Lisbon in August was perhaps not our brightest idea. It was hot and we quickly got all citied out. The thing is, I enjoy cities much more in winter; they are cooler and have fewer tourists. Give me London in December rather than July, Rome in January rather than September. I’ve loved New York in March and Budapest in February. Perhaps I will return to Lisbon one day when it is not so stifling, and give the city the attention it deserves.
We sailed into Cascais, a well-to-do town that is effectively a suburb of Lisbon. As we approached along the coast we passed modern mansions nestled amongst the trees, all boxy and glassy and looking like they’d come straight from an episode of Grand Designs. Julian was later told, by the 65-year old woman manning the desk at the tourist office, that those mansions are where all the rich kids ‘do drugs and f*** each other’!
We anchored in the harbour at Cascais, forsaking the only marina we have ever come across that has a crèche! However, it would have cost us almost €50 a night. It seems as though lots of other yachties thought the price too high – the anchorage was crowded and the marina was empty.
We were surrounded by a multitude of crowded beaches, backed by a blend of 14th Century fortresses, 16th Century churches, and more of that 21st Century glassy boxy architecture, all making for a very pleasant vista. We had arrived in the midst of the town’s 650th anniversary celebrations and there were free concerts on a stage on the beach every night.
Our first morning in Cascais was pleasant. We visited the Tower of Santo António and the Fortress of Nossa Senhora da Luz, wonderfully restored since the rediscovery of the latter in 1987 and major archaeological work in the past decade. From there we walked the short distance to an amazing park with a great playground and multitude of shady trees. We ate our picnic lunch in the company of a flock of hens!
After that – well, let’s just say I’ve had better times elsewhere. Julian took the girls off for a couple of hours to give me some internet time. I found an almost empty bar in the marina that had free Wifi for customers and, as I and every other cruiser I’ve met over the past few months does, I ordered a coffee and asked for the Wifi code. The staff were none too friendly and, as I was about to order a second coffee, Wifi was turned off. I was the only person amongst the three customers who was (a) using Wifi and (b) not eating a whopping great plate of steak and chips. I got out of there quickly and eventually found an Irish pub where I ordered another drink and got online again.
Later, Julian went in search of some items for the boat and the girls and I spent the rest of the afternoon on a very crowded, very noisy beach. I hate being amongst great throngs of people. It stresses me out and makes me feel ill at ease. If I want to swim, I’m nervous about leaving my bag unattended. If I want to read, I’m nervous about taking my eyes off the kids and losing them in the crowds. Give me a quiet deserted beach any day of the week.
The next day we took the train to Lisbon. It is a beautiful city, but we all came close to melting. Highlights, for the girls and I, were a great little ice cream parlour and the Museum of Fashion and Design. Even I was surprised by Lily and Katie’s enthusiasm for the exhibition of 20th Century furniture.
We left the anchorage at Cascais the next day and sailed up the River Tagus to Doca de Alcântara, under the suspension bridge and in Lisbon itself. Julian serviced the engine, made some repairs and cleaned the hull of Carina, while the girls and I explored. The marina was adjacent to the Museum of the Orient, where we spent three hours one day. I learned a lot about Portugal’s historic and cultural relationships with Goa, China, Thailand, Indonesia and India, and I expanded what I already knew about the Portuguese in Japan in the 16th Century, and brought me back to a trip with some friends to Goto Reto island in Nagasaki-ken in 1996 and a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the cliff. The highlight for Lily and Katie was the shadow puppet exhibition that took up the entire second floor. We saw shadow puppets from India and Indonesia and watched a great documentary about Chinese shadow puppetry.
In Belem we visited the Museum of Electricity, predominantly to escape the heat of the unshaded banks of the Tagus. But it was well worth a visit. It wasn’t so much a museum of electricity as an old power station that had been transformed into a museum of itself. I loved it. But then, I’m a sucker for such silliness!
On our last afternoon in Alcântara I found a wall of forty murals commemorating 40 years since the April 25th 1974 revolution and depicting workers’ uprisings from around the world. They were amazing, and led to an impromptu lesson on workers’ rights, socialism and other such delights for the girls.
The sultry heat, throngs of tourists and noise of the city stressed me out. I’m a cold weather country bumpkin, and proud of it! A few days at sea, far from land, far from other people, with sea breezes to keep me cool – the perfect antidote to our few days in the city.