Descent From Palmela And Another Magical Meeting

In our last episode, our intrepid travellers embarked on an adventure full of distant train stations, steep switchbacks, and chance meetings with intensely interesting people.  But it was time to hit “post” and they were still on top of Castelo Palmela, trying to determine their next move.  Will they make it down in one piece?  Will Cindy ever see Setubol?  Will Mark get his mid-afternoon espresso?  Read on…

It was getting toward 6pm and our amazing day in Palmela had to end. We were tired, footsore and hungry. Reluctantly, we made for the train station.  

But we were also feeling extra happy and brave, so we decided to take the gravel short cut back to the train station. Remember, it was on the map app, and we could see the path clear as day. So off we went, hand in hand. We were walking through the Portuguese countryside, just as we had dreamed, and if it was only for a few kilometres between towns that was just fine.


What comes up must go down, right?
Things got a little interesting though, when the map showed a fork in the road and we couldn’t see the fork. Oh there it is – our route was no longer a road, but a walking path. Then a little further, it got smaller still, to a single bike track. Then the barbed wire fences and the ‘Private Property’ signs. (At least I think that’s what they said, they were in Portuguese.)
Soon, the muddy descent on a now washed out path. But the path is on an app! It has to be real! As we descended the hill, the fences kept narrowing towards us on the left and right. We were being funnelled to a point, but couldn’t tell if there was a break in the fence at the point.  Just when I figured I’d have to boost Cindy over some barbed wire, there was a break in the fence so we didn’t have to wreck our new travel clothes. At least not this time.


Finally, we were near some houses again. Gated estates, actually. With high walls and lots of noisy dogs, enraged at the intrusion on their domain by two tasty looking Canadians who straggled down the back of their property. Luckily, the path (which had now widened to a trail again) led between two of these estates and we nervously stumbled back onto the highway. Right near a McDonalds no less. We were in Aires again, and limped the final 2 km to the station relieved that we actually knew where we were going. No more map apps tonight. 

Looking back up the hill. I looked easier from the top!

We stumbled on the train and headed back to Lisbon.  I was so tired.  I tried to watch the three young folks play cards beside us but could never figure out their game, and besides, I kept nodding off in the middle of the hand.  But I was also very, very hungry.  We resolved to find a place to eat between our metro station and the big hill right before our flat, no matter what.

There was an interesting looking side alley just before the big hill that Cindy had wanted to check out all week, so this time we went down.  It quickly forked into two even smaller allies, with three restaurants all in a row (left side, middle point and right side.) Left side was too fancy; white tablecloths and black aprons.  The middle point looked really good, but only had empty tables outside, and we were too cold to eat outdoors tonight.  

Right side was different.  Colourful.  Lively music you could hear from the street.  Tables mostly full, but room indoors.  Menu on a chalkboard.  We figured why not and went inside. Called Tas’Ka, it looked like a coffee bar or lunch counter that had been repurposed to be  a restaurant.  But it sure smelled good.  

They serve African food that is representative of the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique.  It had only been open for a week and all the food was created and cooked by a lady we could watch from our seats. She was legit; cooking Real African Food,  just like mom and grandma.  At least according to Anna Dika, the lady seated beside us, who is without a doubt the biggest fan of Tas’Ka.  

Over the course of or meal, Anna helped us order and checked in on every course to make sure we liked it (we did.)  She was appalled that we were drinking water, so got us two glasses of wine so we could taste the food properly.  When we didn’t order one of her favourite dishes, she made sure our waiter brought some by to taste.  

If that wasn’t enough, it turned out that tonight was our waiter Clarence’s birthday.  Anna and six or seven other people were at the restaurant to make sure Clarence was celebrating properly.  Cake was served.  Shots were poured.  Songs were sung, including Portuguese Happy Birthday, which we were lucky enough to know already (we learned the Brazilian version and it was close enough.) So we made two new friends and had cake too.

