Friday, February 17, 2017

Race Report: Rock 'n' Roll EDP Lisbon Marathon

My trip to Portugal constituted of the last 4 days of my European journey.  When I last left off, I had spent three days in Berlin, followed by two days in Karlsruhe with my aunt.  I took off Wednesday afternoon from the train station in Karlsruhe, heading to Frankfurt where I would board my flight to Lisbon, arriving in the evening. Thankfully, my Airbnb was only a short train ride away from the airport on the Metro, so upon finding it (and having to deal with broken or non-operating ticket machines... a woman leaving on a flight that night happened to find me and just give me her day-ticket valid for the remainder of the evening, which allowed me to get onto the platform!) I got to the apartment building about a five minute walk from Oriente station very easily.  Navigating Oriente at night though was a little daunting - there's a considerable amount of vagrants that hang around the lower level, and the area wasn't the best lit.

At the expo in MEO Arena
Thursday morning, I headed to the expo at MEO Arena along the Rio Tejo, a short walk from my Airbnb.  The expo was small, but efficient - I picked up my bib and went around, covering ground in a mere 15 minutes.  I was handed a banana from the Portuguese island of Madeira on my way out.  After my quick trip to the expo, I took some photos along the river, and then decided to do some sightseeing, heading to the Rossio, Lisbon's main square.

The Rossio
From Oriente to Rossio on the very easy to navigate Lisbon Metro, it's about 30 minutes.  You have to take the Linha Vermelha to Alameda, and transfer to the Linha Verde line.  Alameda is also a sizable station, so it's a little bit of a walk to get from one line to the other.  When you come out of the Metro at Rossio, the area is so vibrant.  The main square is pretty massive, adorned with two bronze fountains imported from France, and the notable Column of Pedro IV monument.  The ground is paved with a wave pattern using Portuguese mosaic tile.  The Chiado and Bairro Alto districts of Lisbon lie directly to the west, prominently marked by its higher elevation, looming over the Rossio. 

The beautiful views down into
the Rossio from Bairro Alto
In my research preceding my trip, I had read a lot about the beauty of the Bairro Alto.  The neighborhood sits up on a hill, and hoofing it up those hills with sometimes slippery footing takes a lot out of your lungs. It was absolutely worth it, though... the views are unimaginably beautiful.  I let myself wander the area without a care to look at a map, discovering alleyways and streetscapes that one would probably not normally see if led on a guided tour.  "Getting lost" in a place like this is probably one of my most favorite things to do as an avid traveler.  I spent a couple hours just wandering - and in the process found a great little restaurant called Frutaria Saldanha... well, something known as a "frutaria," which is more of a corner store/snack bar that serves food. Truly, the secret to finding a good restaurant in Lisbon is to just keep walking away from tourist traps - especially those that have a single menu in Portuguese, and not translated in the other languages.  Yes, it's a big chance to not know what you're eating (perhaps you'll luck out!), but finding a family owned restaurant where the husband and wife serve multiple roles as host/hostess, cook, waiter/waitress, and busser, is a goldmine in tourist-heavy Europe. Frutaria Saldanha was just that, where I had the legume sopo da dia (a bean soup), a bacalhau fritter (bacalhau is cod - either dried or salted - Portugal's most prominent fish choice), porco al alho (garlic braised pork cutlet),   and a half liter of Portugal's very fresh and tasty wine, vinho verde.  All for under €15!

Stairs and roads up... leg strength needed!

Pasteis de Belém.  God's gift to Portugal.
After lunch, I continued to wander Bairro Alto, making my way to the more grid-like streets of Chiado, a shopping area that mixes old and modern commercial establishments with cultural landmarks like museum and theaters; and Baixa, an area that was rebuilt after Lisbon's devastating 1755 earthquake, and also a shopping destination, catering to souvenir shops, international chains, and archaic-but-charming shops like haberdashers.  I also headed over to Rua Augusta, the main drag of the Baixa, that culminates in a triumphal arch where the street meets the Praça do Comércio on the Tagus River.  I then decided to take a tram westward toward Belém, and on the way there, passed the 25 de Abril Bridge, oftentimes compared to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.  Belém is famous for its many museums as well as the ornately decorated Jerónimos Monastery and iconic ceremonial gateway/fortified bastion of the Torre de Belém, both classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites.  It's also well known for the pastry shop Fábrica de Pasteis de Belém, known for the pastel de Belém, an egg tart made with flaky pastry. Sometimes the lines at this shop can be out the door and around the block - but luckily, it wasn't so bad when I arrived!

The beautiful Jerónimos Monastery
I decided to also check out the Jerónimos Monastery, which had a ticket that included access to the  Museu Nacional de Arqueologia.  If I had arrived an hour or so earlier, I probably would've been able to check out the Torre de Belém, but unfortunately they limit the amount of visitors to climb the tower after a certain time of day.  Construction on the monastery and church began in 1501, and was completed 100 years later. The monastery was designed in a manner that later became known as Manueline: a richly ornate architectural style with complex sculptural themes incorporating maritime elements and objects discovered during naval expeditions, carved in limestone.  The interior of the two-story cloisters is absolutely beautiful, complete with groin vaults with wide arches and windows with tracery resting on delicate mullions. One of the rooms includes the refectory, marked with several azulejos tiles from the 17th century.  I headed over to the Archeological Museum, but only got to see part of it, as there was a film crew utilizing the museum for a documentary when I was there.

