Unless you were busy being born these past few years (and I’m not talking about Bob Dylan’s “being born”, I’m talking about popping out of a womb), you know how much the COVID-19 Pandemic changed our lives. In a nutshell, it sucked ass. Among the death, fear, hysteria, depression and political division it left in its wake, it kept us from doing one of the things most of us love to do – travel.
I hadn’t left the country since a January 2020 trip to Guadalajara, Mexico with my daughter. And we love to travel. Not to mention my personal “Places I want to Visit Before I Kick the Bucket” list is pretty damn long. So with the cooling of the pandemic, it was finally time to get on a plane and go somewhere again. And after waiting so long, it had to be an epic trip.
Now my video production business pretty much drops dead after the first week of December which leaves me with an open month to plan a long getaway. The last one being an 18 day Christmas trip to Spain in December of 2018. I was considering a return trip to Spain (Madrid > Toledo > Cuenca > Valencia > Barcelona) but getting to my family in Galicia, Spain in time for Christmas was going to require an additional flight (and who really wants to be in an airport a day before Christmas Eve?).
Then I looked at nearby Portugal. Mild temperatures, plenty of amazing attractions to visit (17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and only a five+ hour drive to my family in Galicia from Lisbon (and plenty of cool cities in between). So, after a couple of weeks of mapping out our trip and “crunching the numbers”, I purchased our tickets from Miami to Lisbon. Three week itinerary. After almost three years without leaving the country, it was finally on.
And after almost four months of editing the several thousand photographs I took, it was finally time to share them. Late? Yes. But it’s right on time for those looking for a summer vacation travel destination, no? So SUBSCRIBE HERE to not miss a future post (you won’t be sorry).
On the evening of December 13th, we flew out of Miami International Airport on a TAP Air Portugal flight and landed in Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport the morning of the 14th. Picked up my rental car (an automatic BMW 3-series) and checked into the 5-star Palacio do Governador hotel in the Belém District of Lisbon (after three years, I wasn’t cutting corners). Belém lies 5km to the west of central Lisbon, situated on the northern shore of the Tagus River. The plan was to see the more laid back western Lisbon first before heading up to our next city (Sintra) before returning to the heart of Lisbon for New Year’s Eve.
Now, I had been enjoying a 58 day streak of international travel without a single rain out. Alas, that all changed on our first day in Lisbon (and would be a continuing theme for our trip) but on a very sunny and bright day two, we managed to get to the first (of many) attractions on my very detailed travel itinerary, the Torre de Belém.
***After scrolling through the photographs, I posted a few travel tips so make sure to check them out***
Belém Tower is a 16th-century fortification located in Lisbon that served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. This photograph was taken during the early afternoon of day one – right before the rains came and chased us back to our hotel for the remainder of the day…
Day two was the complete opposite of day one, bright (brutal) sunshine which made photographing the tower a challenge…
The tower was designed by military architect Francisco de Arruda, named “Master of the works of the Belém stronghold” by Manuel I and in 1516 he began receiving 763 blocks and 504 stones for its construction. In 1983, the tower was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the Jerónimos Monastery (more on that later).
I asked this young lady who was visiting from New Mexico if I could take a photograph of her…
…in return for a photograph of us with my iPhone.
Standing 170 feet tall, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) is located on the northern bank of the Tagus River (just a short walk from the Torre de Belém). It was built in 1939 and celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. It was designed by the Portuguese architect José Angelo Cottinelli Telmo and completed by António Pardal Monteiro after Telmo’s death.
The head of the monument features a statue of Henry the Navigator holding a model of a carrack (a three or four-masted sailing ship that was developed in the 14th to 15th centuries in Europe, most notably in Portugal)
On either side of the ramps of the monument are a total of 33 figures from the history of the Discoveries…
Near the monument, there is a Compass Rose with a diameter of 50 meters, drawn on the ground. Inside it, there is a map of the entire world, showing the routes of the Portuguese navigators. And yes, Miranda was able to locate Florida.
