Friday, January 6, 2012

Lisbon - Day 2

The second day started by exploring another parts of Lisbon called Baixa and Chiado. I quite liked the names. The first stop was to see the ruins of Carmo Convent. Just behind the train station Rossio, one can go up the alley to reach there. On the way, I spotted a lovely building which was actually a Cafe´. I found it quite charming !!

The ruins of Carmo Convent and its Gothic styled church gives a heart touching feeling of the earthquake of 1755. The tall columns and arcs were what was left of it. After checking out the ruins of Carmo Convent, I decided to see the famous elevator nearby to capture a top view of central Lisbon. This was the Santa Justa Lift. There was a cafe´ at the top and a guy working there called me up. He was a Punjabi from India. He casually offered me free coffee and was quite eager to have a chitchat with me. We talked about Europe, the current political and economical situation in Portugal etc.

From there I went to the two churches I could see nearby. One of them was Igreja Paroquial de São Nicolau or the Church of Saint Nicholas. It had a beautifully painted ceiling. Even though my sister comes from arts background and has explained me many times how people used to paint such pieces of art with such perfection in old times, I am still always left with a feeling of disbelief as how can they be so perfect. The ceiling below is from the same place.

The one below is from the Basílica de Nossa Senhora dos Mártires or the Basilica of Our Lady of Martyrs. The interiors of this church were pretty lavish with marbles and all.


After checking these out, I got to know that there is a special underground archeological museum open for public once a day [Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros]. It is below a bank and the bank runs just one tour everyday. I was quite interested in checking it out since I had never seen a museum underground. The day before, I had booked a place for the tour from a phone booth near the castle in the evening. After the tour, I must say that it was worth every minute of it. A very friendly lady gave us the tour and was quite excited to see an Indian amongst the visitors. She pretty much knew everything about Goa and the Portuguese in India.

The museum was not actually an exhibition of specimens from the past but actually like a walk in the past. There were different layers to it dating back to the Romans, the Moors etc. How they lived, where they cooked, their well, their graveyard, everything was well preserved. They even had a skeleton in one of the graves. The most unique part of this museum was that the moisture was meticulously controlled at a particular level. The reason was one of the most astonishing facts of Lisbon which I learned. The whole town was built not on concrete or stone as its foundation but on wooden logs. The underground moisture and water from the Tagus river keeps the logs wet thus preventing them from cracking. You could even see it with your own eyes. It was quite amazing and a recommended visit from my side.

In one section of the entry level of the museum were some artifacts from the past of Lisbon on display. One of them which caught my special attention was the one below in the photo. After checking out from the tour lady I got know a rather amusing fact about it. In olden days, women used to pray to the statue of a saint to ask for a good husband. Those who used to not get a good one usually chopped the head off the statue as a ritual. A weird one but an interesting one.

At the top floor of the museum (which was at the street level), was another unique exhibition. In June, there was this Festas de Lesboa, a local festival celebrated in Lisbon every year. One of the event during this festival is to make innovative designs based on Sardines. There were hundreds of entries by many contestants and the organizers had taken enough pain to sort and arrange the best of them for this exhibition. They had photographed them and put on vertical displays as below.  

There were some original ones also kept there. It was hard for me to pick the best one. But this is one of the displays which I liked.

It was already noon by then so I decided to have lunch first. The food and all was pretty cheap there as compared to other major towns of central Europe.

The next stop was Igreja de Sao Roque or the Church of Saint Roch. Now this came as quite a surprise to me. The church had a pretty modest exterior. But once you enter it, you realize the grandeur of the place. It was glittering all around with golden colors. Another unique thing about this church was that there were several chapels in the main church. One of the most interesting which I found can be seen below, was the Chapel of Our Lady of Piety.

I was so impressed with this one that I even took some closeups on some parts of this chapel. One of which is below. This is the closeup of the left side of the photo above. The intricate details of the sculptures just blew me off.

An interesting incident happened while visiting this Church. The Church had a small museum also next to it. I went there and found out that there was a fee to see it. I was having some doubts whether to see it or not since I am not very familiar with Catholic history and all their saints. While I was standing there making up my mind, a guy working there came to me and asked, "Are you from India ?" I said yes. He was quite excited to see an Indian guy and asked me if I wanted to see the museum. I said yes but I also told him I was not sure if I should spend money on visiting it. He said, "No problem, just go and see it". What ?????? I asked him if he was sure. He said, "Yes. The Portuguese have a special connection with India. And if you have come so far to see Lisbon, then you must also see this museum". It was a moment of pride. Being recognized as an Indian and getting appreciated is not what I commonly experience in central Europe. So, I thanked him and checked out the museum, for free :) Like I said before, Lisbonites are very very generous people.