Once our bellys were completely full, and Anna had filled my notebook with places to eat in Alentejo (our next destination), we were allowed to leave Tas’Ka.  We got back to our flat and were fast asleep in under 10 minutes, I’m sure.  

What a day! Other than seeing the castle in Palmela, we didn’t do a single thing we had planned.  But we had a month’s worth of adventures in a single day.  That’s what travel is all about – I just never thought it would happen to me.  But I really hoped it would.  I’m a lucky guy.

To Belem and Back Again

Friends of Orange Boot Filipe and Linda both recommended a day trip to Belem, so we headed down to the train station right after my morning trip to the pasteleria. We went to a new one this morning, a block down from yesterdays’s adventure and whoo boy was it humming.  A man and woman plating pastries as fast as they could.  Another woman constantly pulling shots.  And another man running – and I mean running – to take food and drinks to tables and return with empty cups and plates.  I barely nudged him with my pack while standing at the bar and I knocked him right out of orbit!  He kept his stack of plates together, barely, but asked us to take a seat after that.The coffee was even better than yesterday and the pastries were great too, but we’ll try a new place tomorrow.  This one was so busy I was quite intimidated.  

And then further down the road to the Mercado da Ribeira, a large indoor market right by the train station, to pick up some fruit for the train ride.  According to our guidebooks, this is the main market, the Granville Island or Pike Place of Lisbon, if you will, but we must’ve got there late because there wasn’t much going on.  Fruit, vegetable, flower, fish and meat vendors, to be sure, but no shoppers.  

The other half of the market was a series of restaurant booths.  Like a big food court but with really good looking food, all cooked in open kitchens.  It looked really nice, although all the cooks looked very serious indeed.  We didn’t stop to eat as it wasn’t noon yet and we had a train to catch.

We’re still getting used to the locals here, especially with regard to the weather.  By the time we reached the train station, which was right along the river, we were down to shirt sleeves.  The sun was out, the wind was calm and it was warm – already 15C.  One  cafe had beach chairs along the water and they were full up with tourists sunning themselves with drinks at hand.  But the locals?  Winter coats and scarves still.  I wonder when spring arrives for them?


Tourists sunning themselves beside the river.  The locals are still wearing winter clothes!

We were expecting a long ride.  The guidebook said 30 minutes by tram and a friend said 40 minutes.  So we made sure to grab nice seats and hunkered down for the ride.  The train was hot and stuffy.  I had a pretty good sweat going and started looking for a window to open but then looked around and everyone else had heavy coats and scarves on.  I guess it still wasn’t warm enough.  So I did some Mark-style meditation and breathing exercises to slow my heart down and cool myself from the inside.

The train rolled and we came up to one of the two big bridges that span the river.  This one looks a lot like the Golden Gate in San Francisco.  It towered over us and over the city as the freeway passed over the houses to meet the road half way up the hill.  As we went under the bridge, Cindy pointed out the spot where we took pictures of the aqueduct yesterday (the aqueduct goes over the freeway once it meets the hill.

Then the train slowed down and we were at Belem station.  


Huh?  We were on the train less than 5 minutes!  How can this be Belem?  

We got off, found a bench and checked the map.  Belem was not much more than 5km from our flat!  We had pretty much walked there yesterday and didn’t know it!  I think what happened is that the 30-40 minute estimates were for trams.  Lots of stops and travelling though the hilly, narrow streets of Lisbon.  But the train is a straight shot on level ground.  Much, quicker.

So, Belem.  Very, very nice.  Like, gorgeous!  The touristy bits of the area are all along the water and it’s quite beautiful.  

First you have the river, with a nice walking promenade and an immense sculpture, the Tower of Belem.  The tower sticks out over the river like the prow of a Portuguese caravel, which is exactly the point.  The tower commemorates the Portuguese explorers who were among the very first to colonize much of Africa, Asia and South America (plus coming to Newfoundland too.)  These were the first fellows to bring the riches of the world “home” to the motherland. 

