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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lisbon, Portugal with a half day at Sintra & Cascais

MA getting her feet wet at Cascais
The Ruby Princess entered the mouth of the Tagus River sailing under the great 3km long bridge called the 25th of April. It is named for that date in 1974 when a bloodless revolution restored democracy to Portugal by overthrowing the Salazar dictatorship. The bridge resembles the Golden Gate Bridge because both were built by the same American company, American Bridge.
Human statue of a Moor invader
Before passing under the bridge we sailed by the Belem Tower and the Monument of the Discoveries.  The Belem Tower was built to guard Lisbon from invading “pirates” in the middle ages.  The Monument of the Discoveries honors the many Portuguese explorers who sailed from Portugal in the 15th Century exploring the New World.
The weather could not have been better. The wind was calm, temperature about 70 with a partly cloudy sky.  Mary Alice and I had breakfast in the room then we went up to Deck 7 to watch the ship maneuver a 180 degree turn and move sideways to the dock. Ropes were tossed to the waiting longshoremen and minutes later the huge ship was tied securely to the dock.
We had visited Lisbon before including a walking tour of the city plus MA had been here several times in the days of Pan Am, so this time we picked a tour of two local seaside villages, namely Sintra and Cascais(pronounced: cash kish).  Our group met in the Princess Theater at 12:45 and we were off the ship for the first time in six days and headed to our tour bus. 
The bus drove north from the dockyard along the Tegus River passing the two monuments we saw from the ship with.  We passed the mouth of the river putting the Atlantic Ocean on our left.  The right side was dotted with beautiful small communities with houses painted different pastel colors.  The road was lined with wildflowers of yellow, white, purple, red and orange.  We arrived at our first destination, Sintra in about an hour.
Cascais statue to St Peter

Sintra is a small town set in the mountain above the Atlantic coastline. Its Hotel Palacio was made famous in WW2 as a gathering place of spies as well as being a place where European royalty fled from the Nazis. Our bus parked and we were given 45 minutes to walk around and shop.  Mary Alice and I decided to stop in a small café near the town square named the Hockey Café and had coffee. We did a little shopping and it was already time to board the bus and head for Cascais.
Cacais beach and harbor

The harbor and beach came into view as we rounded a curve and started downhill. The sight of the fishing boats, blue water, and sandy beach makes Cascais a place that attracts thousands of locals as well as tourists.  The bus parked near the square and our guide gave us an hour on our own.  I made my way back up the hill to photograph the scene I had seen from the bus. MA waited nearby and then we walked down to the beach and MA took her shoes off and waded into the Atlantic.  She said the water was “very cold”. I believed her and therefore had no desire to check the water temperature.  
We walked into town and found a small outdoor café with a very friendly waiter named Mario.  He was surprised that MA spoke Portuguese.  Mario brought us some of the best coffee we have ever had. I asked him about purchasing one of his “Portugal” coasters.  Instead of giving me a price he handed me a stack of eight and wanted nothing for them. 
MA & Mario, a very delighful waiter

Mario was soon joined by another waiter, Pedro. Pedro asked us if we had ever had a Portuguese desert, pastel de nata. We said we had not and he quickly went off to bring us some.  It was a creamy peach and cinnamon pudding in a small pastry.
We found out that Pedro was married to a girl from Cuba so MA switched to Spanish and they had a lively conversation. We took Mario’s picture, got his e-mail and hurried back to the bus. We were having such a great time with them that time got away from us but the bus waited! 
Cascais harbor

We took a different route back to Lisbon and the ship. The roads were backed up with cars and commuters trying to get home, kind of like I-10 on a Friday afternoon.  Today was one of our great days ashore!

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