Sandra Scott Travels: Set Sail For Belem, Portugal – Home of Vasco da Gama

the Tower of Belem

The Tower of Belem

Last week I asked: Where was the explorer Vasco da Gama from?

Belem, Portugal.

John and I were in Portugal in 1997, but we didn’t visit Lisbon.

the Tower of Belem
The Tower of Belem

At that time, we rented a car and drove up the coast to Fatima and didn’t want the hassle of driving in the city.

This time, we stayed in Lisbon for a week – no rental car.

We used our frequent flyer miles for our air tickets and our IHG points to stay at the Holiday Inn Lisbon Continental.

It was centrally located across from the large Parque Eduardo VII.

The breakfast was extensive and well worth it.

The must-do first stop is “Lisboa Story Centre,” a wonderful interactive presentation detailing the history of the city.

the historic Jeronimos Monastery
The historic Jeronimos Monastery

It is a self-guided tour through the various periods in the city’s history.

The climax is the film that brings reality to the catastrophic 1755 earthquake.

Next, we took the city tour and got off in Belem.

I love the Tower of Belem with its wedding cake look.

It is where Vasco da Gama set sail on his historic voyage to India.

The iconic white, heavily ornamented Tower of Belem is a prime example of Maueline Architecture.

airplane statue
Airplane statue

Nearby are the historic Jeronimos Monastery, one of the most ornate churches in Portugal; the National Coach Museum with fairytale royal coaches; and the Monument to Discoveries celebrating Portugal’s leadership during the European Age of Discovery.

Of special interest was the airplane statue near the Tower of Belem.

The statue commemorates the first transatlantic flight by Sacadura Cabral from Portugal to Brazil – 5,209 miles – which inspired Charles Lindbergh five years later.

Lindburgh’s 3,500-mile flight was non-stop from NY to Paris.

John the navigator
John, the navigator

Near the marina there was an unimposing kiosk where we booked a one-hour sail on the Tagus River in a traditionally made wooden sailboat for $10 pp.

There was one other couple and John got to sail.

We spent so much time in the Belem area that we missed the last tour bus ride to the center of town, so took a taxi.

There are several museums in the area including a Museum of Electricity and the Coach Museum with fairytale-like carriages.

To get a feel for the “old’ Lisbon we went to the Alfama and toured the Lisbon Castle.

view from the castle
The view from the castle

The castle/fort dates from the 11th century at the time Christianity was brought to Portugal.

Before 1147, Lisbon was an important Moorish trading post with stronger ties to Africa then Europe.

I was glad we took a cab because otherwise it would have been a long walk up the hill to the castle.

The views of the city were great.

Portugal is justly proud of its wine and there are wine-vending carts at the major tourist sites.

There were seats in the battlements so we could enjoy the view with a glass of wine.

How civilized.

Wine with a view
Wine with a view

First-time visitors should to go a Fado Restaurant.

Fado is uniquely Portuguese.

Typically it is a sad song with accompaniment and a dance that is performed at restaurants that serve Portuguese food.

The food is wonderful and it seems olive oil is on everything.

It is even on the breakfast table.

They use it like butter and I have to admit it was very tasty.

For those who want to travel to Europe and are hesitant because they fear terrorism, Portugal is a good option as it has escaped terroristic attacks.

The country was neutral in World War II, so it was not bombed.

Neutrality can be a good thing.

Travel Trivia Tease™: What is there to see in Sintra?

Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!