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   eBiking to Belém
Friday, November 17 2023

location: room 2016, Hotel Avenida Palace

This morning we had breakfast down in the hotel's grand dining hall, whose ceiling was at least one extra floor overhead. There was very little for us in the buffet, and what there was was more compatible with my food preferences that Gretchen's. I rather liked the roasted zucchini with green peppers, to which I added mushrooms and beans (that last being a staple of British breakfast buffets). It being a fancy hotel, we were waited on very graciously, and it turned out they could make an oat milk cappuccino (though it ended up being a bit sweeter than I would've preferred).
The adventure Gretchen planned for us today (our last full day in Lisbon) was to ride electric bikes west to the district of Belém. For lunch, the plan was to get some food at a vegan grocery store called Green Beans and carry it with us so we could have a picnic. Initially, though, we stopped at a tiny shop selling vegan versions of pastéis de nata, small custard tarts. I ate one, though it really wasn't my sort of thing.
The vegan grocery was in the back of a store that featured a prominent display of vegan shoes. This reminded Gretchen that my shoe situation is rather dire; I mostly wear Keen hiking sandals when I'm not wearing Crocs, neither of which are really suitable for any but the most casual of occasions. The nice thing about the shoes being sold in this vegan grocery store was that, though they were basically sneakers, they lacked all the flashy swoops and garish logos that I am loath to put on my feet (or anywhere else on my person; I hate things that look the least bit "sporty"). It was difficult to find a shoe big enough (or, more precisely, wide enough) for my enormous feet, and European shoe sizes are specified in a completely alien system (an American size 12 is close to 47 in their scale), but eventually I found a simple all-black shoe with a suede-like top and a minimum of seams that was to my liking and that actually fit (assuming it would stretch somewhat to the width of the kind of feet one gets from mostly walking barefoot). In the back of the store near the groceries was a counter where various pizza and calzone-type foods were for sale, and Gretchen bought a collection of those for our picnic.
The bike rental place proved almost as elusive as the vegan buffet place last night had been. But soon we had our eBikes, which each cost only about eighteen euros to rent for most of the day. Gretchen was ready to start riding them on the narrow streets of the city, but I wasn't comfortable getting on mine until we were down by the waterfront. The bikes we'd rented were much more powerful than our eBikes back at home, causing Gretchen to wonder if we should sell those and buy something better.
It was supposed to take us a half hour to bike to Belém, but it didn't seem to take anywhere near that long before we'd arrived at an elaborate social realist sculpture featuring numerous oversized men from the 15th Century. Gretchen thought this was "the Tower," though it was actually the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a much more modern celebration of Portuguese discoveries (and, by extension, colonialism). Nearby was a large gothic structure, which Gretchen thought, correctly in this case, was "the monastery") set behind a garden, which looked like a good place to have our picnic. This required crossing a massive riverside highway using a pedestrian tunnel. To get our bikes down there, we had to use a metal track that was bolted to the steps allowing the wheels to roll. But this system was designed for much lighter bikes not equipped with batteries. Getting the bikes down wasn't too much of a problem (so long as one remembered to use the brakes) but Gretchen didn't really have enough strength to push her bike back up the other side. Fortunately, some nice gentleman immediately stepped in to provide a power boost. The savory things were all very good, though the sweet things Gretchen had bought (including, by now, the pastéis de nata) were not, and we ended up throwing them to first one and then three and then something like twenty seagulls.
Gretchen wanted to go look inside either the monastery or the adjacent church (both of them in the gothic style from he 1500s), but there was a long line for the former and one had to go get a ticket elsewhere. There church, though, was free. But there was no obvious place to lock up our bikes. Gretchen tried asking the guy doing crowd control if we could lock our bikes to one of the metal barricades designed to coax people into a line, and he quickly said that this was not allowed. [REDACTED] We ended up finding metal structure to lock the bikes to across a nearby street.
The inside of the church was clunkier than other gothic churches we've visited, and it had clearly been built on a budget. Whole swaths of wall had been left unadorned, and the stacked stones in this state rather resembled concrete blocks. Gretchen thought it was the ugliest gothic church she had ever seen.
