Spain and Portugal
September 16 - October 4, 2014
On the Road to Portugal
We had a long day ahead on the bus as we traveled to Portugal. To break up the trip we visited a horse farm in the region of Alentejo where we were served lunch in a lovely setting in a converted barn. Following lunch, Alberto translated the owner's account on how her family had lost their land to communists, the hardships they encountered and how they gained their land back. There was also a short presentation with their horses in an arena.
Portugal has the largest cork-oak forest (photo left). Cork bark is stripped off for the first time when a tree is 25 years old. Afterwards, it can be harvested every nine years. While in Lisbon we saw shops selling lots of items made of cork such as handbags, shoes and belts.
We spent three nights at the Hotel Mundial (near the castle), another busy hotel catering to tour groups. The location was good and many places were walkable. Someone at the front desk was nice enough to charge my phone.
Everywhere we went on the trip we visited ancient cities and Lisbon was no acception. Part of the city was first settled by the Phoenicians in the 12th century BC. Our primary tour stop was in Belem where we viewed the Hieronymite Monastery that is so large it took 100 years to complete (unfortunately, it was closed on the day we visited), the Tower that was originally designed in 1514 as a fortress, and the Monument of Discoveries, erected in 1960, is shaped like a caravel, one of the famous ships that helped Portugal become one of the most powerful countries in the world. At the front of the monument is Henry the Navigator.
Alberto bought us pasteis de nata, warm custard tarts -- a Portuguese specialty. There is a bakery in Belem famous for them. One pastry was great -- more would have been wonderfully decadent.