Just like Oliver Twist with his longing for more food, we have realized that one visit to this beautiful area will just not be enough. As I mentioned to my friend and fellow travel lover, Patty Bartscher: We dived into the vast attractions of Portugal like were like first-timers at an all-you-can-eat-buffet. We wanted to try everything and we just kept piling more on our plate.

Our rental was in Seixal, just across the Tagus River from Lisbon. We arrived in town on a rainy Wednesday evening to find that the streets around our house were being blocked in anticipation of Freedom Day celebrations. Freedom Day commemorates the Carnation Revolution, a peaceful coup that overthrew the Estado Novo regime and ended 48 years of authoritarian rule. The name comes from the fact that almost no shots were fired, and Celeste Caeiro, a Portuguese pacifist, offered carnations to the soldiers when the population took to the streets to celebrate the end of the dictatorship; other demonstrators followed suit, and carnations were placed in the muzzles of guns and on the soldiers’ uniforms. On Freedom Day we were treated to parades, bands playing in the square just up the street from our house, and an evening of fireworks. Seemed like a pretty spectacular way to start our visit.
Seixal itself is quite small, but had a vibrant and engaging vibe (think Half Moon Bay, fellow coastsiders!) – friendly neighbors, great bakery (yeah, always that…) and shops, beautiful beaches. One of the best features was that the ferry dock for boats to Lisbon was less than a 15 minute walk from our digs.

We made it a point to frequent local restaurants in town and were very pleased with all of the fresh fish options. After one outing Bob decided he would venture into the world of dessert and asked the waitperson to bring us the speciality of the house. This strawberry fluff ball arrived on it’s chessboard.

And wouldn’t you know, that Queen of Hearts was edible – printed on a sheet of marshmallow.

One of our first Lisbon forays was to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian. This complex sits within a beautiful botanical park and has three large buildings with a variety of galleries.

The main hall had a featured exhibit on The Brain and contained many interactive stations to demonstrate how the brain functions. Over our heads was a gallery-long sculpture of a dendron.

Taking up an entire wall was slide show, set to music, of a plastinated brain: “preserved through impregnation with a liquid polymer for educational and instructional purposes. Created through a process of informed donor consent.”

People gathered to watch the show and see the changing colors and cross-section perspectives.

Oddly mesmerizing; almost radiant.

One corner of the exhibit explained a research study that used robots to work with autistic children. The robots are programmed to break down complex behaviors into a series of neutral interactions. The robot receives a command from an instructor; the child watches the robot along side the instructor, listens to the command, and then sees how the robot responds. Then the child responds in kind. They have found that this sequencing has made it possible for the autistic child to improve their reading of facial expressions and gestures.

After The Brain we went for a quick trip through the Founder’s Collection – lots of antiquities. My favorite was this tapestry, especially when I got up close to appreciate all of the hand work that went into its creation.

On to the Modern Wing. This unassuming piece by Fernanda Fragateiro (made of books arranged with spines down) had the witty title, “Reading the Landscape” Okay, I admit, I sometimes get more of a kick out of the clever name than the piece itself.

Featured artist, Rogério Ribeiros’s beautiful oil titled Família.

Before the Bullfight by Amadeo de Souza-Cardiso. One of the things we appreciated about this particular collection was that all of the work was by Portuguese artists, few of which we had been exposed to before. A nice change of pace, especially after having visited so many museums with classic offerings.

One day it was just about walking and looking. We climbed tons of steps and wound through lots of narrow walkways in Lisbon’s Alfama District.

On another day it was a walk about the Belém District, admiring the vast Gothic Jerónimos Monastery and then some time at Museu Coleção Berardo.

This sculpture takes up most of the hallway in the lower level of the museum.

This very compelling description…

…was next to this piece of art. So understated. I loved it.

The bold Portrait of Jacqueline, 1984, by Julian Schnabel…

…is made with broken ceramics.

We were even tickled by the graphics on the WC doors.

We walked back along the river and stopped at MAAT – the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. They have two buildings. The first is a renovated power plant. Let’s just say that Bob was awed.

One of the great things about this place was how unrestricted it was. We could walk pretty much anywhere we wanted – even climbing ladders for new views. Sort of like a play structure for adults.

View from the ground floor up to the fourth level.

And how about this set of stairs!?!

The boiler room: industry as art. (Though we are sure the place looks a lot better all cleaned up as it is now than it did when it was a hydraulic plant.)

The second building holds their art and photography exhibits. But it was the outside that captured our interest.

For all my quilting friends – inspiration???

We took one over night trip to the magical mountain city of Sintra. The red door is actually the entrance to our lodging.

It was a bit like entering a playhouse.

We walked from our accommodations up – and I do mean UP – to Quinta da Regaleira – with its romantic castle and chapel set in a luxurious park. From this angle the castle almost looks like it could be in Disneyland. The entire complex was the vision of Carvalho Monteiro, a Portuguese entomologist whose family money came from coffee and gemstones. Monteiro wanted to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian architect Luigi Manini, he rebuilt a former 4-hectare estate. In addition to other new features, he added buildings that allegedly hold symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians.

The park is filled with lakes, grottos, fountains and follies – and, in our case, a Bob.

A view of the chapel from the castle balcony.

The Ibis Bench.

The intricate carvings of the mantle in the dining room of the castle which is done in Neo-Manueline style; a revival architecture and decorative arts style developed in Portugal between the middle of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Learned something new there…

Ceiling in the living room. You know how I always like to look up, but…

…sometimes it is also good to look down. You might just catch a gorgeous floor mosaic.

Closer look at the stunning columns of the outdoor spiral staircase going from the ground floor to the second floor balcony that wraps the castle.

Just when we think we have seen the ultimate castle there’s this: Pena Palace, which is at the top of the hill. (We took a bus and a tram and then did a good bit of walking to get there.) The palace started out as a chapel then became a monastery before being left for ruin until King Ferdinand decided to rebuild the site as a summer palace for the royal family. One of the quirky features to the palace is a drawbridge that doesn’t draw. Maybe they thought the climb was insurance enough that they would be prepared for attacked.

We were not allowed to take photos of the interiors, but I did take shots of the exterior – including the tower wing with its lovely tiled walls.

The turrets at each corner of the open arcades and the clocktower (background, in red). Now this REALLY feels like Disneyland!

On our last Lisbon excursion day we went to the National Tile Museum. The building is a former monestary (seems like a common theme of late).

This is a a piece that captivated me…

…while Bob really liked this…

…and then there was the surprise of grasshoppers…

…and the urge to interpret this in quilt form…those roses…

…followed by the traditionally painted and classic blue of Portugal azulejos…

… switching to the unique rail piece that sings of movement…

…or finally, the set of tiles that looks like something I would like to have in my own home.

Now it is on to Porto. And the Portugal question is: how much of a good thing is too much of a good thing? We will see.