Atlantis Alumni

Friday, May 22, 2009

Trip Finale!

Top photo: What a ham! A playful sea otter at the Oceanaria in Lisbon.
Middle photo: Jeronimos monastery in Lisbon
Bottom photo: St. Sernin in Toulouse

The last day in France, a very exhausting day, started with the recovery of lost laundry from the front desk of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Montauban. This is written just to tell readers that travel, besides being enjoyable, is also arduous, sometimes perplexing and vexing. Does this sound like end-of-the-trip weariness? Indeed, we're both looking forward to flying back to Philadelphia tomorrow. Yesterday Jim calculated that he drove over a heroic 1,000 miles through southern France!
After checking out from the hotel in Montauban, we drove south to Toulouse, the fifth largest urban center in France. It was much more built up than remembered (when my friend Jet and I drove there almost thirty years ago), and might be considered a larger, still pink-brick cousin of such beautiful cities as Montauban and Albi. We left the car at the airport and took a bus into the city of Toulouse, walking in its old alleyways to eat lunch and visit a few sights. The best was the remarkable Romanesque cathedral of St.Sernin, one of the finest architectural treasures in France. Its broad nave and clearly articulated barrel-vaulted ceiling soared heavenwards.
Late in the same day, at 7 PM, our flight left Toulouse for Lisbon. We gained an hour, due to a time change, during the two hour flight, and the sky shone bright, if cool in the Portugese capitol. After a very late dinner, we tumbled into bed.

The next day we covered as much of Lisbon as possible. In the morning we took a cab to the Museu de Arte Antiga, which has a medium-sized collection featuring some major gems: works by Durer, Zubaran, Nunco Gonzalvez (the most important Portugese painter) and best of all, Bosch's fantastic "Temptation of St. Anthony," a painting which may depict a black mass.

Then we took a bus to the Hieronymite Monastery, the most important building in Lisbon. It's a huge complex, with chapter house, cloister and church all carved from warm-colored stone in the elaborate Manueline style, unique to early Renaissance Portugal. Ropes and other sea-motives are set in stone on the walls, alongside kingly shields, and saint's heads. This Unesco world heritage site, thronged with tourists, is near the Tagus River and the ocean. It reminds one that Portugal achieved its stature 500 years ago from its brave sailors, the most famed being Vasco da Gama, who is buried in the monastery's huge and ornate church.

After lunch we parted ways for the afternoon. Jim took a bus to the Oceanio, one of the world's largest aquariums, where he took extensive photos of playful sea otters, fish and other sea creatures. I went to the Gulbenkian Foundation's art museum, and enjoyed some of the masterpieces of that collection, including art works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Turner, Manet, Houdon, Lalique and many others. Calouste Gulbenkian was an early 20th century collector with exquisite taste and great means, and when he died he left his collection to Lisbon.

In the evening Jim and I explored the old section of town, the Bairro Alto, a neighborhood built on small hills, full of tascas (typical restaurants), bars and places where one can hear Fado, the unique Portugese folk songs. Though I was disappointed by the simple food, Jim enjoyed it very much, and it's certainly hearty. That's what happens after spending two weeks in France--one's palette expects only the best!

Today we'll take a train to Sintra, a nearby resort, mainly built in the 19th century. Then tomorrow it's the big return to the United States, home sweet home. Adieu, France and Portugal.


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