Saturday, February 21, 2009

LISBON: St. Jorge Tour & Belem

Friday, Feb. 20th Our visit to the St. Jorge Castle on the hill

Dinner last night was very lively: our three Romanian roommates and a couple that just arrived from South Korea. He is actually staying in our dorm room in the empty bunk. They are full up for the weekend with a large group from France that is here for a Seminar. Dinner was Watercress Soup, Salad and baked cod fish along with a tasty orange cake for dessert.

We were awake and ready for breakfast at 8:30 am this morning and that gave us time to do some computer work before starting our adventure for today.

We signed up for the free tour of the Castelo De Sao Jorge and the Alfama District that is offered by our Hostel. Tuesday’s tour had numbered nineteen so we were pleasantly surprised at our small group of only six people, two German couples. Everyone spoke English so we were spoiled again language wise!

First we caught the yellow trolley that took us up the hill towards the Castle and then we commenced our walk near the top. We stopped for a short visit with an artist who paints tiles. She gave us a demonstration while we watched.

From there we continued to walk uphill towards the castle. We thought that we would have wonderful views of the bridge across the bay but the bridge was encased in fog with only the very tippy tops showing. The fog did continue to dissipate and we could finally see the entire bridge before we left the top of the hill.

The castle goes back to the eighth century B.C. and is only a remnant of its former glory but was very interesting to tour; especially since we received the “senior rate” and got in free instead of paying five euros. I’m not quite sure if the policy has changed or we’re just being very fortunate because we’ve been receiving the benefits of being a “senior” everywhere even though we’re not members of the European Union.

After the tour we headed down many steps until we arrive at a small authentic Portuguese Restaurant named Restaurante Martima Das Colunas. We started with a wine, cheese and bread before ordering our food based on our guide Vanasa’s recommendations. Mary agreed to share a dish with me: I ordered the Octopus, she cringed but stayed with the program and actually agreed that she enjoyed the meal. Normally I’m served slices of tentacles; this was a whole small octopus and extremely tender and very tasty. It was served with onion and small potatoes. Our dessert was cream brulee.

We walked with the guide all the way back to the Hostel and after storing our backpacks we headed out for the Metro to purchase our tickets for our bus ride to Sevilla on Sunday night. We’ve discovered that we will save half a euro each time we purchase a ticket if we hand them our green card that is renewable. Always learning something new!

Returning to the Hostel, Mary and I got on the Skype and each talked to our husbands and then she talked with sister Betty on Skype while I talked with Shirley, our fourth sister, on my Skype. Then we headed upstairs as I think I tuckered her out today. She is already fast asleep and it’s only 9 pm. The young crowd has headed out for some dinner and fun but we both feel that it will do us good to pass on dinner tonight. We had our levis washed with our other laundry and they are TIGHT!

Saturday, February 21, 2009 Trip to Belem

Stayed in bed while listening to the large French group get up and go on their way for the day. Then we ventured out for our breakfast about 8:30 am. By 11 we were out the door on our way to Belem; a short tram ride up the coast to see the large ship shaped monument celebrating the fact that for more than a century Portuguese ships left from Belem in search of new worlds.

On the plaza just in front of the monument is a large map of the world showing the dates of all the major discoveries made by ships that left from Belem.

We reached the tram area and found many people waiting, most had a day ticket but others like us planned to purchase their ticket on the tram. We jumped on and headed for the machine to purchase our tickets as the tram started out. I couldn’t get the machine to accept my coins so I made my way to the front to ask for help. When we asked for help, with money in hand…the ticket was 1.40 euro….the conductor told us we were being arrested for riding without a ticket! When I tried to explain that the machine was not working he would not listen to us. He said we had to pay him the fine for one person of 113 euros or else he would take us to the police. We chose the police…big mistake; they did absolutely nothing to help us and stood there and watched as they demanded that we now pay 113 euros each or agreed to appear Monday (after we are gone) and possibly be fined 250 euros each and we’d need a lawyer to go to court. We asked where we could find their offices and of course they are closed until Monday!

By this time we were “royally screwed” and so we paid the 113 euros each and started walking back towards our Hostel. After a half hour of walking I finally convinced Mary to get on a tram going back toward the Hostel but only if I could get one where the entry was where the driver was seated and only if he took our money. Finally found one that would. We reached the Hostel and relayed our sad tale to the clerk who said something similar had happened to her in Spain. She was very sorry but didn’t feel that we would have much of a case. She was very sorry that the conductor would not check the machine for us. She did make a photocopy of our very expensive souvenir from Portugal…the copy of the arrest report…and said she would file a complaint with the proper authorities.

I finally convinced Mary to leave the Hostel and go to Belem again. This time we found the kiosk that sold tickets before we got on the tram. It was only about a fifteen minute ride and we walked to the different sites for photos before heading back to the Hostel for the day. Arrived about 4 pm and signed up for dinner at the Hostel tonight. Only way to look at this experience is that it was a good lesson and definitely a journal entry!

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