One More Cathedral – Around the World Day 20

An example of Renaissance architecture in the Jerinomos Monastery

I had one more day left in Europe before I had to take a huge leap westward and a whole new continent as I circumvented the globe. So what do you do in Europe if you have just one more day left; you find a cathedral you haven’t been to yet, and you tour it? I thought I was finished touring cathedrals and they were all starting to blend together with their gothic architecture and there similar chapels, but that was before I made it to the one at the Jeronimos Monastery. The monastery is found in the Belem section of Lisbon, and before I went there I thought I had been to the touristy parts of town, but I was wrong. This place was the most touristy. It had the place where the Belem Tart was created. It is a simple desert with an egg custard that they sell warm and just melt in your mouth. It also has some of the oldest buildings in Lisbon right along the water front because they survived the 1755 earthquake.

Jeronimos Monastery’s cloister

The monastery was one of these buildings. It is the burial site of some of Portugal’s most famous kings, poets, and explorers. It does have a couple of chapels, but it isn’t as cluttered as some of the other cathedrals I explored in my time in Europe. Part of the reason was because the building supports by Renaissance architecture, which uses less columns than gothic architecture thereby giving the place a more open and airy feeling to it. The designers of the cathedral wanted to maintain this openness, hence the reason they did not add all of the chapels along the side of the church. The monastery also has this same type of architecture which gives the columns more freedom to be expressive with their designs. The whole place had different carvings on its columns and rain-spouts making it a great place to visit. I spent a lot of time looking at the different carvings and seeing what other surprises the building had in store for me.

Monument to the Discoveries

There were many other places in this part of town that I could visit. One of my favorites was the Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). It is a huge tower that sits on the edge of the Tagus River. It is designed in the spirit of the old structures of Europe and looks like it could belong to any one of them with it stones and statues of important Portugal figures looking out to sea, but the reality is that this building was inaugurated in the 1960, and it gives you an idea of what these buildings would look like when they were first constructed. There is an elevator that will take you the top of the tower, and gives some of the best views of not only the city, but of the Atlantic Ocean as it stretches out towards the Americas. It is not that big of a patio on the top but there is enough to see up there that I found myself up there for a half an hour.

The Belem Tower

The last site that I thought important to visit was the Belem Tower. It was getting late in the day and there was a long line to get into the building. I had already spent a lot of my day standing in line, and did not feel like do it again, so I just wandered around the building and enjoyed the park that sits on the edge of the structure. The story goes that this was the last place that Vasco da Gama visited before he took off on his journey around the Cape of Good Hope to find a passage to India. It is another structure that survived the earthquake, making it one of the oldest buildings left in the city.

The Wind Rose at the base of the Monument of the Discoveries

The last day had me running around trying to get in those last bits of tourism, and by the time I laid down in my bed, I was ready to sleep because I was going to have a long day ahead of me tomorrow as I continued to travel west. And as I am leaving behind Europe on this leg of the journey, and I am happy that I have been able to come here for another visit, but am also ready to go back to that part of the world that I feel most comfortable with and has the people I love.

Advertisements

Decadence – Around the World Day 19

On the eve of the Fourth of July, I took a day trip to Sintra, Portugal where many of the biggest tourist attractions are right next to each other, the Palace of Pena, and the Moor Castle, and I was brought back to World War I and why that war was fought in the first place. The words overindulgence and decadence kept repeating themselves to me in my head, and what happens when certain people in control quit thinking about their contingencies and start worrying about gathering more stuff for themselves.

This is what I thought while I was touring the Palace of Pena. It is a huge castle that sits high on a hill surrounded by elaborate gardens and reminders of the wealth that I was looking at. It was the home of King Ferdinand during the late 19th century, and he ruled his kingdom as far away from his people as he possible could. There were gates and large grounds that people needed to travel to just to make it to the front door, and it reminded me of certain leaders who have large complexes these days that keep the common folk away. It shows that they are above those people and that they do not wish to mix with that elements. The grounds in front of the building was like walking around Disneyland with elaborately painted walls and intricate sculptures.

