. A fisherman waded in a shallow pond next to the building. We paid 10 EU for two of us to enter although we could have received a 50% discount had we noticed the discount for seniors. Considering its age, the fortification was amazing. It was constructed of limestone blocks in vaulted archways at least 15 feet high for each floor. The windows were shuttered. On the first floor, we found a dozen windows filled with cannon which were obviously not from the 16th century, although I could imagine older cannons they originally contained.
Children listen to the lecture inside the Belem fortification
Fifty uniformed children, 4-6 years old, sat listening raptly to a young woman lecturing them about the building’s history using oversized four foot square picture diagrams of ships and soldiers with their weapons. These were obviously very smart children because they even understood the lecture in Portuguese. Their teachers sat behind them and escorted them skipping to the lavatories when requested. We tried a few of the special tiny guard closets looking out to sea and land at the corners. The stairs upstairs were a real trip. The spiral staircases stood less than 3 feet wide and maybe 80 inches high with triangular steps less than three inches deep on the inside. Only one staircase served the building, so visitors going up had to deal with others coming down. Since there were more than a few hundred people in the building, these interactions were frequent. We became very close with many people here. The stairs and walls were worn smooth from use. The views from each floor were different and the open areas outside were also unique with rectangular lookouts on the second floor and pyramid capped columns at the top. It was pretty cool inside the building too, although the second floor held a fireplace. Nevertheless, I could imagine this to be an uncomfortable ordeal for its defenders 400 years ago. I thought about dueling swordsmen fencing up the spiral staircase but realized there was no way one could have room for such maneuvers. I would be surprised if any soldiers ever fought their way into this fortification; although a siege or attack from the outside with cannon might have been more successful.
Lisbon landscape rising in the hills seen from the Belem fortification
We walked beyond the fort onto the continuation of the bike path alongside new construction of a dramatic building likely to house a museum of some sort. We passed a dozen fisherpersons (at least one woman) and even played with a poodle belonging to one couple who were preparing a barbecue for some of their catch. Eventually, the path ran out as it entered the newest construction and we decided to turn back and seek a restaurant for lunch.
On the way, Marilyn needed to use the rest room and we stopped at the WC sign adjacent to the last military museum. Marilyn walked inside to find a room guard requesting payment of a half Euro. This was a problem since we had no Euros. Marilyn shivered with discomfort as we tried to convince the guard to accept a credit card (no luck) or dollars. At first he said no dollars and Marilyn thought he might accept American coins—also no luck. Eventually, Marilyn’s plight was brought home to him and he agreed to accept a paper dollar. We paid and he offered no receipt. I suspect he will keep the dollar for himself rather than try to explain to his superiors about the transaction. But Marilyn was satisfied. They even had paper, plenty of it.
We passed two or three modern restaurant buildings before we tried the restaurant at the nearest yacht club. This building was 30 years-or-more older than its neighbors and the second story restaurant lay at the corner of the building separate from the yacht club entrance. Three rooms served common diners, smokers, and more astute diners. We chose to sit in the room with the more astute and found ourselves joined initially by only two men at a nearby table. This was not inexpensive but the experience was unique to us and special for Lisbon. Fish here was a specialty and the diner was able to choose his own fish from a case filled with chopped ice and at least 10 kinds of fish. Upon choosing Besugo (bream), I was allowed to approve the particular two fish brought to the table by the waiter before he took them back to have them grilled. The waiter brought a tray of specialties to the table, including sardines, red and green pepper salsa, and squid; but we knew we would have to pay extra for these and we indicated, like our nearby fellow customers, that we didn’t want any. He took them away. Another bowl also contained five different kinds of bread, though, and we sampled this liberally. The raisin bread was delicious. I think this cost us 2.5 EU. We ordered a small bottle of the house wine which was delivered and opened by the waiter. Ten minutes later, the waiter returned and placed a cold sleeve over the bottle. Others began to fill the restaurant and we watched as they chose a variety of fish, sometimes individual whole fish, and sometimes a chunk cut off larger fish. Nearly everyone ordered the fish grilled. Our meal arrived soon served with two fish on one plate accompanied by two other plates, one containing acorda, a mashed potato-like garlic flavored cilantro-topped gruel, and the other containing small roasted potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. Marilyn prepared our individual plates while I carved the filets off the bones of the fish and tried to remove as many small bones as I could. The taste was superb. The view of the river was exciting. The overall effect was magic. Despite the almost-$50 lunch, I’d return here again and again. Apparently, this opinion was shared by many others in Lisbon as I found all tables filled and 30 patrons waiting for tables in the foyer when I left to use the restroom. We finished by sharing a coconut topped caramel flavored pudding-like sobremesa dessert with chocolate sauce on the bottom—unique and delicious. This was accompanied by two espressos served with cinnamon sticks and dark chocolate on the side. I highly recommend this restaurant, identified on my credit card receipt as Rest Ass Velo Centro. And the waiter was also very helpful as he supplied the Portuguese names of everything while we searched our Spanish-English dictionary.
Bream for lunch in Lisbon along the river
We headed back to the ship and this time avoided the actual street and saw the front of the Hawaii establishment, a restaurant, along with a dozen other restaurants along the water for especially attracting cruise patrons. They all looked satisfied. We worked our way through the Portuguese customs and joined a long line of cruise passengers waiting to board the ship. Again, we encountered dozens of passengers asking about the bikes and suggesting they would try it next time they sailed. I don’t think we will forget Lisbon for a long time. I think we’ll return.