A break now from the Spanish fiesta and off to her smaller and equally fascinating neighbor – Portugal.

In the world scheme of things, Portugal is a tiny country with a BIG history. Long overshadowed by her bigger Iberian neighbor, the Portuguese are wont to make sure you dont forget their contributions to mankind: the Age of Maritime Exploration, the great Portuguese conquistadors, the Portuguese language and of course, that wickedly calorific and yummy desert called Portuguese egg tarts.

This is my second trip to Portugal, well, technically at least. The first time was back in 1999 when I visited the then Portuguese territory of Macao about 10,000(?) kilometers from the mainland!

I have been fascinated since with their stories of swashbuckling explorers who set out to the unknown seas – all to spread the Faith, get rich and add some spice in their cookery.

And so I decided to do some explorations of my own. We hopped on a 2 AM train-ride, a bunch of bananas, a craned neck and nine-hours later, we reach the capital from Salamanca.

Ahhh, Lisbon at last!

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Here with the Portuguese national colors fluttering proudly…mighty high!
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Lisbon is a city that is neither imperial nor grand, surprising considering it was once the center of a world empire. Upon the stepping out of the train station, what greeted me was shabby (by European standards), slightly unkempt and extremely hilly city. A welcome respite, really, from the spiffed-up Spanish cities that I have visited over the last few weeks.

But the city does have a trace its imperial grandeur and is best seen at the aptly named "Praca de Imperio" (Imperial Square) – home Lisbon's most illustious monument to the Age of Discovery- the Jeronimos Monastery.

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I won't scrimp with praise and will honnestly say that this is my favorite monument in Lisbon. A masterpiece of the so-called Manueline form of architecture, this is the ultimate expression of Portugal's golden age in the 15th century. I love the fact the building is big but not overwhelmingly BIG…just enough for someone to ooh and ahh at the details…

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such as this palm-inspired columns at the monatery's main chapel. Exquisite!

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On this little corner by its lonesome rests one of Portugal's greats…the explorer Vasco de Gama.
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About a kilometer away from the Jeronimos Monastery is the Belem tower- another Lisbon landmark- quite a walk, yes, but it's gotta be done!

Interesting view of the Tagus river but wasnt sure if it was worth the walk. If anything, maybe for the kodak moment…


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Now, huffing and puffing through the old town. Like Rome and Macao, Lisbon is made up of higglety-pigglety hills. This is the Alfama quarter and its (unmemorable) Romanesque cathedral.

You think the Lisboetans could have had built something more impressive with all the gold they found in Brazil and the slaves they shipped from Africa.

Guess not.

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More huffing and puffing, this time to one of the highest points int he city, the castle of Saint George. A few twists and turns around the cobbles…

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And you get this killer view of old Lisbon!

Worth the climb!

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