Monday, July 25, 2022

Portugal's Cabo De Roca: The Western Tip of Europe

After visiting the Moores Castle near Sintra, Portugal, we return to the Hop on Hop Off bus for the 45-minute trip to Cabo De Roca.  The ride is full of incredible scenery through the coastal mountains of the Sintra area.                                                        

While riding the bus to Cabo De Roca, we sat next to a family.  They had two boys, about 5 and 7.  They were cutting up on the bus, wrestling in their seats.  The mother scolded them.  I told her, "we have two sons now in their 30's." So she asked, did they behave like that.  I said, of course, boys will be boys, that two brothers close in age will have a special bond like my two sons." You could see they had it too. 

I wanted to say that you'll miss even the wicked things boys do when they grow up.  Enjoy it while you can.  Before I could say it, we had come to our stop at Cape Roca.  There was only time to tell you two have some great-looking sons, she said thank you, and we exchanged, have a nice day.  It was nice to have that exchange, and I remember traveling with our sons when they were that age. 

Cabo De Roca is at the very western tip of the European Continent.  It was windy, so windy you had trouble standing up.  It actually made it kind of fun.  The monument signifies Europe's most geographical western point, a very important tourist landmark.  Imagine the sailors in the 1400s; sailing off into the unknown, hoping to win the lottery of discovery.  Imagine their anticipation and the dreams that they had.                          

Now to make the trek back to Lisbon.  After visiting the monument and walking along the cliffs, we catch the bus back to the Sintra train station.  After catching the train back to Lisbon's main train station,  After a short walk back to our condo, we reflected on a great trip.  More memories were made; what a great time. 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Sintra Portugal: The Castle of the Moor's

The trip to Sinatra, Portugal, is like going to the Biltmore in North Carolina.  Instead of just one large palace, there are 6 stately mansions originally built for Portuguese Royalty.  I wanted to see the Moorish fortifications and Roca Cape, the most western point on the European Continent.  We also got to see some dead Moores too.  Poor guys, it's always sad when a soldier dies so far away from home.  Even if it happened 800 years ago.

We leave Lisbon at the Rossio train station, a short walk from our Airbnb.  After about a 40-minute train ride, we arrive in Sintra.  Once there, we immediately buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus, which stops at the Sintra Train Station.   This is a National Portuguese vacation spot.  There is more to see here than can be accomplished in one day.  So we have a plan to visit the Moorish Fort and the Cape. 

The Castle of the Moors (Portuguese: Castelo dos Mouros) is a hilltop medieval castle located in the central Portuguese civil parish of Santa Maria e São Miguel, in the municipality of Sintra, about 25 km (16 mi) northwest of Lisbon.  It was an important strategic point during the Reconquista, part of the Christian forces' reconquest of the Iberian Penisula.  The Moors built the Castle fortifications in the 8th and 9th centuries.   It was eventually taken by Christian forces after the fall of Lisbon in 1147.  

It's about a half-mile hike to Moors Castle.  Once there, it's an impressive sight; with high stone walls, it commands a view of the ocean and the northern approach to Lisbon.  It's not hard to imagine soldiers standing guard on the lookout for invading forces.   We spend a couple of hours walking to the Castle walls and towers.   We have lunch in the Castle Cafe and snack shop.  Afterward, we return to the Bus stop and are off to the Roca De Cape.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Lisbon, Portugal: Europe at a Slower Pace

Unlike Rick from Casablanca, we made the plane to Lisbon, and I'm glad we did.  Portugal and Lisbon have always been places I've wanted to visit ever since seeing that movie.  It holds a certain amount of mystery to me.  You don't hear much about Lisbon and Portugal in the world news.  It seems like a little bit of the backwater of Europe.  The slower pace seems inviting, and the people are some of the friendliness I have been around.   

We stayed right off Rossi Square at the base of Castelo De St George.  We tried to walk up to an overlook the day we arrived, but it was closed for maintenance.  Several other tourists did the same thing.  Along the way, several street fairs were going on.  All the street graffiti art along the way was not lost and made the trip worth wild.  

