Today we woke up and after a shower headed outside and just barely down the street to the Ribeira Market that is in the large glass roofed building we can see from our hostel window. Once inside we took a nice tour around looking at all the vendors and seeing what we might like to get. There was vegetables of all kinds, fruit of all kinds, a couple of old ladies running bread shops and an aisle of meats and fish vendors, oh, and you could get some flowers if you so desired. We ended up with some fresh apples (not waxed, but real looking), carrots, bread and a green pepper that we took back to the hostel and had most of for breakfast.
After our wonderfully fresh, and super cheap (under 4 Euros) breakfast we headed out on our way to visit the Mosterio Jeronimo is Belem. To get to Belem we walked a few blocks down the street to the Cais do Sodre Station where you can catch buses, trams, trains, and the metro to pretty much everywhere else in the city. We were looking for a tram heading out to Belem, (the number 15 if I recall). As we arrived at the stop one of the rickety old trams was pulling up heading where we needed it to go, however there wasn’t that much room on board so I, Ryan, decided to wait for the next one so we could sit down and enjoy the trip. The sign at the stop said the next one would be along in 3 minutes so it was no big deal. 3 minutes later a massive two car modern bus like tram, with the accordion part in the middle, showed up, nearly full to the brim, that was the next number 15, not the authentic experience I was hoping for. We let it go by and hoped for the next one. About 1-2 minutes later another one showed up, also a giant modern tram, but we figured we should get on and get going, so much for another fun old tram ride. It was standing room only on the tram and since it was so packed we didn’t even manage to swipe our transit cards on the “honour” system card readers they have inside the tram, so it was a free trip for us and most everybody else that got on board. About 10-15 minutes later we got out, one stop after everybody else at the actual Monastery, so stay on the bus until you see the Monastery, you cannot miss it.
There was a very long lineup to get in, so we decided it would be wise to go get lunch first even though it was about 11 am. So we hoofed it a block or so back the direction we came, passing the famous Belem Pastelaria known for their Pasta de Nadas, and ducked into a little cafe. I had quickly gone in to see if they had sopa (soup) as we knew we liked the soup and it was always relatively cheap. So we grabbed a tiny little table and sat down and ordered ourselves dois sopas, this was probably our only transaction that was fully doable in Portuguese (even though the waiter seemed to speak French and English as well). We ordered two soups to get us going for the rest of the day and Lindsay told me we were going to be eating the bread again as she needed it. When we finished lunch, they didn’t charge us for the bread? This county is becoming a little puzzling with the whole charge or not charge for side dish thing. They’re supposed to always charge for the bread, but that’s twice now in the span of a day that they haven’t. Won’t complain about those places though.
After lunch went and got in line for the monastery. There was a moment at the start where it felt like we were trying to get onto a ride in Disneyland as the lineup was quite massive stretching all the way across the “grass” in front of the Monastery and starting to turn down the sidewalk. Unfortunately it was also directly in the hot midday sun and I hadn’t brought a hat to Portugal, expecting I could just buy one somewhere, but haven’t taken the time to look yet. Needless to say after about an hour waiting in line to get in I was sunburnt on the top of my head, no sunscreen there. Many people selling sunglasses and scarves, perhaps I should have bought some sunglasses as well…oh well, will know better for next time.
Finally we made it to the front of the line and the ticket booth for the Monastery. You can buy tickets for the Monastery & the Belem Tower as a single unit and save a few Euros on buying each separately, knowing we were going to walk over to the tower next we did just that. As we went to enter the Monastery an employee at the door gestured at me and my backpack. It turns out that you can’t bring camera tripods into the monastery. What? This would have been very helpful for the guidebooks to mention as I brought my nice tripod on this trip solely for the purpose of using it inside darker places. Instead I had to leave it at the front desk and come back for it later. I had some serious separation anxiety the whole time we were inside wondering if I could get my very, very, expensive tripod back, at least it’s insured.
So now inside we began walking around the Monastery which was very nice to cool off in after being outside in the sun. We spent a very long time walking around the main cloister and looking at all of the intricate artwork from every single angle possible. It is quite a feat of decoration and engineering. There is always a different bust or statue of something attached to a pillar to look at. You could spend hours and not look at each one individually for very long. Around the courtyard/cloister are many places to sit and look out at what is going on, some giant doors and enclaves to visit and of course you can take the giant stairs up to the second level and see it all from a higher angle. Finally done looking around there and taking pictures you can head inside to the refectory where the walls are lined with multiple murals of blue azulejos (tiles) depicting many different scenes. Then continue on upstairs to the choir balcony overlooking the main sanctuary. Once done there proceed back to the entrance area and then across and into the main sanctuary that you saw while waiting in line at the start.
Before heading to the Sanctuary Lindsay had to go use the washroom so while she was doing that I decided I had to do that as well so I wandered off to the men’s room. Turns out in the men’s room is a big window looking out onto the massive section of the Monastery that you can’t go to. So I stayed for a bit looking out the window and taking pictures and then went back to find Lindsay. I waited by the ladies’ room for a bit, but she wasn’t coming so figured she had gone looking for me, which she did, but then gave up and went to the front desk to wait for me and collect my tripod, which was thankfully still there. Apparently you should always tell someone when you’re going pee 😉
Reunited again with my wife, more importantly my tripod ;), we went inside the sanctuary. Inside the main sanctuary you can walk all around and see the different altars and the massive pillars holding up the structure along with the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer. It is very dark in the sanctuary but also very shiny. There are some very interesting circular windows near the front on either side with coloured glass that make very cool colours on the floor when the lighting is right. The ceilings are crazy high and there is lots of gold leaf and gold coloured everything, everywhere.
I think we spent about 3 hours inside looking thoroughly at everything and thankfully that is the only part open to the public. The other 70% of the Monastery is closed to the public and part of it is a separate museum and a music hall for concerts and who knows what else happens in the massive other end that would have housed all the monks. Well worth the visit just to see the manueline architecture if you have never seen it before.
After the Monastery we headed outside to the nearby park on the way to the Belem Tower and the rest of our day…