Lisbon, Portugal, Thursday December 1, 2016

It rained early yesterday morning, and I thought it was going to be another wet and depressing day. Then the rain stopped as some of us herein the hostel were lingering over breakfast, and I suddenly had a desire to go out and take advantage of the comparatively good weather, meaning overcast and gloomy but not raining. At times the sun even peeked through the clouds.

The Queen Elizabeth was in port in Lisbon just down the street from our hostel. This cruise ship is the third ship in the Cunard Line to carry that name. This monster is not the largest cruise ship in the world, but it looks very big to me. I don’t believe I have ever seen a larger one. It carries over 2,000 passengers, and I suspect the sightseeing companies in Lisbon go wild every time it pulls into port.

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I did not spend much time gawking at cruise ships, however. I visited two museums: the Museum of Azulejos or painted and glazed decorative ceramic tiles and the Military Museum.

The art of decorative tiles was popularized in both Portugal and Spain during the Moorish occupation, and the art probably reached its peak in the Dutch-speaking area that today includes the Netherlands and the north of Belgium. The Spanish and Portuguese word “azulejo” comes from Arabic, and the word is pronounced differently in Spain than in Portugal. I have difficulty pronouncing it in the Portuguese manner, because what little Portuguese I know is the type spoken in Brazil, where the pronunciation is much different.

The following photo peeks into the courtyard of the museum. The image on the right made up of tiles is probably post-Moorish, as the Moors had religious beliefs forbidding the depiction of human beings.

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The following depiction of the Virgin is definitely from the time after the Catholic Kings had driven the Moors from Spain. However, the geometric designs on the border show a strong Moorish heritage. Unlike most of the azulejos, these tiles have a variety of colors. Most azulejos are blue, which translates as azul in both Portuguese and Spanish and is also of Arabic heritage as is the word azure in English and azur in French.

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Cover the kids’ eyes before you check out the next image. It depicts PAN, the Greek god of shepherds, rustic music, and general cavorting around the countryside. He is often depicted playing a flute, although not in this azulejos design. PAN had the upper torso of a man and the legs of a goat, although here he also has a pair of hairy woman’s breasts. Let’s not speculate about the area farther down his body.

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The following is a small segment of a large panoramic image of Lisbon as it was before the great earthquake of 1775 essentially leveled the city. In the museum, the image, depicted entirely of azulejos, extends for a great distance on either side of the small portion that I was able to photograph.

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After I left the Museum of Azulejos, I went back to the hostel to eat lunch, and then I marched off in the opposite direction to visit the Military Museum, which holds an enormous collection machines of war: cannons, muskets, primitive machine guns, swords, suits of armor, etc.

I was delighted when I entered the Military Museum to learn that the receptionist did not speak English. I got to use my few words of broken Portuguese to ask the admittance fee and have her explain in good Portuguese the route I should follow through the museum.

One of the first things that caught my eye was a statue of Vasco da Gama. Do you remember his name from your high school world history course? He was the Portuguese commander who let a fleet of ships around the tip of Africa and reached India. It was the longest sea voyage ever undertaken by a European at the time.

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Da Gama’s voyage took place from 1497 to 1499, and after that the Portuguese had the sea route to the oriental spice trade sewed up. You may also remember that in 1492 the Spaniards sent an Italian whom we know in English as Christopher Columbus to the west in the hopes of reaching India, and Columbus came back believing he had done just that, but he was disappointingly minus the spices that da Gama had found. It wasn’t until years later that the Spanish realized that Columbus had actually sailed to a continent that they had previously not known existed.

Oh, there was also a giant timepiece in the museum, shown below. It was not working, I’m sad to say. Keeping accurate track of time used to be a much more complicated task than it is today. It would take a long time until the mechanism in this clock could be miniaturized to the point where it could be worn on a person’s wrist.

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I am a cyclist, and I know that some of the people who read this blog are, also. Below is what was once the hot item in military bicycles. However, upon examining it, I realized why the Portuguese were never great warriors. The bike’s tires are flat, and the brake pads are so misaligned that they rub on the tires instead of on the rims. Also notice how the saddle is tilted up in front. I’ll bet that riding that bike for any distance would be very painful. The bike does have dropped handlebars, however.

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There was a big room full of cannons inside the building, and there were cannons all around the interior courtyard. Also notice the decorative tiles above and between the ground floor windows.

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I once worked for Fairbanks Morse as a scale mechanic. I worked on scales large enough to weigh a railroad car. However, yesterday was the first day I ever saw a simple balance scale as large as the one below. I don’t know what they weighed with it, perhaps sacks of grain. You can see the weights in front of the scale that were used to counter balance whatever it was that was being weighed. I wish the museum would do a better job of placing explanations at its exhibits.

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Finally I leave you with a photograph of the largest wagon I have ever seen. I wish there had been a person present whom I could have asked to stand by the back wheel to give some perspective on its height. I would judge the back wheel to be about eight feet high.

Again, as was the case of the scale, there was no sign explaining what this enormous carriage was used for. I assume it was pulled by a team of at least four horses or maybe oxen. I have been told that the carriage was used to move some very large monument that still stands in Lisbon, but I haven’t verified that story.

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It is not supposed to rain today, so I’m off to Sintra, a town about an hour’s train ride from central Lisbon. I have read that it was once a retreat for nobility and is full of historic buildings.