Day 31 Lisbon

Last night we ate out at a Portugese restaurant just round the corner from our hotel – it had been recommended by the concierge. It was very busy with locals, always a good sign, and Howard and I ordered some fish and a sort of burger but without the bun. As the meal progressed, we noticed that virtually everyone else sat around us was eating this strange looking dish topped with a fried egg. It transpired that this local’s dish of choice was something called a ‘Top’ – a sausage from Porto, steak, cheese, ham, mortadella, fried egg and french fries, or as Howard referred to it, a ‘coronary on a plate’. Clearly everyone was enjoying it, but crumbs, the fat content doesn’t bear thinking about!
We realised this morning that the square footage of our bed last night was approximately four times the size of our living area in Oscar. So huge in fact was our bed, that we were rather overwhelmed by the space. It is extraordinary how quickly Howard and I have adapted to our ‘Hobbit-like’ existence in the van.
After breakfast, we set off for a suburb of Lisbon called Belem. Originally we had planned to catch a boat, but since we would have had to hang around for an hour before the next one, we opted to take the local tram instead. Trams are a big thing in Lisbon, and unlike the Edinburgh ones, they seem to be well used and to go to useful places.
The star attraction of Belem is the Monasteiro dos Jeronimas, which dates back to 1502. At the time, Vasco de Gamo had just discovered a trading route to India, and the profit made from selling spices helped to contribute to the construction costs. As we stepped off the tram, the queue for the monastery was immense. Not being great ones for queues, we went off to explore the tropical Botanic Gardens instead, which hosts a profusion of birdlife. The only people we saw there were British. Spring was definitely in the air this morning – cocks were crowing at their hens, Muskovy ducks were doing it, and a pair of peacocks were making a right exhibition of themselves. I had always thought that the male peacocks displayed the colourful iridescent feathers at their women, but not this pair. They strutted around with their feathers fanned out, but as they both approached this very nonchalant female peahen, they suddenly turned tail, and wiggled their bottoms at her. Well, she was having none of it – she barely looked up from her grazing, whilst the two men made themselves look like right Charlies, twerking at the lady!
Next we ventured up the observation tower on the seafront. It looks out over the marina, the monastery, and also a tiled map of the world decorating the square below. This happily filled half an hour, by which time the queue for the monastery had subsided (so long, it transpired, because locals gain free access on a Sunday morning). It was well worth the wait. The cloisters were stunning, on two storeys, around a central garden. The stairs climbing up to the second storey were made of white granite, made shiny and worn away from centuries of wear. You could just imagine the monks processing up these stairs all that time ago. I was taken by the sheer numbers of tourists taking ‘selfies’ of themselves, striking various poses, paying little attention to this stunning environment. I do really think that this reflects a modern day narcissism, and I sometimes see a glint in Howard’s eyes – I fear he may develop a photo-bombing habit! It’s our last night in Lisbon, and I am planning another Hendrick’s. Tomorrow we are having a total contrast, and heading for the countryside again.

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