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Lisbon, the city of early ocean explorers

I officially switch off my mind on work and start holiday today, even though I may be working for the next 2 days. 🙂 I presented my proposal today, so I feel a heavy weight has been lifted off from my shoulder.

My December reading plan is in a mess, I can’t bring myself to finish any book that I plan to read by end of this year. Instead I am reading whatever I wanted to read and as many as I want to read, without finishing either. 😦

Since I have this post on draft, I thought I finish it off and share some pictures from Lisbon with you.

Lisbon is the land of early sea explorers. Back in 15th century, the Portugese had sailed as far as China. Standing prominently on the Belém waterfront, this massive angular monument, the Padrao dos Descrobrimentos (The Monument of Discoveries), was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The 52 m (170 ft) high monument, commissioned by the Salazar regime, commemorates the mariners, royal patrons and all those who took part in the development of the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The monument is designed in the shape of caravel, with Portugal’s coat of arms on the sides and the sword of the Royal House of Avis rising above entrance. Henry the Navigator stands at the prow with a caravel in hand. In two slopping lines either side of the monument are stone statues of Portuguese heroes linked with the Age of Discovery.


The Belém Tower is inextricably linked with Portugal’s Golden Age of discovery. It sits at the mouth of River Tagus, where the caravels set sail on their voyages of discovery. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it gives a feeling a awe to see the very first place where the explorer stepped into the ship and sailed into the unknown; for the good of humanity and discovery, never quite sure if they will ever make it back home again.


We were strolling along the Belém waterfront until night fall and took some stunning pictures of the monument and Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (The Jeronimos Church and Monastery).


The Jeronimos Church and Monastery was commissioned by Manuel I in around 1501, after Vasco de Gama’s return from his historic voyage it was financed largely by “pepper money”, a tax levied on spice, precious stones and gold. The monastery was cared for by the Order of St Jerome (Hieronymites) until 1834, when all religious orders were disbanded. The monastery is one of the most prominent monuments of the Manueline-style architecture (Portuguese late-Gothic) in Lisbon, classified in 1983 as a UNESCO World Heritage site as well.



Jeronimos monastery by day

The Portugese is famous for its egg tart pastry and we have decided to visit Pastéis de Belém café to taste them. IMG_2274

Pastéis de Belém is a 19th century café that sells Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese egg tart pastry. It is so famous that it spots a long queue of customers waiting for tables everyday. The café found its winding alley to one opening after another. Decorated with Azulejo (Portugese blue tiles) on every piece of wall and large art piece, it feels like dining in a museum rather than a café.


If you are ever in Lisbon, do visit this place!


Early next day, we drove about 20km off the city of Lisbon to a town called Sintra.

On the highest peaks of the Serra de Sintra stands the spectacular palace of Pena, an eclectic medley of architectural styles built in the 19th century for the husband of the young Queen Maria II, Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. It stands over the ruins of a Hieronymite monastery founded here in the 15th century on the site of the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Pena.

Ferdinand appointed a German architect, Baron Von Eschwege, to build his summer palace filled with oddities from all over the world and surrounded by a park. With the declaration of the Republic in 1910, the palace became a museum, preserved as it was when the royal family lived here. We spent about good two hours of more in this enchanting palace.

To enter the Palace, we are greeted by a studded archway with crenelated turrets at the entrance of the palace. Every corner we turned we seem to be greeted by this colour mix of towers and domes, tiles and turrets. The Pena Palace overlooked a plain and the city below with a vague silhouette of the Moorish Castle in near view.



Walking through the palace, rooms after rooms there seems to be a strange feeling of this place still being inhabited; inhabited by short human beings who seems to be less than 5-feet tall. The beds are short, the dressing tables are equipped with the Queen’s set of brushes. Her maid-in-waiting sleeping in the room next to her. There is a music room, an Arab Room, rooms which are filled with intricately carved furniture, porcelain from Far Eastern, rooms which has a spectacular view of the hills and plains below.


