Just getting out of town became a true adventure for our Forever Young group this year. The day we planned to leave all airline flights through New Jersey were cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. All of us were downcast at the thought that our trip might not happen and worried about the destruction coming for the east coast. United Airlines’ phones were jammed as Jeff and I made numerous calls. Finally, one of our cell phones got through and we were told there was a 60-minute wait. Three hours and 9 minutes later Jeff spoke with a live person who spent another hour on the phone re-routing our group of nine people through Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa Airlines. It was a scramble getting everyone alerted and to the airport, but we actually arrived in Lisbon only four hours later than originally planned.
We stayed in the Miraparque Hotel, a short distance from the subway station. The view out our windows included the Edward VII Park which extends to the top of a nearby hill and has geometric hedges marching up the center. From the top of the park, we could see a panoramic view down through a series of plazas to the River Tagus.
Lisbon is a city of seven hills, all of them paved in cobblestones. Our legs got a daily workout, for it felt very much like walking on a topographical map. The sidewalks weren’t always level-they sometimes bowed and dipped. Lisbon’s roofs are a stately orange tile; the streets are narrow and climb the hills. Plus, a large Moorish castle overlooks the city with a spectacular view from its battlements. We were transported in a number of vehicles-subway, buses, trams, funiculars and we even took a harbor tour that showed us Lisbon from the water.
An earthquake and tsunami in 1755 destroyed the city, so it was rebuilt afterward with a succession of plazas and stately statues among the buildings. Even the streets had designs in some areas-with waves from the tsunami made out of white and black stones figuring in the cobblestones. Despite its old world charm, the center of the city boasted many famous designers’ boutiques-Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent-and it seemed like all the well-dressed women in the city wore stylish high boots.
On one of the tours that took us into the countryside near Sintra, we saw the Pena Palace, a show place built by the former Portuguese monarch. The architecture there is a mixture of a Moorish design-with a blue dome on one side of the castle and a wooden drawbridge, medieval watch towers, terraces and turrets on the other. We enjoyed the gardens, the chapel and the museum on the top of the mountain, as well as a spectacular view of the scenery.
After lunch and shopping in the town of Sintra, we drove to the western-most landmark in Europe, Cabo de Roca, to see a wind-swept lighthouse that dates from 1772. Camoes, a well-known Portuguese poet, called it, “the point where earth ends and the sea begins.”
The sea-faring theme was evident especially when we saw the Monument to the Discoverers on the Tagus Harbor. This huge monument sports large statues of the Portuguese men who discovered the world from the sea-Henry the Navigator, Magellan, Vasco de Gama (and many other explorers)–men who discovered India, the spice trade and circumnavigated the globe.
A short walk away we visited the tower of Belem, a garrison that was once in the middle of the river manned with heavy guns pointed in every direction. Lisbon has been safe through many a war because of this watery outpost.
“Forever Young” provided one fun evening where we all attended a Fado show. We ate delicious carrot soup, fish and flan while we were serenaded by those who sing the blues-like strains of Fado, mournful, yearning songs about life and fate. Interspersed with the melancholy, the performers danced and sang lively folk songs dressed in Portuguese folk costumes. The locals knew the music and sang right along, while we applauded their efforts.
Another of our tours included a gourmet wine and food walking tour of Lisbon at night, where we climbed all seven of their hills, according to Lee Newman, one of our group members. During the trek, we tasted pastiche de Belem (a custard pastry on flaky fillo dough), Portuguese sausage and salted cod. Everyone had his or her favorite foods from the country, but we all agreed that Santini’s ice cream (gelato) was delicious (some of us went back three times for a cone. The strawberry was wonderful and the chocolate-ahh!)
The trip was a decided success, we enjoyed the culture, the Portuguese people and the landscape, and came home wondering where in the world we will visit next. Where would you like to go next? Join us in 2013 for the Forever Young Adventure!
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