Inside the decadence took it even farther. Room after room was filled with collections of fine furniture, expensive china and silverware, and the latest of conveniences such as a tub, and a telephone. It showed these rulers disconnect with the people they were ruling over, and it made me wonder what it would be like to live in a place like this. I too would never want to leave, and would start to believe that I was better than those that lived outside my walls. It was this smug attitude that brought the common man to revolt against the oppressive monarchies during the Great War, and it is a lesson that the smug rulers of today should consider themselves. If they continue with their hedonistic ways, grabbing all the money that they can while the common man suffers at their hands, then a revolt which eventually happen. There needs to be a balance between over-excess and fairness among the people.

This was in stark contrast with the Moorish Castle just down the road from this palace. The fortress was a lot older than the Pena Palace, and it was easily seen that it was built for defensive purposes even though within its walls it still held some elaborate gardens and some comforts of the time it was built. But it was there to hold the community and not exclude others if they were not found worthy enough to belong. It was not about the smugness of the elite who look down upon their fellow man.

The weird thing about the Moorish Castle was it was not toured by as many people, but I found it more interesting than the hedonistic lifestyle at the other place. I could see how the design was created for a purpose of the people instead of the purpose of one. It also reminded me of a time in history that I enjoy as well which added to the feeling, but it was the deeper understanding between the difference between the two places that connected with me more.

It was an important perspective for me to see on the eve of this important date for the United States. It made me see that the inclusive solution might be the better one. It creates a stronghold that lasts longer. It might not be as pretty, but it has a stronger sense of community because it was built by and for the purpose of the collective instead of for just one man. We need to remember this on this day. It should not be about the hedonistic lifestyles of the money-grubbing grabbers who have their pretentious estates that they run off to any time they feel like things are not going well for them. This is what the kings of Europe did before World War I and there is only so much the common man can take before they take matters into their own hands.

In God’s Cathedral – Around the World Day 18

I got to know a little more of Lisbon by exploring a different neighborhood than I did last time, the Bairro Alto. Even though I really enjoyed the Affama neighborhood, I thought that this one had more character and there was a lot more to see here. The most memorable one was the Carmo Convent. I was able to see it from my vantage point at the Sao Jorge Castle because it sticks out like a blemish on a teenagers face when you scan the city. It is the ruins of an old cathedral that sits in the middle of town begging for people to visit.

Basically, back in the day, this cathedral was the center of the Catholic Church in Lisbon, but on November 1st, 1755 a terrible earthquake hit the town, leveling many of the structures there, this one included. It also caught on fire, and all that is left is this husk of what once was a great cathedral. The city of Lisbon has turned the insides into a park, leaving the remains behind for anyone to tour if they find themselves in this corner of the world. All of the people who were buried there still remain, and the rectory has been turned into a museum with a collection of great art from all over the world. Viewing this art work made me contemplate the nature of art and how it holds up over time.

Being in Europe, I have seen a lot of art. It is kind of what you do while you are out here. Some of it has really stuck with me because of its magnificence, and I am always surprised at how it is collected in museums, palaces, and cathedrals. Every time I think I have seen it all, something else pops out to surprise me such as this mosaic of John the Baptists at the Church of Sao Roque. At first I passed it off as just another holy painting, but upon further inspection I realized that it was a bunch of tiny stones put together to create this masterpiece. Where else but Europe would I be able to see something like this.

But as I toured the neighborhood more I found that art did not need to be collected in only these places. It was all around me. I went into the Cervejaria Trindade because it was an old monastery that was turned into a bar, and had the only porter I have found since I have been out in Europe. Of course, I had to try it. But the bar also had a collection of old painted mosaics all over their walls that dated back to when the place was one of worship and reflection. It is a tribute to the people of this great city that they would keep this artwork for people to enjoy centuries later even if it wasn’t in a place where I would expect to find it.

I started to wonder if art was all around me no matter where I went. Of course there is a lot of graffiti on the walls of the city, and some of it is just a waste of spray paint, but there have been a few that I have been impressed with. There are the simple vendors with their collections of painted scenes that they are trying to sell to make a quick dollar. And then there are the people who get creative with their artwork. I would have never thought of knitting a colorful cozy for a children’s bike and then displaying it from my patio for the whole world to see, but if I really looked for it, these were the kind of things I could find on my stroll of this part of the city.

It is what I really love about being out in Europe. Everywhere I look there is someone expressing themselves through their art. Some of it will last through the centuries, and some will pass away with the times, but it is all around me. It is why I am always looking around me to see what other exciting thing I can see. It is all under the same roof that is left behind of the Carmo Convent, and it is the whole collection of this art that makes up the city of Lisbon.