(That’s going to be a common theme on this trip, I’m afraid, so I’ll say it once and be done with it.  Vast riches were secured by a few people, often from colonies around the world.  These riches, and the people of the colonies too, were used to build the magnificent buildings Cindy and I will see all over the trip.  We’re taught to feel guilty about all that today, or at least I do, even though we live in a former colony too.  But still.  These buildings and squares and statues are magnificent.  So I’m going to enjoy them.  End of downers…)

After the river comes a strip of beautiful, manicured parks.  Three in all, each with a central statue or fountain, smooth paths and lots and lots of benches.  


Beyond the parks is the Main Street, full of colourful houses, then full shops and bars, and then a splendid palace and museum.  The street was crowded with tourists (including these two from Saskatchewan) so we made one pass then moved inland, to stroll through the neighbourhood a little.  We found houses, the football stadium, then lots of gates and barbed wire.  There are several embassies in Belem, and we passed Austria, South Korea, Japan and Peru before we were back downtown.


Belem is famous for a specific pastry, pastel de nata.  It is a custard tart, ideally served warm and was invented in Belem in 1837.  The shop that made the tart famous is still there and still making them. And even though you can buy pastel de nata in every pasteleria in Lisbon, there was a line out the door at this shop.  They’ve apparently done quite well in the past 175 years, since they now have a 400 seat restaurant to go with their takeout line.   We passed, then came back an hour later when the line was gone and bought two tarts plus a pair of duck and mushroom pastries for supper.  We ate them in the nearby park.  Delicious!  The custard is just slightly sweet and it is a real treat when still warm.  Well worth going to the source!


After another stroll through the parks, we went back to Lisbon and up to the top of Parque Edouardo VII, which we enjoyed so much yesterday.  But instead of a side trip to aqueducts, we walked back to our flat down the middle – the Avenue de Libertadores.  Two large pedestrian promenades lined with shops so fancy I hadn’t heard of most of them.  We stopped for my afternoon espresso and then took a quick left so Cindy could see one of the “elevators”, a tram on a track that goes up and down the steepest streets.  Wow, and I thought we’d been up some steep roads!


The elevator was at the foot of a magical series of narrow streets and alleyways known as the Restauradores district.  You guessed it.  Restaurants!  Theatres too.  The already narrow streets were full of tables.  Each group of tables had a waiter or restaurant owner with a menu to show to passers by.  “Sir, look at my fish in the window!”  “Remember, our name is Santiago!”  And some of the theatres had huge lines of kids camped out for tickets.  I couldn’t figure out who was playing though.  


It was another long day of walking, so we grabbed a quick dinner, checked on the kids then went to bed before we could look at our pictures.  So this post will be a little late.  But we have another big day tomorrow so need to sleep!

An Ode to My Thighs:  How Two Prairie Folk Spent The Day In Lisbon

I don’t know if it was jet lag, the firm mattress, or the intense cold in our flat but I slept like I haven’t slept in years.  Cindy finally gave me a kick at 9:30 and mentioned we might want to leave the apartment.  So after navigating the teeny shower I dressed in outfit #2 and we hit the cobblestones.

My day was complete in the first 20 minutes.  We stopped in at a nearby pasteleria (pastry shop / snack bar) for breakfast like the locals: standing at the bar.  I had a delicious coffee and croissant while Cindy had fresh squeezed orange juice and a sausage pastry.  We were standing between a sweet old lady having the same coffee as me (I wasn’t too shy to point and ask for what she was having) and a young businessman who was in an out while I was still figuring out what to order.

I was over the moon happy.  I’ve been wanting to have a standup pastry & espresso breakfast “European style” simply for ever.  I’m so glad Sabine used to have her coffee and croissant standing at our hutch when she came to the bakery.  Now I know why she did; what seemed sweet but different in Regina is just the way it’s done here.  And there is literally a pasteleria every block here.  Sometimes two or three!

