My second day in Lisbon (and last full day for sight seeing - this was a really quick trip!) we took one of the tourist buses around Lisbon. This is a real touristy experience, but the buses are great as they hit all of the highlights, let you hop on and off at each location and are so much cheaper than trying to get all around the city in a cab. Our only problem was that it was Monday and (a tip for all of you who might be thinking of a trip to Lisbon) most of the National museums, castles, palaces and monuments are closed for cleaning and upkeep on Mondays. So we had fewer options to choose from, but we were still able to see a few things. The first place we stopped was the Ajuda Palace and the Ajuda Botanical Garden. We hit the garden first as we had to wait for a guide to be free to chaperone us around the palace. The location of the garden is fabulous. Both the palace and the garden are at the top of the hill and provide fantastic views of the Tagus:
One again, my handy guide book allows me to tell you some fascinating details about the Ajuda Botanical Garden. It is the oldest botanical garden in Portugal and was created in 1768 as part of the Ajuda palace grounds. The garden originally had over 5000 species of plants but in 1808 Napolean's army STOLE over 1500 species to take back to Paris. Despite this theft, today there are still plants from all of Portugal's former colonies and centuries old trees in the garden. And it is a peaceful, relaxing place to take a stroll.
The palace itself is also beautiful.
We had a fantastic guide. As it was Monday, and apparently most people know that museums, etc. are not open on Mondays, there were not a lot of people at the palace. Nik and I had the guide all to ourselves and she explained a lot of Portugal's history to us while pointing out some of the interesting aspects of the palace.
This is a hallway looking down into the throne room and the throne room itself. This room was about the third "waiting room" for emissarys and people having business with the king. The other two were downstairs. I have to imagine you got pretty excited when you could actually see the throne room after waiting who knows how long in the first two rooms:
This is the formal dining room. They still use it for state functions and our guide said that there is an adjacent room that sits just as many people. Apparently they put tv monitors in the room next door so that everyone knows when to sit, eat and toast based on what the prime minister or visiting royalty are doing in the main dining room:
And this is the ballroom. The chandelier was phenomenal!
Our next stop was the Belem Tower. This was one of the locations that was closed for cleaning - which was really disappointing. But the outside is very cool and we took a few pictures of what we were able to see:
There are about four storeys to explore inside the tower and I'd like to go back and tour it. The tower was built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon's harbor. It was the starting point for many of the voyges of discovery and was also used as a prison for many centuries. The prisoners were kept on the bottom floor which regularly filled up with water and you can imagine was pretty miserable. But the style and architecture of the tower is beautiful and is the same "Manueline" style as the Jeronimos Monastery.
There is a lot more to see in Lisbon but since we only had a couple days we packed in as much as we could. We ate at a fantastic italian restaurant our last night in Lisbon called Luca which was hip and delicious and fun. We also ate tasty Portuguese pastries our entire stay in Lisbon - the best and most famous of which is the pastel de nata which is like eating creme brulee in a pie crust - in other words: YUMMY!!! I don't even know the names of most of the pastries we ate: little glazed donuts that were intensely sweet and blew away anything Krispy Kreme ever created, little quiches and pastries stuffed with egg and sausage that were lip smacking great! I possibly gained a pound or two in Lisbon but it was worth it.
I really recommend Lisbon as a vacation destination. For Americans it's great as EVERYONE speaks english (very different than Spain) which is convenient if you want a quick trip and don't have a lot of time to spend before hand trying to learn local phrases and words. The people are wonderful and there are so many beautiful sights to see. AND - the food is great, especially if you love seafood like me. I do think I'm going to learn how to make the pastel de nata though, so I might be bringing a little of Portugal back to the US with me!