Friday 11 – Saturday 19 October
We spent the morning of Friday 11th visiting Belem by bicycle, while we had easy access to land. Riding West along the waterfront, we were able to reassure ourselves that the alternative marinas were no more comfortable than the one we’d chosen, being more open to the current and wash from vessels plying the river. We were impressed by the huge Memorial to the Discoveries, although we weren’t able to identify any of the statues balanced along the decks of the stone caravel. Buskers entertained the crowds while dark-robed ladies tried to tempt tourists to buy souvenirs. The pavements are decorated with the classic black and white cobblestone patterns, while at the foot of the Memorial is a beautiful ‘Mappa Mundi’ created in various colours of marble and surrounded by a compass rose. It’s a popular place for people to lie on for a photograph.
Across the road is the stunning Jeronimos Monastery, where we forgot to pay homage to the tomb of Vasco da Gama as we were distracted by learning about one of Portugal’s most influential men of history: Alexandre Herculano. A novelist, poet and historian, an interesting exhibition explains his important contribution to liberal politics and Romanticism in the mid-nineteenth Century.
We’d already decided we couldn’t bear the constant thrum of traffic on the huge bridge any longer. On returning to the boat, we headed across the Rio Tagus to Seixal, a regular dormitory town with fast and frequent ferries into the city, and a peaceful, attractive anchorage. At low water, the Breton habit of pêche a pied is widely practised, except here men wade shoulder-deep into the cold water (some in wetsuits), and waggle a curved rake into the mud to extract some kind of shellfish – we could never quite see what shape the shells were [we later discovered they’re clams], although they weren’t shy about coming very close to the boat. At times we feared for the security of our anchor and chain. A bonus was to find Yndeleau already comfortably moored here, and we enjoyed getting to know her lovely crew over the next few days.
In between the usual necessary chores of watering the boat and provisioning, we walked a short distance through the village to the ferry terminal. About every half hour there’s a cheap fast catamaran that takes foot passengers across to Lisbon, landing at the Cais do Sodré. We strolled West along the waterfront to the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), the largest in the city, inland of which is the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, where we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in the sunshine, before finding a 28 tram on Rua Conceição to shake and rattle to the end of the route at Campo Ourique. Although not easy to take photos along the way, this is a pleasant way to see some of the many facets of the city. The more adventurous can find tickets that allow you to ‘hop on, hop off’ wherever you wish to spend longer.
After a brief stretch of legs, we found another tram back to the Praça Luís de Camões, the main plaza of Bairro Alto. Surrounding side streets are where the nightlife is best, and we’d read of an opportunity to hear the local fado music, without having to be out all night. We made our way to the venue, but finding nobody around to book with, wandered a while, enjoying colourful street art and eclectic shops. On our return a less-than-welcoming front of house lady told us if we hadn’t booked we’d have to wait to see if they could fit us in, as they had a party booked.
Fado is performed in small, intimate bars, played on two guitars, a traditional Portuguese accompanied by a ‘normal’ acoustic guitar. Some songs are performed by a female singer, who sometimes duets with a male. However, this particular show is a tourist attraction, and soon a large party of Indians arrived to be seated at restaurant-style tables. As they were not apparently interested in the show, and certainly not in abiding by the strict rules that one listens in silence, for us the atmosphere was spoiled and we left disappointed.
Making our way back to the ferry home, though, we enjoyed the change of atmosphere as the city began to slip into evening entertainment mode.