I only had a few days to spare in Lisbon, so I headed straight to BELEM and spent the whole day there. It’s Lisbon’s most historical and cultural area, a place where there’s everything for everyone (We’ve-got-it-all-for-you lang ang peg ‘teh!).
It was from here that many of the great Portuguese explorers embarked on their voyages of discovery: Prince Henry the Navigator and the first overseas expedition to conquer Ceuta in Morocco, Bartholomeu Dias to round the Cape of Good Hope, the first voyages of Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama to discover the sea route to India, and Christopher Columbus stopped here on his way back to Europe after discovering the New World.
Across Rossio square, I took a tram (a tourist attraction in itself!) and discovered more of the city.
TRAVELER’s TIP: You can buy a Lisboa card that gives you access to trams, metro & buses or you can buy a one-way ticket from the tram driver. Better to prepare your coins beforehand.
I was warned that there could be pickpockets inside the tram as there are a lot of tourists. Good thing, I didn’t experience any of that. Thinking about it, I have never experienced anything bad in my entire travelling adventure. (knock on wood) And as a solo traveler here in Lisbon, I feel generally safe walking around even late at night. Well, it’s important to be always conscious of your surroundings and to take care of your personal belongings.
Not knowing exactly where to go, I followed a group of students that got off the tram.
Looking around, I see Belem’s strong mix of history and modernity.
Down the road, I noticed this pink structure called Palácio Nacional de Belém (Belém National Palace). It is supposed to be the best place to see the regal grandeur of 18th century Lisbon and of the European royal families. Too bad I don’t have any images to prove that because I didn’t go inside 😉
The main reason why I came to Belem was to check out its modern art museum and taste its famous egg tarts.
ART & FOOD is what I consume and it is also what consumes me. I’ve been having this discussion with people I’ve met here (about what it is that consumes them). I’ve been fascinated with this idea for years now which I turned into an exhibition (I Consume therefore I Am). Let’s talk about this consumption discussion and my visit to Berardo Museum (museum of modern & contemporary art) in another blog entry. For now, let us continue our exploration.
One couldn’t miss this gothic architecture called the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery),which is considered to be a world heritage monument.
It was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success. The monastery was populated by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome (Hieronymites), whose spiritual job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul.
Tired feet and hungry tummy, I found comfort inside Pastéis de Belem. Thankfully, I was able to find myself a free table which I eventually shared with 2 russians (mother & daughter). I then hungrily sink my teeth into its famous pastel de nata with its crispy shell & soft center – it was yummy! I gulped it down with some good, sweet and milky coffee – just the way aha aha I lavet.
During Portuguese medieval history, the convents and monasteries of Portugal produced large quantities of eggs, whose egg-whites were in demand for starching of clothes (such as nuns’ habits) and also in wineries (where they were used in the clearing of wines, such as Porto). It was quite common for these Portuguese monasteries and convents to produce many confections with the leftover egg yolks, resulting in a proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.
Now energized and with a happy tummy, I crossed the underpass and walked up close the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). From afar it looked like a giant sail with a cross but when I walked on the side, I discovered all these sculptures facing the sea. It was truly an impressive structure!
It represents a three-sailed ship ready to depart, with sculptures of important historical figures such as King Manuel I carrying an armillary sphere, poet Camões holding verses from The Lusiads, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Cabral, and several other notable Portuguese explorers, crusaders, monks, cartographers, and cosmographers, following Prince Henry the Navigator at the prow holding a small vessel. The only female is queen Felipa of Lancaster, mother of Henry the navigator, the brain of the discoveries.
While waiting for the tram to go home, I met this tourist who enumerated the famous landmarks in Belem and asked me if I visited each of them. I didn’t need to see everything, and because I’m by myself, I only have to go to places I feel like going to and check out things that I’m interested in. So, no I didn’t see everything, but I’m good 🙂
The tourist turned out to be a nice Brazilian who also paid for my fare. We continued talking inside the tram, we talked about our impressions of Lisbon, our lives in each others countries and also our families. We got off the same stop, shook hands and parted ways. “It is so nice to meet you, you are a brave girl. Enjoy your European adventure.”
Yep, I surely will 😀