Portugal # 2: Cascais

Portugal, Blog 2

October 30, 2011

This morning’s news brought two contrasting items: news via Google of an early nor’easter in New England that evidently dumped snow, cut electricity,  and froze the remaining garden plants (Linda e-mailed Marianne the whereabouts of the shovels and the location of the emergency chocolate stash). And bright sunshine, via the kitchen window, that augured for a balmy Sunday daytrip to Cascais

Saturday night we’d scoped out the route and listed some must-dos. First task: get up for an early start. Easier said than done. This week half of the clocks on the streets, on the TV, and in the Archives read one hour, and the other half read an hour later. Or perhaps earlier. We’d ask people, and get 8:00 and 9:00 in equal proportion. In the metro the train clock read X, and the platform clock read X + 60 minutes. Finally, via Google again, we picked an hour. Linda set the alarm for Google 7:00. To bed we went. And at Google 8:00 woke with sun streaming in the window. She’d set the alarm for 7:00 PM, not AM. So we quick breakfasted, grabbed our bags, and stepped outside to wait for the bus. When it arrived, its clock said 8:00. When we reached the Cais Sodré Station, twenty minutes later, it was 9:20.

Trains for Cascais leave every twenty minutes so we didn’t have to wait long. We bought our tickets, found the #4 track, and settled into our seats. By 8/9:40 we were chugging along the Rio Tejo bank toward the west. Hills to our right, covered with apartment blocks alternating with chalets. Warehouses and docks to our left; freighters and cruise ships and ferry boats on the river. At Lisbon the river forms a great flat basin, smooth today as glass, reflecting the early morning

sailboats. As it merges with the Atlantic the chop picks up, and then the surf, larger and larger swells crashing against the stony breakwaters that protect the train line and the seaside marinas. Mediterranean pines—puffy green balls atop thin black stems—dot the shore. Umbrella pines rise like layered green pagodas from the walled gardens of the fancy chalets. In a little less than an hour we pulled into Cascais, the end of the line.

Cascais is a little like Rhode Island’s Breton Point: an elbow dividing the ocean on one side from the bay on the other. On the calm side its elegant harbor, protected by a seawall, shelters both the fishing fleet and yachts of the sort that invite the revolution. On the ocean side the waves crash against 20-meter-high cliffs and whoosh plumes of spray 40-meters into the air, spritzing the tourists who bicycle or promenade on the walkway along the cliff top. 


To do? Gawk. Leisurely. The town combines traditional and modern houses, with Victorian-era mansions wherever there is an ocean view. There is an elegantly forested park, with duck ponds, statues, jungle gyms, and eucalyptus and cedar and pine trees, including one gigantic pine whose upper branches housed—for some inexplicable reason—a flock of six or so yellow mac


There are a couple of museums, including one displaying a hundred or so Picasso drawings. Our favorite museum, the hundred-year-old mansion of the Conde de Castro Guimarães, at the edge of a large park overlooks the ocean. The builder seems to have had limitless resources and exquisite taste. Well, tastes, actually. Renaissance, medieval, Islamic in the Spanish morisco and mudéjar styles, Victorian, Edwardian, in playfully gaudy room after over-the-top room. Elegant salon next to military garrison. Oak-paneled bedroom next to Moroccan-tiled sitting room. And crammed with …. most of what you’d find at the Smithsonian and the Victoria and Albert, side by side with flea-market chic. Paintings. Silver, Ceramics. Period (any and all periods) furniture. Ah, and one large room filled with 4,000-year old stone scrapers, awls, and pottery shards. Mustn’t forget the world’s only pair of prehistoric limestone sandals. 

Cascais has dozens of restaurants, too, offering fancy-pricy fish, as well as grilled sardines and squid, which we found to be delicious.

But most of all on a balmy late October Sunday there are Lisboetas by the hundreds, and tourists by the even more hundreds, scoping each other out as they stroll the beach, the fishing docks, the marinas, and the hilly streets. Among the tourists, we heard French, Italian, German, English, Portuguese and Spanish. Mostly Spanish: young families with kids who spent the day chasing pigeons up and down the cobbled sidewalks. And at least three buses from Extremadura, the region of Spain just across the border, crammed with excursionistas de tercera edad—senior citizens out for a holiday. You know, people our age.