The Jerónimos Monastery is, along with the Tower of Belém, one of the most visited sites in Lisbon. It was erected in the early 1500s near the launch point of Vasco da Gama’s first journey. In 1880, da Gama’s remains and those of the poet Luís de Camões (who celebrated da Gama’s first voyage in his 1572 epic poem, The Lusiad), were moved to new carved tombs in the nave of the monastery’s church. Unfortunately, the church was not accessible to visitors as they were preparing for a service (the photo above is the line to get into the mass).
The stunning two-level cloisters were designed by João de Castilho, one of the premier architects in Portuguese history. Each column is differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs, evocative of that time of world exploration at sea. Besides the Jerónimos Monastery, Castilho worked on three other World Heritage Sites in Portugal: Convent of Christ (Tomar), Batalha Monastery and the Alcobaça Monastery (all of which we visited).
In the Chapter Room, there is the neo-gothic tomb of romantic writer Alexandre Herculano (1810-1877).
The refectory was built in 1517/18 by Leonardo Vaz and his team of master builders. With its multi-ribbed, low vaulted ceiling the refectory exemplifies the principle style of the Manueline period. Below the thick stone ropes, the walls are covered with azulejo tile panels dating from 1780-1785.
Over the heating chimney hangs an oil mural, “Adoration of the Shepherds”, attributed to António Campelo (late 16th century), which was restored in 1992.
The ornate side entrance to the monastery was also designed by Juan de Castillo. This shrine-like portal is large, 105 feet high and 39 feet wide, extending two stories. Its ornate features includes an abundance of gables and pinnacles, with many carved figures standing under a baldachin in carved niches, around a statue of Henry the Navigator, standing on a pedestal between the two doors.
***Photographs taken with the Sony a7RIII using the travel friendly Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G lens, the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 lens and, in some cases, the very capable iPhone 13 Pro***
After our visit to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, we headed to Lisbon’s most popular art museum, the Museu Coleção Berardo which was about a 6 minute walk away. Now most of you know I’m an art museum nerd so as I am wont to do, I dedicated an entire post to the museum – and it really deserves its own post. Check it out HERE
Stay tuned for the next post from our multi-part photo series from our trip to Portugal, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Sintra and the Palácio da Pena, one of Portugal’s most visited attractions. SUBSCRIBE HERE to not miss it!
> I’m no Rick Steves but I’ve been to Europe enough times to be able to share a few travel tips. First of all, those European cobblestone streets that everybody loves? They’re very rough on your feet AND your luggage. That’s right, your luggage. I know it’s easy rolling that four-wheel spinner travel bag through the airport but when you gotta walk several blocks to get to your hotel, or get to a train/bus station or airport, those cobblestone streets are gonna eat up those tiny little wheels. We traveled with the Eddie Bauer Expedition 30 Duffel 2.0 which can handle the roughest terrain Europe can throw at you.
> Also, those same streets will chew up your feet if you plan to do a lot of city walking and Lisbon (pretty much every city in Portugal!) ain’t for those with week knees, ankles or backs – it’s up one steep hill then down another then up some stairs then up another steep hill then down again. It was the most challenging city I’ve ever had to walk around in. So get some real good shoes. My choice was the KEEN Men’s Targhee 3 Low Height Waterproof Hiking Shoes which can more than handle the rough city terrain (not to mention give me the traction to get up and down those damn hills). I also picked up the Targhee 3 Mid Height Waterproof Hiking Boots when I saw most of our trip would feature some rain. So travel smart.
> I rented a car using discovercars.com which had plenty of different cars to choose from at reasonable prices, including a good selection of automatic transmission vehicles (I rented from SIXT® Car Rental).
> Highly recommend the lovely Palacio do Governador hotel which was walking distance to the Belém District’s main attractions. Included was a free hot breakfast and free wifi. We also had dinner at the hotel’s Restaurant & Bar Ânfora. Now, the meal was good, very good. But one of the best things I ate during my 21 days in Portugal was their Pastel de nata, do Governador off the dessert menu. I mean, it was crazy stupid delicious. Nuff said.