This afternoon Earl and I took a tour of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal and the only European port we’ll be seeing on this trip. We understand that an afternoon with a tour guide isn’t the same as a week or two in-country. At the same time, its merits are underrated.
I’d planned to study up on Portugal before climbing aboard the tour bus, but I didn’t. Instead I took the guide’s descriptions at face value with nothing to calibrate them by. And when the day was done, I felt as if I learned all about a city that was stuck in time.
Lisbon’s glory days were five hundred years ago when the country was known for its maritime explorations. Vasco de Gama, for instance, accomplished what Christopher Columbus only wished. He found the actual route to the Indies around the South African Cape of the Horn and enabled Portugal to control those seas for one hundred years.
Portuguese explorers traveled to Brazil, various ports in Africa, India, Macao, and China. You could hear the pride in our guide’s voice as she described her country’s influence. Never mind that the buildings we passed as she spoke were riddled with graffiti.
We stopped for photos at three monuments: a monastery and a fortress that were built in the Middle Ages. The third, the Monument of the Discoveries, commemorates the golden age of Portuguese exploration and depicts King Henry the Navigator and thirty-two amazing human sculptures standing on the bow of a ship. It was dedicated in 1960.
Overall, we loved the tram ride with its samplings of port wine and custard pastries. We loved the hillsides on which Lisbon is built. We loved the bridge that resembles the Golden Gate in San Francisco, primarily because it was built by the same engineering company.
And, if you want to know what an afternoon excursion’s real value is, it is this. Now that I’ve been to Lisbon and seen the sights, it makes me want to actually do the homework I should have done in the first place.