After breakfast, we walked over to the Feira da Ladra (“the market of thieves”) in the Alfama district.  It was only 3km away but was quite the hike.  They say Lisbon is the City of Seven Hills and I think we covered two of them getting to the market.  We went through Barrio Alto, then Baixa, up and around the back of the castle (Castelo de San Jorge) to a huge cathedral.  Behind and beside the cathedral was a huge arch; we passed through the arch into one of the craziest flea markets ever.

The market was full of, well, everything.  Used books, original art, bowls of old coins, packets of stamps and postcards, posters, and handicrafts.  But also whatever junk and tchotchkes one might have picked up over the years.  Piles of old clothes.  Handmade shoes.  A blanket covered with old, used, possibly hot cell phones.  A bucket of bolts.  Records.  That sort of thing.

We walked around the market and snapped a few pictures, including a stamp and postcard seller for my buddies at the club, and then headed into Alfama.  The Alfama district is renowned for its tight, maze like streets.  I’ve never seen anything like them in all my life.  There was no alley too narrow for a pasteleria, maybe a restaurant, a shop and apartments.  If it was wider it might have a parking garage or even a service station.  We wandered around for an hour or more and pressed tight against the wall if a car (or tram!) came past.

And Filipe wanted me to rent a car! 

Being in such tight quarters let us take a good look at some of the buildings.  As can be expected in an area that tight, it’s a continuous line of 3-4 story row houses, with the walls coming to within 12-18 inches of the street.  Most of the time you couldn’t walk two abreast without one person having to walk on the street.  But the best part was the tiles!  Many of the buildings were covered in traditional ceramic tiles making a colourful pattern on the wall.  Mostly they were just patterns but we saw one building with tiles making a scene across the whole wall.  I guess this is traditional Portuguese decoration for buildings, and it’s beautiful.

After stopping for a quick lunch (sandwiches and fresh lemonade) we walked to the metro station and took the train up to Parque Eduardo VII.

View from right outside the train station

This is a very fancy area, with five star hotels all over the place, but we went to see the park.  It starts with a huge statue in the middle of a roundabout, then a massive green space with a tree lined promenade on either side.

Promenades like this just scream “Europe” to me!

Halfway up the park

The promenade has a substantial slope to it.  We walked and walked to the very top, where there are four large pillars and a big fountain.  The view from the top of the park was amazing!  You could see all the way to the river and  see the castle where we were for lunch just a couple of hours earlier.  It was stunning.

View from the top! Water in the distance, castle on the hill in the distant left

We rested at the top of the park for a while then hiked off to find another, smaller park nearby.  Cindy had read about this park in her guidebook – it was right in the shadow of an ancient aqueduct that runs through Lisbon.  What a site!  The park was well treed and shady (nice as we were getting toasted in the sun,) there was a coffee bar at one end and little playground for the kids beside it.  Now we’re talking!  We need one of these park/coffee bars in my neighbourhood!

Cindy wanted to see more of the aqueduct so we followed it as best we could till we found a park dedicated to it, about a kilometre or so up the road.  For a small fee you can walk along the top of the aqueduct and get some cool views.  We didn’t really want to get any higher but we walked along it for a few more blocks and got some great snapshots of the aqueduct crossing a freeway and curving off to another hill in the distance.

Then it was a long, twisty, mostly downhill (unless I screwed up the directions) walk back to our flat.  We decided to eat in so after we cooled off a bit we walked down to a nearby market for some vegetables and tried our best to get the oven to work.  We got it figured out and made a nice, simple meal.  And we only blew the main breaker once!

This isn’t even the steepest alley. At least there’s a railing!

Tip of the Day:  A huge thank you to our friend Deborah, who recommended we download the app for our phones.  I had a map of Portugal on the phone that I could access off-line.  And it could route walking directions!  It saved us in the Alfama.  We never would’ve found the market and for sure we wouldn’t have found the aqueducts without it.  Thanks Deborah!