Things to do in Lisbon – Around the World Day 17

The capital city of Portugal, Lisbon, is the last stop of my European part of the trip around the world, and the first twenty-four hour were spent hitting the tourist spots. Some of them I went there because that was the thing to do as a tourist. Some of them I went there because that was the thing to do.

As soon as I arrived in Lisbon, I had enough time to drop off my bags and take the ten minute walk from my apartment to the Comercio Square. This is not the big touristy square that everybody needs to see on their visits to Lisbon, but it is where everybody was on this night. Portugal was playing Uruguay in the World Cup, and this was a win or go home game. The Portuguese were a little upset that it was on Saturday night because they thought they would have been the winner of the round robin play. To celebrate the game though, the city of Lisbon had set up a massive three story television so the whole town could come together to watch the game. There were numerous beer booths, and venders selling all kind of food. And even though Portugal lost the game, it was the perfect way to watch the match, and the best introduction to the city.

The next day started off by wandering the windy streets of the Alfama neighborhood. This is the oldest section of the city that survived the 1755 earthquake, and walking through its skinny streets reminded me of what it would have felt like to live during that time. There were thousands of decorations, and many beer booths all along the streets out here as well, and at first, I thought it was because of the World Cup, but later I found out that St. Antonio’s Day was the weekend before. He is the patron saint of Lisbon, and they have a huge celebration from that event. The decorations were just the hangover just waiting to be cleaned up, and it was nice of them to leave them up for me, so I could see what fun I had missed by being a week late.

The walk through this part of the city took me to the top of the highest hill in the city where sat Sao Jorge Castle. This is a military structure that was first built during the 7th century B.C. by the Moors, and then added on to by Romans and Christians over the centuries. It is a great military fortress designed to withold a long siege. It was not created so a king could live in the ground even though it was later adapted for that purpose. It shows you what a military castle would have been like, and it had some amazing views of the city. Everywhere I turned there was another example of the perfect picture.

After a long day of hiking through the city, there was only one place left to go, Time Out Market, for dinner. This is a long hall that reminded me of a modern day mead hall. The sides of the hall were lined up with small kitchens where I could choose from various kinds of food. They also served wine and beer, and once I got my meal I found a place at one of the long tables to enjoy my food. It brought me back to the community of Lisbon which seems like one of the important things about this town, and the main reason I am enjoying it so far. I can’t wait to see what the next couple of days have in store for me when the first one was so exciting.

My Own Paparazzi – Around the World Day 16

The problem with writing a blog series about my experiences while I take the time to circumvent the globe is that I am the one always taking the pictures, so rarely am I in the pictures. You get to read about my experiences, but sometimes it is hard to make the connection with the moment and the person who is having it. At the same time, I am not going to hire my own camera man to walk around with me to take pictures so I can share them with you. Yes, you would benefit, but I would always be in this constant weird place where I someone would always be lurking around the corner so they could record my life.

This is part of the reason that I enjoyed the experience I had on my last full day in Lagos. Christine and I went on a kayaking tour around the coast line to see the rocks up close and sneak into some of the caves along the way. The danger to cameras while doing this is obvious. A wave can come along, and sweep it into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Even if it just falls into the water, being soaked in salt water can’t be good for any piece of electronics. The company that took us on our voyage understood this, and had their own camera man come along to take pictures of us as we went along that we could use as we saw fit when we got back. Granted, it was like the old days where we had to wait until the next morning before we were able to access them, but it is okay in this age of instant gratification to have to wait for things a little while.

There was another added bonus that I didn’t even think about. We got to enjoy the moment without having to record it for prosperity’s sake. This is another problem that many people don’t realize in the age of digital cameras that can record every moment and share it instantly with everybody that we know. We are so concerned with taking picture of what we are doing instead of just enjoying the moment. Go to concerts and you will see people holding up their cell phones so they can record the whole show instead of just enjoying the music. Go to any tourist spot, and there are tour groups shoving each other out of the way so they can get the perfect picture. Even while going out to dinner, people need to take picture of the food before they eat, and take selfies of themselves enjoying it, instead of just enjoying it. You can’t take a picture of the taste. You are just going to have to savor it in your memory. So why do you need a picture of it?