From there, we decided to take advantage of our eBikes by riding a little to the north, uphill and away from the riverfront. The bikes made this completely effortless, thogh at some point I had to extract a strip of cloth (given to us as hygienic padding for our bike helmets) that had gotten tangled in Gretchen's bike's derailleur, making it difficult to pedal.
After coming down the slope, we found a bridge across the busy highway allowing us to pedal over to the waterfront and ultimately to the Belém Tower, a foreboding (though also strangely whimsical) gothic structure built partly out into the water. It had supposedly once served as a fort back during the Age of Discoveries (back when Portugal was a world-spanning empire). It was possible to tour the Tower, though again the line was long and it seemed we could get what we needed from it by just looking at its exterior. We decided to get me an overpriced beer from one of the several concession stands and Gretchen an orange juice from another. While drinking these, we marveled at the process required to produce a piña colada in a cored-out pineapple (one of the most common drinks sold at touristy concessions). We also once again marveled at the people who spent their entire time posing for and snapping pictures of themselves without taking the time to just experience the place. Several of the couples we saw were, Gretchen thought, grossly mismatched in terms of attractiveness.
On the bike ride back to the heart of Lisbon, we stopped to look at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos in greater detail (it cost ten euro to go inside, which we felt no need to do). Following the bike path, we discovered we could avoid riding on a section of busy highway we'd felt we'd had to take on the way out. Eventually, though, we were in an area near the heart of Lisbon on the waterfront that was so crowded with tourists that we decided escaped the crowd via a large plaza called Praça do Comércio, where a small group of Africans had gathered at the back of the equestrian statue to protest something.
After returning our eBikes and cleaning up in our hotel room, we waited around until nearly 7:00pm and then went to dinner at Jardim das Cerejas, the vegan buffet we'd tried to go to yesterday. It turned out that it didn't open until 7:00pm, and we were there first there, as they allowed us in a couple minutes early. For eight euros, I got a whole bottle of red wine with my meal which was (Gretchen and I both agreed) the best on our trip so far. I've mentioned in the past that buffets (so long as they are fresh) have a potential to be better than any other form of meal, since one can choose exactly what one wants and, upon discovering something delicious, can concentrate on eating that. Gretchen was concentrating on green leafy vegetable matter, as she felt she'd had a dearth of that of late. For me, the highlights were various meatball-like objects and a somewhat Indian tasting chickpea curry. Not far into our meal, the restaurant had gone from empty to packed. When we departed, Gretchen asked for a cork for my bottle of wine (which I'd only drunk half of), and that allowed me to carry it home.
On the stroll back from dinner, we marveled at the ruins of the Carmo Convent, a massive stone building with no roof and an end wall truncated half-way up a rose window. (It was, as I learned later, casualty of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, something Lisbon was by then too poor to restore). Closer to our hotel, went into the nearby Rossio train station (which has a delightful neo-Gothic, almost Art Nouveau façade) to see if there were really no trains connecting it to Porto. There weren't.

On the streets of Lisbon this morning. By European standards, Lisbon is a fairly shabby city. Part of the reason is the color of the stone is such that it looks grimy when it is dirty. Click to enlarge.

Gretchen in from of the church in Belém. Click to enlarge.

A gothic façade on the church. Click to enlarge.

A heavy Jesus inside the Belém church. Click to enlarge.

Jesus on a stick is but a plaything to another statue. Click to enlarge.

The Belém Tower from the north. Click to enlarge.

The ramp to the Belém Tower. Click to enlarge.

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos from the west. Click to enlarge.

The top of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos from the west. Click to enlarge.

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos from the east. Click to enlarge.

Gretchen on a bike as we pass a woman west of the 25 de Abril Bridge. Click to enlarge.

Jesus the King (a knock of of Jesus the Redeemer) framed by the structure of the 25 de Abril Bridge. Click to enlarge.

African protesters behind the equestrian statue in Praça do Comércio. Click to enlarge.

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