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:: A Proper Lisbon Tour

Ahem.. Where was I? Oh right, Coimbra, windy, odd Chinese food. Tuesday we got up and caught the train back into Lisbon, the city that had intimidated us just days earlier. We still had a bit of the fear when we rolled into the train station, but this time we were equipped with a hotel reservation that guaranteed us shelter and a reason for being, provided we could find the hotel. Our public transit knowledge brought us within 10 blocks of the hotel, to a park where lots of older Portuguese men were playing unseen games (chess? dominos?) on stone tables. A cab driver stalked us and we were on our way. After a brief scare where the cab driver announced that he couldn't see any hotels near the address we'd given, we located the place, checked in, and happily collapsed on big beds meant for business travelers.

We could have just stayed at the hotel for the rest of the night, but oddly enough a phone book caught my eye. On the cover of it was a silhouette of that famous Portuguese castle that comes up when people mention Lisbon. "Hey, let's go there. What is that thing?" Amy consulted the guidebooks, found the place on the map, and warned me that they might be closing for the evening soon. We hurried down and grabbed a taxi, which was driven by a guy that seemed to take the rush hour traffic rather personally. He zipped us around to the waterfront, to a park with big monuments. Ah. There it was, the Torre de Belém (the Belém Tower).

In addition to being on the phone book, the Torre de Belém is famous because it was built in the river as a lookout tower in 1521. Since then, they've extended the river banks so you can just walk up to the thing, but it's still a cute place that looks like a miniature castle. We bought tickets and wandered about it until closing time.

From there we walked along the river bank until we came to the Monument of Discoveries. The MoD is a gigantic stone thing with a bunch of statues of Portuguese explorers (Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Henry the Navigator, etc) that are all lined up single file, looking towards the water. To us, it kind of looked like they were all taking a walk down the plank. The nice thing is that the queen and church figures are at the back of the line, giving everyone a good shove. We thought about getting behind the queen and giving her a push, but one thing we've learned is not to screw with another country's monuments.

Next we crossed the street to check out the Jerónimos Monastery. The books say it was a large monastery built near the river during the 16th century, and that it was financed through Portugal's spice tax. I assume the inside is all fancy-pants purty and what not. We got there after the doors were closed, so the best I can give you is this shot I took through the keyhole. Yep. It's a church.

It was starting to get a little dark, so we started looking for a place to eat in the area. As luck would have it, Amy spotted this cool kebob kind of place that looked like a college kind of hang out. They were super friendly in there, one of the cook guys was impressed that we had come all the way from California (aha.. there's our next travel tip. Don't tell people you're from the US, tell them you're from California. Ca is somehow much cooler, and not associated with US politics). Amy and I were overjoyed to be eating at a college hangout kind of place, especially since they had vegetarian options for her.

After dinner, we wandered down the street to Pastéis de Belém, which is probably the most famous Pasterias in Portugal. They've been around since 1837 and still have a secret recipe for their amazing pastries. The cafe was a labyrinth of oddly shaped rooms (try taking the tour on their website). I downed a lot of café com leite and several pastéls de nata. It was so good it made you think about quitting your job, learning Portuguese, and moving there. Ahh well. We strolled back to the bus stop, charted a route through the bus map, and caught a cross town bus that dropped us right by our hotel. Not a bad day at all..

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