Our Portuguese daughter-in-law told us that we really must visit Belem, a suburb down river from Lisbon, and we were delighted with the place. The bus that took us stops outside the Geronimite [Hieronimite] monastery, which used to belong to the order of St Jerome, a now extinct monastic order whose monastery was given over to the Portuguese state as a site of architectural, cultural and historical importance. The cultural attraction consists of the monastery and the church, the latter of which is free to enter. The former has long queues, especially when a cruise ship comes in. When we were there there were many American tourists in the church, so it seems that a cruise liner from the USA had arrived. The church was an impressive building.
Part of the monastery is given over to an archaeological museum, which contains remains from various ages in which the area of Lisbon was inhabited, from the stone onwards. We enjoyed the museum, it was quiet and informative, especially to anyone interested in archaeology.
We stopped for a meal in the delightful Restaurante Sagitario, where I had roasted sardines, a Portuguese favourite. We were impressed by the professionalism of the restauranteur, who was dedicated to giving customers the best possible service.
But the delight of Belem is its botanic garden,which is really an arboretum, a garden dedicated mainly to trees. There is an impressive collection of palms, tree ferns and cycads, mainly taken from Portugal's overseas territories in earlier days. Cycads are an ancient kind of tree that resembles a palm tree but is older than the palms.In fact the cycads can call the dinosaurs youngsters, as cycads originated a hundred million years before there were dinosaurs. There were also the following type of tree: Chinese metasequioa,coral trees from the South African coast and from South America silk floss trees. The strange spreading shape of the Dragon Tree,a native of Madagascar can also be seen. The grounds are divided into two layers or terraces, the upper terrace revealing remnants of the time when it held the old royal palace. The grounds also contain the official residence of the President of the Portuguese republic, whose opulent residence we were able to view through the locked gates.
Our stay was but for a few days, but it was richly packed with sights to see, good food to eat and was a generally pleasant and happy way to spend the run up to my wife's birthday.