Setúbal – Beautiful Waterfront City

Setúbal – Beautiful Waterfront City

Traveling to Setúbal is easy from Lisbon, it’s a 45-minute train ride. The train used is a double-decker that has a silky smooth ride. It’s also inexpensive – two round trip tickets cost us €15.

Lisbon from the Ponte 25 de Abril

The train crosses the Ponte 25 de Abril, the bridge in Lisbon that looks like a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge. Trains go on the lower level below the cars and is more like a truss bridge, so it’s hard to get a good photo while leaving Lisbon. This is the one shot I was able to take, looking west.

Setúbal

Once in Setúbal, it’s a 15-minute walk to the center of town. Setúbal’s main attractions are the waterfront, a monastery with a museum, the old city, and a big castle on a hill. The monastery turned out to be closed even though the sign said it should be open. Before I moved here, I would find this difficult to understand, but I think the standard explanation, “It’s Portugal,” applies to the inability to enter. We did visit a church which had a delightful courtyard.

Setúbal

And, as always here, the church has the “pain theme.” Not being Catholic, I don’t get it, but I’m sure it was an inspiration to the Marquis de Sade.

Setúbal

The waterfront is beautiful, with a big marina, fishing boats, fish distribution areas, and a lot of restaurants that might be touristic. We didn’t try any. Fish were visible in the water right at the dock, and men were working on boats. Since we were there mid-day, we didn’t see any of the fishing boats. We did see some fishing equipment though.

Setúbal

The old city has narrow streets lined with typical Portuguese architecture. There are numerous small shops on the ground floors and apartments above. Although Setúbal contains buildings that have been abandoned, like much of Portugal, there are far fewer derelict buildings in the city center.

Setúbal

Our initial plan called for eating at the waterfront but hunger took over and before the hangry set in, we found a small place filled with locals. Most tables were long tables with people too busy eating to talk to their neighbors, who probably were the neighbors after they went home. It wasn’t difficult to find out why it was so popular. When we entered, a woman brought us to a case and told us to decide what we wanted to eat. The case contained fresh sardines, a somewhat bigger fish that looked like mackerel, squid, and chocos (cuttlefish), all fresh off the boat. There was a grill in the corner where seafood was cooked. The food was terrific as was the price – for €20, we were served a plate with six grilled sardines, three chocos grilled and served in their ink, sweet potatoes, something resembling bread stuffing, salad, two deserts (walnut gelato), olives and bread, a whole bottle (!) of local white wine, and a bottle of sparkling water. And the people that worked there and spoke English came over and chatted.

Setúbal

Lots of street art can be seen on the, yes, streets. Some of it is quite sophisticated and some of it is very cartoony. We met a woman who was commissioned to paint on a blank wall, she was a day from finishing and took the time to chat with us about the painting, which has a sea-based theme.

Setúbal

Of course some of the graffiti and art on the abandoned buildings is beautiful in its own right.

Setúbal

While we did get to see the urban center and the waterfront, we need to return to visit the monastery, the castle, and the vineyards just a few kilometers outside the city.

The Tejo Power Station

The Tejo Power Station

Lisbon has a museum dubbed MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology. It’s a very modern museum in two parts, one a new building that challenges even the SF MOMA for design, with a kinship to the wonderful Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. A cantilevered terrace tops the building, which inside has a deep oval pit for huge installations. Lots of wonderful modern art.

What makes MAAT so unique is that it goes beyond the exhibits, which revel in modern technology and display, with social relevancy a feature. The second building was once a power station for the suburbs to the west of Lisbon and houses some exhibit space, but more interestingly, and totally unexpected, also houses the power plant that once supplied all that power. Massive amounts of machinery, dangerous walkways (not allowed for visitors), multiple levels are enhanced with lighting and sound that turn the power station into a stunning art exhibit. Walking around, it’s like an industrial Disneyland. Some machines even start turning. There’s also an educational section with interactive exhibits for kids.

MAAT is almost two years old but doesn’t seem to be in most of the guides to Lisbon, which is too bad, as the power plant is the most visually amazing place I’ve seen here, although I’m sure many people prefer the antiquity.

Here’s a slideshow with lots of power plant photos:

Azores – Welcome to Paradise

In an effort to see more of Portugal, we flew to the Azores, a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There are similarities to Hawaii – a group of volcanic islands of varying sizes and pineapple farms, for example. Unlike Hawaii, the islands aren’t overrun with tourists or partiers. It’s mellow, with a slow pace of life, and the tourists tend to be hikers and whale watchers. We stayed on the biggest island with the biggest city, Ponta Delgada.

Ponta Delgada

The “big attraction” on Ponta Delgada is a location in the mountains with twin volcanic lakes. The view from the top is spectacular. The light wasn’t great for photography but it doesn’t really matter given how beautiful the location is.

Ponta Delgada

A secondary attraction is the abandoned hotel across the street, the result of a huge mistake years ago when someone thought people would want to stay at one spot across the road from a lookout. Turns out that most people were fine with driving half an hour from the city and being able to go back to restaurants, the waterfront, and a pleasant small city. Although it’s officially off-limits, people do go in and even onto the roof. Not having a good flashlight, I stuck to the ground floor.

Village at the Bottom

It’s a short drive into the village along the lake. There are a few restaurants, a church, and plenty of places to sit by the lakes. Life was pretty slow in the village except in the restaurant we chose. And the ever-present laundry was hanging outside the homes. While most homes have washing machines, dryers are far more rare.

Pineapple Farm

The next day we visited a pineapple farm. Pineapples thrive because of the soil but are grown at a farm in greenhouses due to the weather. They are delicious, and the greenhouses are open to the public. Typical of everything on the island, people are free to wander and just see what’s around. Greenhouses are planted sequentially so there are always pineapples, which means you can see the pineapples at every stage by visiting each greenhouse.

Pineapple Farm

The windows that aren’t used for light turn into art over time.

Saó Miguel Countryside

Driving further into the countryside, the spectacular scenery continued. It felt a bit like a theme park in its pristine and simple beauty.

Atlantic Ocean

And the ocean is never very far away. Sao Miguel, the island we were visited, is long and narrow, it seems like all roads lead to water.

We ate at a small restaurant in a village near the water. The food was excellent – we had  mixed seafood grill that came with fruit and vegetables. There was a terrific display of radios and a typewriter in the corner with no explanation. Great to find art in the back of a restaurant!

Tea Farm

The next day, a tea farm and factory. The Azores are the only place in Europe where tea is grown. The factory is open, complete with machinery that looks at least fifty years old. And you can taste the teas they make. It’s also fine to wander in the tea fields, which look just beautiful.

Milk Delivery

The day trip ended with a meal, of course. We had limpets, a local specialty that is basically a sea snail, and grouper that had been out of the water for only a couple hours. The food was as savory as it sounds but the highlight of the meal came when a couple men came down the street below delivering milk.