“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over”


Nr 81. Sailing Lisbon

As a child, I could look for hours in the Atlas: the book with maps of all countries, seas and mountainranges all over the world. I would dream of visiting these exotic places and was always curious to find more about places with mysterious names like ‘Skagerrak’, ‘Kattegat’, The Artic circle or the Northcape. During our sailingadventure, I have experienced these areas in real life. Sometimes I have to pinch my arm: am I doing this!

River Tagus

This was the feeling I got again when we were sailing from the Atlantic Ocean into the river Tagus. This river was mentioned during my lessons in elementary school: the 1.000 km long river rises at 1590 meters on the slopes of the mountain Muela de San Juan in eastern Spain and goes all the way to Lisbon. And here we were: sailing with our own catamaran on the river Tagus into Lisbon!

First under the 75 meter high red steel suspension bridge that is inspired by the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. Further on, we can already see the 17 km long white Vasco da Gama bridge: that’s where our harbor is! It was a 2 hour sail: Lisbon really has a long coastline, so we could enjoy the city from the water and watch the 7 hills the city is built on.

Portuguese Sea Explorers monument

One of the things I really liked to visit in Lisbon was the Monument for the 33 iconic Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th century. The monument is called ‘Padrão dos Descobrimentos’ and is based at the waterfront of the 13 km boulevard of Lisbon. You can cycle this path, so we did. It was a great afternoon: the sun was shining, lots of sailing boats were on the water and when we cycled on the boulevard we also discovered many trendy restaurants with rooftopbars.

The 7 hills of Lisbon and the earthquake of 1755

Lisbon has many historic districts and old city centers like Baixa, Bairro Alto, Alfama. And since it is build on 7 hills, you keep climbing up and down the city the whole time. With our e-bikes it was easy to visit these areas, but we also saw the famous yellow tram nr 28 that you can take. It also goes through the small and steep streets of Lisbon.

In the historic districts, we noticed many buildings where not that old, we missed 14th/15th century churches, etc. This has to do with the tragic history of Lisbon: in 1755 there was a devastating earthquake. Because it happened during All Saints Day (1 Nov.), ten of thousands of people in churches got killed. During that time, lots of candles were lit, so the wooden houses in Lisbon made the city burn for 5 days. Also the tsunami that followed destroyed a lot of the city (and the Algarve!). Waves of 20 meters were seen on the North coast of Africa. Even in Finland, the earthquake was noticed. It’s a shame this happened to a beautiful city and it changed the view of the city forever, with only the oldest buildings surviving on the top of the hills of Lisbon.

The city got rebuild, with a lot of help from Europe. And it regained it’s pride and typical Portugese rituals. For instance, the now famous pastry shop ‘Pastél de Belém’, founded in 1837, is still blooming. Of course we bought some pastel de nata from I waited 20 minutes in line outside of the shop, but then we could buy the delicious cakes!

Parque das Nações

We also enjoyed the newer areas of Lisbon. Our harbor was at Parque das Nações, which was an old industrial area they was completely renovated and has beautiful parcs now at the waterfront and trendy buildings, like the Oceanarium, one of the biggest in Europe. We also went to a modern cinema to see the latest movie of Julia Roberts and George Clooney ‘Ticket to Paradise’. We could eat sushi before the movie started. The movie was in the original English version with Portuguese subtitles. I wondered, since the Portuguese speak English so well, would countries were people grow up with subtitles in stead of dubbing on TV shows and in cinema’s like in France and Spain, speak better English….?

Visiting the dentist

People often say to us: ‘you are now on an eternal vacation’. Which is partly true, we now have a lifestyle of managing our own time, have a lot of spare time and go sightseeing. But ‘normal life’ also continues: we have to do housekeeping, clean the boat, do administration, pay our bills and taxes. And also visit a dentist like we did in Lisbon. Because Gilles felt one of his teeth was hurting a bit. So we asked the harbormaster if he could recommend a dentist closeby. He warned us that there we a lot of companies in Portuguese cities that called themselves dentist, but they offer poor medical quality. We should visit a private specialized dental clinc, and there was one closeby, 10 minutes walking. We went to this private clinic to make an appointment. We could come back the next day at 18.00h, the clinic was open from 8.00-22.00h!. Gilles has good medical insurance, so we were not too worried about the bill. I also thought it would be a good moment for me to do a check on my teeth. Last time I went to the dentist was half a year ago in March 2022 when we passed by with our boat in Holland (sailing from England, New Castle to Den Helder to start descending towards Belgium and France).

It was false alarm for Gilles: no trouble with his teeth. Then my appointment (18.30h) came up. The dentist took 2 X-ray pictures to check 2 weak spots, but they were ok as well. He cleaned my teeth, did polishing, gave it an extra treatment with some green liquid and then I had to bite in a paper bit with fluorine in it. I remembered that from being a child, but here they also do this for adults. So half an hour of dental work and the bill was…..€ 66! Wow, normally in Holland, only 1 X-ray picture would cost that much. So with fresh ‘new’ teeth we happily walked back to the catamaran!

Visitors on the boat in Lisbon

A friend from the studygroup I have know for 10 years now (and also had dinner with in Utrecht in March 2022),  travelled to Lisbon with her daughter to go hiking along the western coast of Portugal. We happened to be in Lisbon at the same time, so she came with her daughter to the catamaran and we had a lovely afternoon! We had lunch on the boat, then sailed out of the harbor on the river Tagus back to their hotel which was in the district under to beautiful red bridge. So we sailed to the small harbor there, where they could disembark and walk to their hotel. It was like a private rivercruise, we had a great time with them!

Our next destination….is exotic!

In October you notice the temperatures go down a bit (from 26 degrees to 22 degrees in Portugal) and the sun sets earlier (the Portugal it is 1 hour earlier than in the Netherlands, so around 19.00h it is starting to get dark). In these circumstances, you get pretty skies with orange glows in Lisbon:

But we enjoyed the warm summer of 2022 in Northern Spain and Western Portugal so much, that we were looking for a way to extent our summerfeeling in October. I remembered from the Friday afternoon drink with Dutchies in Cascais, that some boats were going to Madeira next, or to the Azores, Canary islands or Cape Verde. Apparently Lisbon is a crossroad where sailors can choose to go keep going south (to Madeira, Canaries or Cape Verde in front of the African Coast). Or go east to the Algarve, into the Mediterranean Sea. Or go west to Caribbean and pass the Azores.

When I was a child I looked this all up in the paper Atlas like I mentioned in the beginning of this blog. But now we have Googlemaps 😊. So I studied closely all the directions the Dutch sailors were going after Cascais/Lisbon. The Azores got my attention. These islands were directly in a straight line from Lisbon where we were now, to New York city (or the Caribbean where most sailors went to). And it was ‘only’ 700 sea miles (= 1.300 kilometers) away from Lisbon (and 2.500 km from New York). So pretty much in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and with temperatures of never below 24 degrees…!

But sailing now to the Azores is a bit too much for ‘just’ a short and fun visit from Lisbon and back to Lisbon (it would take about 1 month to sail and visit). Our plan was to keep sailing south on the Portuguese coast, to go in the direction of the Algarve. But I found out that everyday a 2 hour return flight goes from Lisbon to the Azores for just  € 70….. Gilles was enthusiastic as well and into this spontaneous idea. So I booked 2 tickets for us and then walked to the harbor master to tell that we would go on a trip for 10 days to the Azores…. starting the next day!

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