Lisbon has an ancient feeling, unlike other European cities except for Rome.  It seems this is due to its Moorish and African influences. Some of the food that is Portuguese cuisine are olives, sardines, and octopus.  I tried all 3 tonight for dinner.  I was very surprised by the octopus on how tender (melt in your mouth) and smooth it was.   

Over the next few days, we got into the meat of Lisbon.  The Portuguese are proud of their colonial history, with monuments to their explorations everywhere.  Lots of Brazilian Tourists.  We went to the Arch of Triumph and Castle at Belem, the ceremonial starting point of all those 16th Centuries explorers you learned about in High School. Which is near their Naval center and the tomb of the unknown soldier.  We also discovered that the pigeons eat well here, scavenging at all the major monuments. 

The view from Lisbon's St. George Castle commands the city and waterfront.  Although human habitation of the castle hill is thought to begin around the 8th Century BC.  "The hill on which Saint George's Castle stands has played an important part in the history of Lisbon, having served as the location of fortifications occupied successively by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors before its conquest by the Portuguese in the 1147 Siege of Lisbon.  Since the 12th century, the castle has served as a royal palace, a military barracks, the Torre do Tombo National Archive home, and now as a national monument and museum." 

Some perspective here, this all happened 300 years before Columbus and 600 years before the American Revolution.  After touring the castle, we walk through the Alfama, one of Lisbon's oldest neighborhoods, originally settled by Portuguese sailors,  

On our last day in Lisbon, we are taking a down day to pack for our trip to Madrid.  It's been fun here in Lisbon, and we learned a lot.  The country is surprisingly diverse, with the population reflecting its colonial past.  It's a great example of the Columbian Exchange (world trade after Columbus), With Brazil being the most closely connected with Portugal.  Well, we decided to take one last walk-thru Town.  I'm glad that we did.  We saw some neat stuff and a completely different view of the city.

Just some thoughts on Lisbon and Portugal.  The climate is much like Southern California.  Hot and dry summers and very mild winters, not much humidity.  It's easy to see why Portugal has 640K ex-pats living here.  It is one of the most inexpensive countries in the EU to live in.  The cost of living is about 50% lower than in the US, although Lisbon, like any other major city, is higher.  Gas is currently $8.78 a gallon, and cars are much smaller, averaging 40 miles a gallon. 

We did not speak to another American while we were here.  The people in the restaurants were most friendly with us.  Talked to a few Brits, and one from Cambridge, England, said, "you're an American from the west coast."  He guessed correctly; I said, "I was born in Hawaii and grew up in Washington State.  I told him we now lived in Tennessee near Nashville, where they make Jack Daniels whiskey." It's funny many times; people don't know where Tennessee or Nashville is, but you say Jack Daniels, and everyone's eyes light up.  They know where that's at.  

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Spain and the Bullfights

More thoughts on Madrid and Spain.  It was a great visit to Madrid except for one thing.

There is one thing that I could not do in Madrid that I have always dreamed of doing, going to a bullfight.   Bullfighting season had just ended.   I think the week before we arrived. 

I didn’t want to go to any bull fight.  I wanted to take the train to Zaragoza to see the bull fights there.  Where Hemingway saw the bullfights.  Hemingway had an obsession with bullfighting. I believe he actually thought of himself as the bull.  

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor.” - Hemmingway

I have had some discussions with people on this.  They ask how could you go witness such cruelty?  It should be outlawed they say.  Maybe so,  but if I were a bull who had a choice between the slaughterhouse or the Bull Ring; I would choose the ring. I would demand the Ring. At least in the ring, you have a small chance and even if death is almost certain, you go out fighting.  So until they outlaw the slaughterhouse they should keep the bull ring. I think the bulls going to the slaughterhouse would agree.  

I know even if a bull kills a madator, he is killed, but if the bull has behaved particularly well during the fight, the bull is "pardoned" and his life is spared.  So there is a chance for life, unlike in the slaughterhouse.