This morning, we were up pretty early and we took a cab to the Torre de Belem. The early morning light made for some great photo ops of the Tejo, the 25th April Bridge, and of course, the tower itself. Since we were early, we couldn’t go inside. Walking down to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) we were enraptured by the beautiful views of the hills across the river. A lone vendor approached us, but the Torre area was relatively deserted. Also surprising were the 25 or so old fishermen, each with a couple of rods, a box of bait and a flask of coffee, fishing from the pier.One man even had his pet dog with him!!
The monument itself is a masterpiece in marble and stone.It features larger-than-life sculptures of royalty and allegories of the times, all looking up toward Vasco da Gama who stands at the tip holding a ship in his hands. People are allowed to go up to the top of the monument but it only opens at 10am, as do most others. We then crossed over to the Monasterio de Geronimos, using the conveniently placed pedestrian underpass (Obrigado Camara de Lisboa!!)
After a bit of a wait in the line, we entered the monastery and started exploring. With its Manueline architecture, it has some of the most beautiful arches, doorways and sculptures around. After walking around the cloisters and art displays, we finally entered the main nave of the church. The sheer beauty of the vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows will leave you dumbstruck.
Walking around, we came to the tomb of Luis de Camoes, the greatest Portuguese writer of all time. The main altar with its huge frescoes of the
Life of Christ and the giant tabernacle and truly amazing. At the opposite end of the church was the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the voyager who established the trade routes between Portugal and India.
Going to Geronimos early also gave us an advantage over the crowds that throng Pasteis de Belem, the home of the best pastry in Portugal.
We took a cab back to the hotel, and then packed our bags, sad to be leaving Portugal, but sure to come back for more. But as always, Portugal is full of surprises. The old cabbie was surprised to hear me speak in Portuguese and when I told him that we were Goans, we got into a friendly banter about the Portuguese influences across the globe in its former colonies, the cultural influences that have survived to this day, and more important, my fluency in the language that I had hitherto not accepted. It was a language I grew up with, but stopped speaking it since I got into high school, except occasionally with my parents. It’s surprising how easily the language comes back to you once you get conversational.
We got into Spain late in the day, and rather than lose time after checking in and the Maria Elena Palace, decided to take a walk around Sol. The hotel is located off one of the bye lanes of this bustling centre of town, and as soon as had hit the streets we realised why the Spanish say that all roads lead out of Sol.
The place was buzzing with activity, not just tourists, but young residents in the party mood looking to have an enjoyable evening. Tomorrow was the Feast of the Assumption and a national holiday… it was also the summer and the weather was unbelievably cool. To our luck, the Mariachi band was performing in the square, and it was perhaps the best way to begin our Spanish holiday.
We got into bed early, but had a sleepless night. There was a party happening somewhere down our street and all night long, the street below was alive with your revellers, and all through the night, their laughter and loud talk resounded through the narrow alley. Not the best thing for any light sleeper. I spent some time at my window watching the nightlife of the city and curled back into bed when eyes, heavy after a day of early morning sightseeing in Lisbon and the flight to Spain, could hold out no longer.
The target was Guadaljara tomorrow, a little suburb where Diogene wanted to catch up with friends who had been his lovely hosts during the World Youth Day last year. Incidentally, it was on the Feast of the Assumption that the parish of Guadalajara had bid farewell to the young pilgrims as they headed for Madrid, and it was one year later on the same day that he was returning.