Monday, February 15, 2016

Portugal- Day 1, 2/15/16

After many hours of travel we have all made it safely to Lisbon, Portugal! Despite long flights and layovers, everyone has made the best of our first day of the international seminar. We left around 6 am on the 14th from Sioux Falls, flew to Atlanta, and had about a 6 hour layover in which many of the world's problems were solved over our last "American" meals for a while. The flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam was about 7.5 hours followed by a long layover in Amsterdam, after which we took a short flight to Lisbon (about 2.5 hours) and arrived on scene!

Backing up to Amsterdam...a few adventurous, sleepy travelers decided they had seen enough of the airport and left to experience a few hours at central city Amsterdam. There weren't many shops open at 6:30 am in the morning, but we did find authentic pastries which made the brisk walk very worth it! We took in some beautiful historic buildings, the canal, a cafe, an enormous bicycle parking lot, and experienced the train and taxi transportation systems in the Netherlands. Needless to say, a worthwhile stop!

But let's get to the good stuff...Portugal! After arriving on land, we recovered all belongings (a miracle!) and met our guide for the trip, Edwardo, and our day guide for Lisbon, Margarita. We immediately took in the beautiful weather (a bit windy but sunny with green grass all around) for a brief moment and boarded our bright yellow coach to take a city tour of Lisbon.

Margarita was very knowledgeable and provided a wonderful tour of the city! We encountered many beautiful sculptures, squares, and palaces! The Tagus river runs through Lisbon, and offers beautiful landmarks as well. Some of the more interesting parts of the tour included a stop the heart of the city in what we may call their "downtown" area. Lisbon is the capitol city of Portugal, and it experienced a massive earthquake in the 1700s- so many of the original classic buildings were rebuilt to form a new look and much of the landscape was altered after the incident.

One of the unique features of the central district of Lisbon, referred to as the Baixa or city centre was a beautiful area that included a 'pedestrian only' street with many different shops and foods. In an attached photo, you can see a few classmates standing in front of a Gothic outdoor public elevator that was built in 1902 and is designed to be an access to the hilltop for citizens. Lisbon is built on several hills, so occurrences like this aren't all to odd.

Nearby the elevator stood the city centre train station, in which train passengers must go to the third floor to board the train, as the station was built on the hill! We also experienced St. Jeronimoes Monastery and it's adjoining gardens. It was absolutely huge and took up nearly an entire city block! The monastery is no longer used as such, but worship services are still held in a church that's housed at one end of the building. Bellem Tower was another interesting stop. This tower, when built, stood in the middle of the harbor and was equipped with cannons to protect Lisbon from pirates up until the 1800s. The tower is no longer in the middle of the river, but now sits near the edge, as time, environment, and human influence have changed the course of the river.

Other fun features of the city include a look-alike to the golden gate bridge in San Francisco along with a huge tower of Christ facing the water, a fortress tower out in the water near Lisbon marking where the Tagus meets the Atlantic, and many ornate sidewalk stone designs!

After the city tour we headed to a girls home that housed 15 girls ages 7 to 17. This facility is what we might consider a long term foster care environment. The home is designed for girls ages 5-18 who are removed from their family's home by the state of government in Portugal, and need a stable environment to live until adoption occurs. Each individual case is different, but the long term goal is to find a family for the children. The facility was housed in an old palace building and was done up wonderfully for these girls. Shades of pinks, purples, and green filled the rooms. The children loved wearing they guys' cowboy hats and talking and singing songs for us. These kids have been dealt a very tough hand of cards, but one would have never known based off of the smiles on their faces! They were thrilled to receive a few gifts of art supplies, t-shirts, candy, games, etc from our group as well as a donation in support of the facility. I think many of the class members were unsure as to what to expect, but were relieved to have the opportunity to meet the girls and have some fun with them.

We wrapped up the day with a buffet-style meal at the hotel- it gave us all an initial taste of the food culture! Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!  :)
In Amsterdam exploring the sights!
World's largest bicycle parking lot!
Standing in front of Gothic style elevator in Lisbon

Bellem Tower

Jeronimo's Monastery
Monastery part 2
Lisbon's ornate sidewalks

Statue outside the girls home