FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Goodbye to Lisbon

Posted in Lisbon, Portugal by folkestonejack on March 16, 2015

The end of our long weekend in Lisbon and Sintra has come round all too quickly. Nevertheless, it seems like a good point to be heading home as the forecasts suggest that the string of beautiful days we have enjoyed is about to be broken up by a few days of heavy rain.

It is impossible to pick a favourite moment from the trip – we have seen so many wonderful sights, gasped at so many incredible interiors and tasted so many superb dishes. I enjoyed every minute of our two day trips to Sintra but was pleased that we stayed in Lisbon as the choice of restaurants is superb and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the three great establishments that we tried.

The compact nature of the city and great public transport connections certainly makes Lisbon a fantastic destination for a weekend break and I would thoroughly recommend it. For us it is time to say goodbye but with some great memories and far too many photographs…

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Belém sunset

Posted in Lisbon, Portugal by folkestonejack on March 15, 2015

In the late afternoon sun I headed out to Belém, ready to capture the scene along that fabulous stretch of waterfront in the run up to sunset. It was a quite magical place to be as we entered the golden hour and I enjoyed having a go at trying to capture the essence of the moment on my camera. I was far from alone in this endeavour, particularly around the Torre de Belém which seemed to have attracted photographers like moths to a flame!

Fishing at Belém

Fishing at Belém

I started my walk around the Museu da Electricidade and then headed along the riverside to Doca Pesca, not far from the railway station at Alges. Along the way my walk took in the Estação Fluvial de Belém, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Monumento a Gago Coutinho e Sacadura Cabral, Torre de Belém and the Monumento aos combatentes no Ultramar. The views across the water were equally delightful with the Ponte 25 de Abril and the Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei on the horizon.

Almost gone...

Almost gone…

Once the sun disappeared below the horizon I headed back into town by train, having learnt my lesson about the gridlock caused by road closures yesterday and ready to sample the wonderful dishes on offer in the city.

The particular highlight of our culinary adventures so far has been the incredibly welcoming Sacramento in Chiado, a wonderful restaurant which is located on the site of the former Palace Valadares. It served up some truly delicious dishes, especially the octopus rice, with some of the best service we have seen anywhere. No wonder you need to book in advance!

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Sunset over the Tagus

Posted in Lisbon, Portugal by folkestonejack on March 14, 2015

I had planned to head out towards Belém to photograph the sunset but absolute gridlock appeared to have descended on Lisbon with the closure of the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique and the re-routing of road traffic into the city centre.

It was painful to watch my tram inching its way along the tracks, taking half an hour to make its way from the Praça Comércio to Cais Sodré rather than the couple of minutes that you would expect. I bailed out and made my way back to the riverside, which was bursting with life. The Cais das Colunas (Columns Pier) seemed to be a particular popular spot to gather and watch the sunset with a beer or two.

The Cais das Colunas at sunset

The Cais das Colunas at sunset

As the ‘golden hour’ began I set to work with my camera. I particularly liked the effect when I shot into the light, hopefully capturing the vibrancy of the scene with the impressive backdrop of the Ponte 25 de Abril. The ferries running back and forth between the two shores, watched over by the imposing statue of Christ the King, added a little variety. It was, in short, great fun trying to get the best out of the scene. Maybe it was just as well that I didn’t reach my original destination!

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Echoes from the age of discovery

Posted in Lisbon, Portugal by folkestonejack on March 14, 2015

Our morning wanders around Belém presented us with two striking Manueline masterpieces, both of which stand testament to the wealth generated during the age of discovery – the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Torre de Belém. Two iconic sights that can be seen plastering the covers of most tourist promotions for Portugal.

Torre de Belém

Torre de Belém

Both buildings were commissioned by King Manuel I in the early 16th century and display exquisitive gothic decoration on the exterior. However, it is when you step inside that you appreciate the difference. The marvels keep coming as you prowl the monastery cloisters but in the Torre de Belém you enter a world of austere and functional spaces. Nevertheless, the fortress must have made quite a statement to ships entering or leaving port in its day.

The trail around the monastery presented us with a succession of astonishing sights – a beautiful two-storeyed cloisters, the spectacular nave of the church of Santa Maria and an azulejo lined refectory. A moment spent studying the detail revealed delightful touches, such as a fearsome beast with the head of its prey inside its mouth.

Detail from the Jerónimos Monastery

Detail from the Jerónimos Monastery

I am sure that every last inch of the monastery has been photographed millions of time by now, given the vast numbers that visit each year, but I still enjoyed snapping away!

Aside from the two historic sights in Belém we also stopped off to admire the column honouring the first Portuguese viceroy of India and the Monument to the Discoveries. The latter was built in 1960 for the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, who stands at the prow of the monument with a ship tucked under his arm. It is a lovely stretch of waterfront, whether you go into the historic buildings or not.

Practicalities

Belém is easily reached by tram (no. 15) from the centre of Lisbon – indeed, the tram stops right outside the monastery. We purchased a combination ticket for the two historic attractions which would thereoretically have allowed us to jump the queue at the Torre de Belém, should there be one. However, despite the large number of coaches few tourists were actually venturing inside the tower (perhaps wisely) when we visited. The two historic buildings are about twenty minutes apart on foot.

As the Torre de Belém has a particularly tight staircase I can imagine this place being a nightmare to navigate in high season, despite the restriction on the number of visitors that can enter at any one time and the clever traffic light system they employ. However, it was fine during our visit.

Before our trip I had read some horror stories of the long queues to visit the monastery but there were none to speak of in mid-March, despite the fact that we were visiting at the weekend. Again, I can only imagine that this is not the case in high season.

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Hook, line and Sintra

Posted in Lisbon, Portugal, Sintra by folkestonejack on March 12, 2015

My plans for the spring originally revolved around a trip to see the remarkable Prison Railway in Rongshan (my third attempt) but when this line unexpectedly closed in November I needed to come up with a new destination. The first place that came to mind was Sintra, a rather remarkable spot just outside Lisbon which is home to an impressive collection of castles, palaces, parks and villas.

Palácio da Pena

Palácio da Pena

I must confess that I had never heard of Sintra until recently but have felt drawn to the spot ever since seeing the most incredible pictures of the colourful Palácio da Pena sitting astride a gloriously green forested landscape. The photographer in me was hooked instantly!

Sintra was granted the special status of ‘cultural landscape’ by UNESCO in 1995 with the observation that it held universal value for its ‘pioneering approach to Romantic landscaping’ which would later influence develoments across Europe. Nevertheless, the authors of the evaluation report concluded that it is difficult to find any true parallel in Europe, or indeed, the world.

There are too many sites to visit in one day, so we plan to use two days to cover the key attractions of Sintra – taking in the Palácio de Monserrate, Quinta da Regaleira and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra on the first day, followed by the Palácio da Pena and Moorish Castle on the second. Splitting the sites over two days should allow us to take our time at each location, rather than hurtling round and missing stuff in our drive to meet the schedule.

Although we could have stayed in Sintra itself we opted to make Lisbon our base and take the train in each morning (it is only a 39 minute journey with frequent trains throughout the day). In this way we could enjoy the beauty of Sintra in a leisurely fashion, but still enjoy the culinary delights (and sights) of the big city.

Sintra’s sights

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