We arrived at the Vancouver International Airport last night at about 7pm; being on Canadian soil felt good, although I got a little worried when our bags didn't show up for the longest time. The flight from Lisbon to London was blessedly short, and the wait in Heathrow not too bad (3 hours, compared to 5 hours on our way there). On the flight from London to Vancouver, we had tried to get aisle seats across from each other, but the best we could do was an aisle seat and the one next to it. But happily, we ended up with the entire section of 4 seats to ourselves, so we were both able to have aisle seats, with no one between us. It doesn't provide any more leg room, but at least you're not crammed in next to someone else, as well.
We arrived in Lisbon on Friday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, conveniently located in downtown Lisbon right in the middle of things, with a view of the castle of St. George on the hill above us, we followed -- or at least tried to follow -- the walking tour in my guidebook to Lisbon. We did fine on the first half, taking in the Baixa (downtown Lisbon), passing by the ornate elevator that takes you up to the Chiado neighbourhood above, and heading toward the waterfront. Then a left into the Alfama district, for a close-up look at the cathedral and castle, and wandering through the streets of the oldest section of Lisbon. The Alfama is the old Moorish part of town, with narrow streets and buildings clinging to the hillside.
After the castle, we discovered that the directions in the guidebook were less than reliable, and ended up finding our own routes to the final sights on the tour, with the help of 2 different maps, one in the guidebook, and the other given to us by the hotel.
We headed back to the hotel to freshen up, then down to Rossio square (the main square in downtown Lisbon) to find a place to eat. We found a pedestrian mall with restaurants crowding the streets on both sides, and checked out the menus as we went along. We eventually chose a restaurant at the far end of the mall that served a rather unremarkable meal, then headed back to the hotel, exhausted.
Saturday we went our separate ways. I signed up for a bus tour that took in the city in the morning, and Sintra, Cascais, and Estoril in the afternoon. The city tour of Lisbon was great. Our guide did the tour in English, German, and Italian, and the only frustrating part about it was that we didn't have much time to explore the places we stopped. But, I did see most of the major sites that we hadn't covered in our walking tour the day before.
After lunch, I got an another bus, with a new tour guide, who provided the tour in English and Italian (she also spoke German and enough Japanese to get by, but didn't use these on the tour, except when we enountered a Japanese tour group who were moving a little slowly). Our tour guide from the morning provided the afternoon part of the tour in Portuguese, French, and Spanish - I was very impressed, considering my second-language skills have almost completely disintegrated from disuse.
Sintra was fabulous. For about 200 years, it was the summer home of the Portuguese royal family, and it looks like a playground for the wealthy. Perched on the side of a mountain, it has palaces, mansions, parks, gardens -- everything the nobility needed to have a fun summer. In the middle of the 19th century, the king of Portugal moved his summer home to Cascais, on the coast, so the nobility followed, and it is a town now inhabited mostly by British expatriates and the vacation homes of European celebrities. But it is absolutely beautiful, and has some of the best surf in Portugal. We got an impressive display of waves cresting and crashing along the shore, but apparently it becomes most impressive in winter, when the waves can reach high enough to cover the road.
But now we're home, and it's time to get back to the realities of life. Tomorrow, Janice goes back to work , and I head down to Oregon to see good friends one last time before I close out that chapter of my life (not that that will be the last time I see you, of course!). By next Monday I will be opening a new chapter, starting my job at University College of the Fraser Valley and -- finally! -- settling into my new home. I can't wait...
I'll let you know when I've posted my pictures, but don't be surprised if it takes a few weeks; I've got a lot of things on my "to do" list these days.
© 2005, colleen bell about
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