Lisbon is now in our wake and we are once again steaming ahead across the wide and windy Atlantic. As we take some long but gentle rolls, let me tell you a little about the fun times we had in this last exciting port, which were awash with sunshine and almost endless activity! While some us would have been content to sit in a café eating classic dishes such as bacalhau (cod) prepared in a thousand and one ways, Lisbon itself was waiting!
The first thing most visitors to Portugal’s capital city will hear about is the Great Earthquake of 1755, which destroyed much of what was then one of the wealthiest cites in Europe. After the devastation, the city was rebuilt on a grand scale and much of what we see today still retains this early splendor. Sprawled across seven hills, Portugal’s capital requires impressive legwork to explore in a mere three days. Fortunately, public transport options abound in the form of trams, buses, trains and the occasional elevador, which kept our calve muscles from screaming too badly and let us experience some mind-blowing views!
Docked right next to the Alfama – Lisbon’s ancient section which was left standing after the earthquake – most of us began our wanderings through the city’s narrow becos (alleyways), which gradually ascend towards the Castelo de São Jorge for a spectacular glimpse out over Lisbon’s traditional red-roofed buildings. From here it was an easy stroll through the tiled streets and buildings of Baixa, the shopping district, to pick up souvenirs before hitting the student-friendly bars and high streets of Bairro Alto. Those cadets who weren’t too tired from their ‘night shifts’ out in the city headed the next day to Belem, a neighborhood steeped in maritime history where explorer Vasco de Gama set sail for India in 1497. The impressive Mosterio dos Jeronimos commemorates his return, and was once home to monks from the Order of St. Jerome, whose job it was to comfort weary sailors. Maybe they too had “Q’s” to pass or something as hard as the Coast guard licensing exam to study for?
Many among our shipmates also ventured further afield, preferring to take day trips to see sights beyond Lisbon’s urban landscape. One group ventured as far as Fatima, a sight important to Catholics where visionary peasants are said to have glimpsed the Virgin Mary. They returned with wonderful shots of the town’s basilicas as well as of the beautiful countryside. Another contingent of cadets and some crew headed north to the beach town of Cascais to soak up some sun, and to try some paddle boarding. Once a small fishing village, this fun little coastal town now boasts three beaches, a pedestrian-friendly old section and a great shore-side bike path, as well as lots of post-beach activity. Belonging to the frigid Atlantic, however, the water was almost spine-tingling! A quick dip in these clear but icy seas was enough for me, but not for the enthusiastic Dive Club, whose members slipped on full wetsuits with hoods for a two-tank scuba diving trip to a nearby island.
The divers are still talking excitedly about the types of fish they encountered, which included at least one octopus!
A different type of scenery altogether awaited yet another pack of my shipmates on a jeep tour of Sintra village, a World Heritage site full of narrow cobbled streets, nearby mountains and royal palaces dating to as far back as the 9th century.
Following hiking trails through the mountains and around nature preserves such as Parque da Pena, we wandered among the redwoods, lakes and valleys covered with ferns and often surrounded by a cool tropical mist. Along the way, castles rose mysteriously out of the fog!
A mere 10 miles west of town, we made a final stop at Cabo da Roca, the 150-meter sheer cliff that is the westernmost tip of Europe. Although New York City wasn’t exactly visible on the horizon, we snapped some pictures and waved to you all back at home. We are now on our final homeward stretch with only the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean to go!
Cadet Shout Out: Chris Marshall, 3rd class, says hi Mom and Dad! Miss you see you soon. Love you much & got you some great gifts.