Now, I am not saying that you should quit taking pictures. It is a fun hobby that I enjoy. I like thinking of the composition of each of my shots and what I can do to make them unique and tell a story at the same time. And they are a great way to preserve the moments for all time. All I am saying is to keep it in perspective. You do not need to take a picture of every moment you live. Sometimes, it is better to just enjoy the moment because that memory will be more vivid than any picture you ever take. And you will find that you enjoy the moment more that way.

This is what EZRides allowed us to do on that kayaking trip. It was fun to explore those caves, and I got to sit there a moment longer to marvel at the rock structures I was looking at instead of quickly taking a picture so I could move on to the next marvel. I got to listen to the guide explain how the cliffs were formed and about the beaches we traveled by. I got to enjoy the moment for what it had to offer, and because of that it was easily the best kayak trip I have ever taken. It changed my perspective on things. I now wonder if I should put the camera down from time to time and just enjoy the moment for what it is.

This blog post was written without the knowledge of EZRides, and I highly recommend their service if you ever find yourself in Lagos and want to go kayaking. You will enjoy the experience.

A Party Presents Itself – Around the World Day 15

One of the things I love about traveling through Europe during the summer is the fact that there is always something always going on that you had not planned for. There have been many times through my travels where I have run into a party already in progress, and have just gone with the flow of it. This is what happened yesterday when Lagos put on a World Beer Tour. It wasn’t the best beer festival I have been to because it mainly had mass produced beer that it offered, but it was still an opportunity to get together with the locals and see how they have fun during the hot months.

This happens no matter where you go. You just need to be up to the option of letting all of your plans go because the moment is meant to be enjoyed. Whether this is a celebration of the old town, or a soccer match that means a lot to the people there. Just become a part of the community for that day, and you will know what it is like to live there.

So with that in mind, Cheers.

The Simple Things in Life – Around the World Day 14

I know I have been writing about beaches a lot lately, but what else am I supposed to do. Everywhere I turn there is a new and more stunning beach than the last one and if I have the option of relaxing on that beach I am going to take it. And since that is all I have really done in the past few days that is all I have to talk about.

And this trip has been talking about a lot of the sites with great historical significance that I have been lucky enough to visit. It is kind of what you do in Europe. By being able to see these places, I gain a better understanding of how the countries of the world are related to each other, and why it is important that everybody understands this perspective because without it, we are heading to a society similar to ancient times where countries had a hard time getting along with each other; thereby, causing a lot of war and destruction among themselves.

It is really easy to get caught up with these cultural moments when you travel. It is part of the reason that we do it. But it is also important to slow down and enjoy other aspects of travel that we sometimes ignore because we want to get in everything we possibly can in the short time that we have there. That is why I took the time last night to grab a small picnic of fresh fruit, good cheese, and some jamon ham and travel up to the lighthouse at the edge of town and watch the sunset. It is doing small little things like this where the stories start to emerge.

Now, I am not saying that this is a unique idea. Many people go out to the lighthouse to watch the sunset. It is one of the attractions of Lagos. If you ever find yourself here, and want to do this, I would recommend going out early to stake out your place because even though there are many to chose from out there, the good one get snatched up quickly. Make sure you bring a good bottle of wine with you; they are easy to find because there are many to choose from in Portugal, and most of them are rather inexpensive as long as you stick to the ones made out here. This way you can enjoy the company of the one you brought with you and just revel in the moment.

We still had a few visitors, and one of them even wanted to join us in our picnic dinner. Who knew that cats loved fresh mango so much? And even though this could have been an awkward moment, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would. He left soon after he found out that we were going to give into his requests to go look for better prospects, but it was still fun to have him join us for such a short period of time.

And eventually we got to enjoy the sunset. At this time of the year, it does not set over the ocean, but it was still a spectacular sight. It is moments like this that allows me to reflect on how lucky my life has been. I have seen sunsets over many different locations over the world from the oceans of Boracay to the beaches of Oregon, from the plains of the Serengeti to the mountains of the Rocky Mountains. I do think it is important that we put aside the petty bickering and fighting that we often tangle ourselves in so we can enjoy these smaller moments in life. When you find those small moments they start to seem more important than all of that rush that we subject ourselves to. I am glad to have gotten to witness the sunset at this new location, and I can’t wait to see where the next spectacular one will be.

(By the way, J.J. Abrams would be proud. Lens-flares.)