Now, Lisbon has two very not-so-unique places to visit. It is a copy of the San Fransisco Golden Gate Bridge and the statue of Christ like in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil here called Christo Rei. To see them one has to cross the mainland commonly using a ferry over the Tagus river to reach another region of Lisbon called Almada

After reaching Almada, I did something terribly wrong. I had this misconception that Chrito Rei was at a walkable distance from the ferry port. So, I decided to walk along the river on a narrow trail. I saw a restaurant with a table at one of the most romantic places possible. Just next to the river overlooking central Lisbon. I am sure it would have be breathtaking from there in the evening. A photo below from there. 

After walking quite a while, I found a big lift which took me above the hill. The photo below is from the lift. I thought that, this is it !! Christo Rei would be pretty close by. 

I was wrong and I made a big blunder there by deciding to walk all the way up to the statue. I wanted to see the local residential area as well but did not actually correctly calculated the distance. So I walked quite a lot to reach the top where the Statue of Christ was located. I almost lost my way since I did not even had a map of this side of Lisbon.The streets were completely empty since it was afternoon and pretty hot. Luckily, I found a middle aged woman carrying huge bags of groceries in both her hands. Just like I underestimated the distance, I think she underestimated the weight and was struggling. I went to her to ask the way. Very calmly and patiently, she explained me the way. I asked her if I could help her with the bags. She thought for a while and handed both of them to me saying, yes they are pretty heavy for me. I walked along with her to her house and thanked her for guiding me through the route. Finally, I made it to Chriso Rei, which was pretty huge. The cool breeze and the view from the top of the hill overlooking Lisbon made up for all the efforts to reach this place.

I took the wise man's way back to reach the port for the ferry by taking a bus. I was already getting too late so I decided to check out the place called Belem. It is the famous place from where Vasco da Gama made his voyages, particularly the one to India. Since I was quite tired so I took the tram from the ferry station to Belem. There was a very famous and old pastry shop / cafe´ in this area and I decided to check it out. The recipe of the pastries sold here is still a well kept secret till today and dates back to 1837. They serve a special kind of pastry with a crunchy outer cup like thing filled with something which tasted like soft pudding. Cinnamon is sprinkled on the top and the taste is simply heavenly. It had just the right kind sweetness for my taste buds. The interiors of the shop wee also pretty vintage. 

Very close to the pastry shop was this huge structure of one of the biggest highlight of Lisbon, the Manueline styled Jerominos Monastery. The place where lies the tomb of Vasco da Gama. The church became the place of worship for sailors coming and going from Lisbon. Even Vasco da Gama prayed here before stating his first voyage to India and finally rests here after his death. Below is the main entrance to the Church. A highly sculpted entrance, and specially the top of the door shows the sailors with a ship. The inside was huge. At the time I was there, there were some prayers going on so did not got the chance to get to the front. But definitely checked out the tomb of Vasco

Below is the view from a distance of the Monastery in the background with a huge fountain in the foreground. The place was quite big with gardens on the sides and gave you a very relaxing feel.

Taking the underway from near the fountain, I reached the other side of the road where stood the Discoveries Monument. Just at the foot of the huge structure was this map of the world where the Portuguese voyagers went. I got to know later that this was gifted by South Africa to Lisbon. Like a regular desi, I got a picture clicked with me pointing to India.

Below is the Discoveries Monument with the bridge in the background connecting the Almada region. This structure was made to commemorate the sailors, voyagers, monks, kings of the region who stand there on the monument. 

From there I walked towards the Belem Tower, which was my final destination of the day. This was a fortified tower built in the 16th century on the banks of Tagus river. It was made primarily as a defense system at the mouth of Tagus for the port and entry to the region. It still stands there today and serves as an icon of Lisbon.

The day ended for me with that. I was pretty exhausted by this time so decided to head back to the hotel.

A nice snapshot taken while on my way back from Belem in the tram. Another exciting day came to an end with it.


Gayatri said...

Wow! I'm getting a total tour of the place through your posts. Whenever I visit, I'll already know everything :)

Tangerine said...

I had always, and I mean ALWAYS overlooked Lisbon on a tourist map. But the place is a beauty,
A lot of renaissance inspiration here and there. said...

Well Gayatri, you wont know it all unless you visit it :)

And Tangerine, an architect like yourself can be a better judge of the place :)

Vetrimagal said...

Wow, So interesting. Those places are so huge, and decorated, wonderful pictures and write up. The discovery monument , never knew there was one. No wonder, they will venerate Vasco da Gama. He changed a lot of things! didn't he.

You are a lucky person to travel so much! said...

Glad to know that you liked it, Vetrimagal :)