We briefly debated going back to Sintra the next day because there was still more to see and do, but ultimately decided to break things up a bit with a trip across to Belem, which is a waterfront suburb of Lisbon. It's about 15 minutes on the tram from where we were staying, and the day started off with C and I realising that none of us had enough money on our travel cards to actually get to Belem and running across the main plaza to the train station in search of a machine to top them up. Running because the next tram was due in like 16 minutes and we figured that would be enough time to get over there, top up the cards, and get back.
Turns out, it was, but the machines were ridiculously slow so we cut things pretty close. When we got to Belem, we wandered through a park and stumbled across this statue:
Given that there's a statue of him, he's presumably important in some way. But there were no signs or markers identifying him, and Google Maps is of no assistance. Womp womp.
Eventually, we made our way down to the Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos for those of you who prefer Portuguese). The giant map in the forecourt was pretty awesome, although impossible to take photos of courtesy of dozens of tourists. C did better than I did, so I totally stole this photo from him:
We paid the €3 fee to take the elevator up to the top, and I have to say that the view was pretty damned great.
You know, until we noticed that massive rain cloud up there rapidly heading in our direction... We scurried back to the bottom of the tower and managed to take a few pictures of the outside before it started to pour with rain. Sideways rain. Torrential sideways rain.
We ended up sheltering around one side of the monument, which stopped the worst of the rain hitting us, and luckily the rain didn't last too long. But it did look like it was going to return relatively soon, so we hightailed it over to the monastery with intentions of going to the National Maritime Museum. Due to my inability to focus, we ended up at the National Archaeology Museum instead (in my defence, they're essentially next door to each other) and didn't realise until we were half way through an exhibit on Roman culture. I blame general vagueness and the fact that they had a huge exhibit about shipwrecks...
On the plus side, the exhibit about Roman culture meant that C and I got to nerd out and spend like 15 minutes trying to translate gravestones from Latin. Because we're cool like that...
Once we'd exhausted all the possibilities at the museum, we headed in the direction of our REAL aim in coming to Belem: Casa Pasteis de Belem, home of the much loved Portuguese custard tart which was apparently invented just up the road at the monastery that was to be our next stop. It was pretty busy, and the wait time for service was pretty terrible, but I can highly recommend the toasted cheese sandwiches. And the pasteis de Belem were TO DIE FOR:
|LOOK HOW CRISPY OMFG.|
The church was amazing, and included the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea, which is a pretty incredible feat.
We finished at the monastery not long before they closed for the day and then speed walked the one and a bit kilometres to Belem Tower, sneaking in with about 10 minutes to spare before last entry. Phew!
There's not really a whole lot to see at Belem Tower. The interior is basically empty with a few story panels on each level to tell you about the original purpose of that floor of the tower. But, you know, there was this gargoyle of a monkey playing the violin, so that's something!
From there, we headed back to the tram and started making our way back into the city. But part way there, the trams were all stopped by a firetruck blocking the tracks and we were told that we'd have to take a bus instead. Of course, no one spoke English and we had no idea where the buses were going or where we were, so we ended up jumping on a bus that SEEMED to indicate that it was going to the city centre and hoped for the best.
It didn't go quite where we thought it would, but somehow we ended up at a surprisingly good restaurant half way up a big flight of stairs with bird cages full of finches out the front. I have zero idea of what it was called, but I can tell you that the food was pretty damned tasty, they had no qualms about adding or removing things from their dishes, and I ended up having a sweet potato cake with olive oil ice cream from dessert solely because it sounded so intriguing. Definitely weird but still pretty tasty!
Next up, we head back to Sintra to visit some more national palaces, because apparently Portugal has a million of them.