Spain & Portugal Blog 06

Friday May 31, 2019

I abandoned you several days ago in Seville (sorry about that), and so much has happened since I don’t know where to start. What I can tell you is that, on Thursday, we took aim on Portugal’s Atlantic Coast and Europe’s westernmost, sunniest capital: Lisbon. En route, we enjoyed colourful landscapes and rustic farmscapes … slept on and off (and some of us snored) … stopped at the Basilippo Olive Mill and learnt more about olive oil than you’ll ever know … and took time out for a leisurely lunch-stop in Evora (one of Portugal’s most enchanting medieval towns, preserved behind 14th century walls).

While in Evora, we visited one of the weirdest churches any of us have ever seen. The ‘Chapel of Bones’ was built in the 16th century with bones from the graves in the town. Why, you ask? Well, as an encouragement to visitors to think upon the transitory human condition. In the words above the entrance: “We bones that are here, we are waiting for yours.” Mmm, sobering, eh?

Lisbon is known as Queen of the Seas, thanks to its history as the sail-away port for superstar Portuguese explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco de Gama, off to find the New World. However, the city was almost somewhere else: in 1775 officials considered moving it, after the strongest, most devastating earthquake ever to strike modern Europe.

Fortunately, Lisbon stayed where it was. Which meant we could stay, too, and soak up its panorama of ancient ruins, white-domed cathedrals, magnificent bridges and cobbled alleyways!

We started at the 16th century Jeronimos Monastery, with its honey-stone cloisters, arches and turrets. The monastery was once populated by monks of the Order of St Jerome, whose spiritual job was to comfort sailors and pray for the King’s soul. (Not bad work if you could get it!)

At some stage that morning, we sat in a café sampling a local custard-filled treat: ‘Pasteis de Belem’. Then next on our to-do list was the impressive Torre de Belem (Belem Tower). Its distinctive battlements jut out onto the Rio Tejo and used to serve as a beacon for navigators returning from the far-off Indies. And just along the waterfront is Lisbon’s iconic Monument to the Discoveries, built in honour of Portuguese seafarers who, during the heady Empire-era, were some of the first Westerners to sail the globe.

Over dinner that first night we were entertained with a traditional Portuguese favourite: live Fado music – melodic, melancholic, and very pleasant.

It’s impossible to see everything there is to see in a city like Lisbon, but on Saturday we wandered with locals in the Marques de Pombal Square … e walked (staggered?) up the steep hills of Lisbon’s oldest district: the Alfama … and we eyeballed the hard-to-miss Castelo de Sao Jorge (Castle of St George), bits of which date from the 6th century, with other bits added later by the Visigoths and the Moors.

Ah yes! At a Midlife Madness rooftop cocktail party that evening, we toasted Lisbon’s health. If you get the chance to visit this place – DO IT!

COMING UP: Our adventure continues in Sintra – a picturesque town set amongst pine-covered hills, and famous for its wacky, dreamy, multi-coloured Pena Palace. Stay tuned!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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About John Cooney

John Cooney and his wife Robyn have enjoyed more than their fair share of travel. They hesitate to call themselves ‘experts’ – but they’ve grabbed every chance that’s come their way to explore new countries, cultures and customs. They’ve had the privilege (both on their own and as the leaders of numerous successful group-tours) to sample many stunning destinations: Europe, the UK, Singapore, Vanuatu, the USA, Israel, Egypt, Africa, Dubai, China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And their recent (and most pleasant) memories are of the places ancient-and-modern that border the Mediterranean. John and Robyn are at-home in airports, hotels, cruise ships, and the like … and they know how to make the most of a unique travel opportunity. Travel, they reckon, is an all-five-senses experience – a chance to see, feel, smell, hear and taste the world. And they’ve done it often enough to know for sure: sightseeing with a group of laid-back Kiwis is DOUBLE the fun – lots of laughs, great company, and memories that last forever!


  1. Hi Coons. Eeeeeeek. That Chapel of Bones gives me the creeps. Yucky. Who the hell would think of doing something like that. Eeewwwweeeeeee.
    Love your pics. Amazing. Love n hugz the Kerks 💞💞

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