Palácio Nacional da Ajuda (The National Palace of Ajuda)

The royal palace, destroyed by fire in 1795, was replaced in the early 19th century by this Neo-Classical building. It was left incomplete when the royal family was forced into exile in Brazil in 1807.

The palace only became a permanent residence of a royal family when Luis I became king in 1861 and married an Italian Princess, Maria Pia di Savoia. No expense was spared in furnishing the apartments, which feature silk wallpaper, Sevres porcelain and crystal chandeliers.


A prime example of regal excess is the extraordinary Saxe Room, a wedding present to Maria Pia from the King of Saxony, in which every piece of furniture is decorated with Meissen porcelain. On the first floor the huge Banqueting Hall, with crystal chandeliers, silk-covered chairs and an allegory of the birth of João VI on the frescoed ceiling, is truly impressive.


The residential palace of President Portugese is pink. What a appropriate colour for a presidential palace!

Museu Nacional dos Coches (The National Museum of Coaches)

The museum’s collection of coaches is arguably the finest in Europe. Occupying the east wing of the Palácio de Belém, this was formerly the riding school built by the Italian architect Giacomo Azzolini in 1726. Seated in the upper gallery, the royal family used to watch their beautiful Lusitanian horses performing in the arena.

Made in Portugal, Italy, France, Austria and Spain, the coaches span three centuries and range from the plain to the preposterous. The main gallery, in Louis XVI style with splendid painted ceiling, is the setting for two straight, regimented rows of coaches which made us gaped at awe of the beautiful coaches in display. There are also several pompous Baroque 18th century carriages decorated with paintings and exuberant gilt woodwork, the most impressive of these being a ceremonial coach given by Pope Clement XI to King John V in 1715 in gold.

Museu Nacional do Azulejo (The National Tile Museum)

Dona Leonor, widow of King João II, founded the Convento da Madre de Deus in 1509. Originally built in Manueline style, the church was restored under Joao III using simple Renaissance designs. The striking Baroque decoration was added by João V.  The convent cloisters provide a stunning setting for the National Tile Museum. Decorative panels, individual tiles and photographs trace the evolution of tile-making from its introduction by Moors, through Spanish influence and the development of Portugal’s own style up to present day.


Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square), more commonly known by the locals as Terreiro do Paco (Palace Square), this huge open space was the site of royal palace for 400 years.



The tram of Lisbon

Elevador de Santa Justa

This city has more than a few elevators. One of the most famous one is Elevador de Santa Justa (also known as Elevador do Carmo). This Neo-Gothic lift was built at the turn of 20th century by the French architect Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel. Made of iron and embellished with filigree, it is one of the more eccentric features of the Baixa. The ticket office is located at the foot of the elevator and in the middle of the elevator there is a walkway to Bairro Alto at 32m (105 ft). At the very top of the tower, which is reached via an extremely tight spiral stairway, is a viewing platform.

IMG_2626The view of Lisbon city from above….
IMG_2631I thought Lisbon was a more beautiful city than I imagined. With that I leave you with an aerial view of Sintra’s Pena Palace hopefully to entice you to visit Lisbon or Portugal one day. The people are kind and mild-mannered, the city is quiet and easy going. I can imagine how beautiful it could be in spring or summer.

Sintra - Pena palace

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


7 thoughts on “Lisbon, the city of early ocean explorers

  1. Amazing.

    Posted by sethsnap | December 19, 2012, 11:28 pm
  2. Totally awed by the Moorish Castle’s photos. Wish I could be there too. 🙂

    Posted by Marvin | December 20, 2012, 12:56 am
  3. Stunning photos Jo ! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    Posted by Joanna | December 20, 2012, 2:57 am
  4. Oh wow. Those pictures are so beautiful. I’ve never really thought about traveling to Portugal but now I totally want to go.

    Posted by Jenny | December 20, 2012, 11:08 am
  5. Portugal is high on my list of places to go, especially because of Petra. It’s nice that you mentioned a couple of UNESCO World Heritage sites too 😉

    Posted by mee | January 11, 2013, 1:12 pm

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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