Groin vault ceilings in the cloisters of Jerónimos Monastery.
I headed back into town via tram, and then boarded the subway back to Oriente from the Cais do Sodre station; it was obviously rush hour, as tons of people were loitering in the area, not only waiting for trains, but also for the ferry to take them over the river to Almada and Seixal.  I had made plans for the following morning to meet up with my Black Sheep friends Jen and Pete up in Porto the following morning, so I made it back to Oriente to get dinner near my Airbnb and then get some sleep since I was planning on taking the first train out of Lisbon in the morning.

Azulejo tile at São Bento station in Porto

The trip up to Porto is about 2 hours and 45 minutes, give or take ten minutes depending on time of day.  Leaving on the 6am train from the perfectly situated Oriente station, I arrived at Porto Campanha station just before 9am.  Campanha is where the non-local trains arrive, so people have to transfer over to via the suburban rail line to São Bento, which serves as the city centre terminus.  The São Bento station is quite magnificent, notable for its large, magnificent azulejo tile panels in the vestibule. Created by Jorge Colaço, the most important azulejo painter of the time, these tile panels were put up between 1905 and 1916, and depict landscapes and ethnographic scenes, as well as historical events like the Battle of Valdevez  in 1140, the meeting of the knight Egas Moniz and Alfonso VII of León in the 12th century, the arrival of King John I and Philippa of Lancaster in Porto in 1387, and the Conquest of Ceuta in 1415.

Porto street scene
I met up with Jennifer at the station, and it was quite a nice reunion, as she had just arrived the night prior after a long trip from the US to Lisbon, followed by the train ride up to Porto, all in one sitting.  We had breakfast just across the street from the station (introducing her to the wonders of pasteis de Belém, ubiquitous everywhere you go in this country!) and then we wandered the area around the city for a bit until Pete arrived.  Pete was flying down to Porto directly from his temporary assignment in London, and after a little miscommunication as to which railway station we were meeting at, he found us at a sidewalk cafe on the Praça da Liberdade, also steps away from São Bento station, where Jen and I were already a few glasses deep into our morning beverages and pasteis.

After dropping things off at Jen and Pete's Airbnb, we filled the rest of the day up with sightseeing all around this beautiful northern Portuguese city.  Porto is actually the country's second largest city after Lisbon, and has a very unique history from its origins as a Celtic settlement known as Portus Cale (which eventually gave rise to the modern name of the country of Portugal), falling under Roman occupation and later, control under the Moors during the invasion of the Iberian peninsula in 711. Porto was also the site of shipyards that contributed to the shipbuilding of the 14th and 15th centuries and was the launch point of Prince Henry the Navigator's voyages to the open waters of the Atlantic and exploration of the western coast of Africa, initiating the Portuguese Age of Discovery.  Most notably, one of Portugal's internationally famous exports, port wine, is named for Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the caves of the twin city of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the packaging, transport and export of the fortified wine.
Beautiful views of the Porto riverside as we take the cable car down from the top level of the bridge

We wandered all over Porto, checking out Porto Cathedral and its impressive views of the surrounding neighborhoods including the Torre dos Clérigos; along the Ribeira with the beautiful homes in a span of different vibrant colors; and wandered over the Ponte Dom Luis I, the double-decked metal arch bridge that spans the Douro River to the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, while admiring the purple of the morning glories as well as the tapestry of buildings that dot the riverside.  While on the other side of the river, we took the teleférico (cable car) from the upper deck of the bridge down to the Gaia riverside promenade.  We wandered up into the hills of the city to check out the port wine cellars, and hit up two - the Cockburn's Port Lodge and Quevedo Port Wine.  We grabbed a delicious late lunch on the riverside, and then took an Uber back to Porto, making our way back to the other side of the river via the lower deck.

Brilliant purples of morning glories scattered along a wall near the bridge

Pete headed back to the Airbnb to nap, as he had been battling a chest cold for much of the week prior, so while he slept, Jen and I took off to discover more of the Porto riverside along the Douro.  We wandered along the Rua Nova da Alfândega, to a little plaza area, and decided to just find our way back up into the city through the narrow streets.  We ended up ascending several steep stairways and roadways making our way back into the middle of the town past some beautiful buildings, some with the gorgeous azulejo tiles adorning their exteriors.  We retrieved Pete before heading back out for a quick dinner near the pedestrianized Rua de Cedofeita, and then retired for the night.

Our fun Black Sheep Trio - Jen, myself, and Pete - at Peña Palace in Sintra.
The following morning, we got up early to grab the train back to Lisbon (I, having booked my return ticket the night before), and got some sleep as we headed back to Oriente.  We dropped off luggage back at my Airbnb before heading to the expo, which was a bit more crowded on this Saturday morning for obvious reasons, and then headed into the Rossio to more or less recreate my afternoon from two days ago. This time, though, we also had a chance to stop into the little Ginjinha shop at the foot of a set of stairs leading up to the Bairro Alto.  Ginjinha is a Portuguese liqueur made with ginja berries (sour cherry), sugar, and aguardiente. It is a favourite liqueur of many Portuguese and a typical drink in Lisbon and its surroundings.  With the afternoon left to discover more of the city, we decided to take the commuter train out to Sintra, 45 minutes away, and leaving directly form the Rossio train station.  Sintra is known for its many 19th-century Romantic architectural monuments, which has resulted in its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its rugged terrain is also home to several important attractions, including the medieval Castelo dos Mouros, the Peña Palace, the National Palace, and the Regaleira Palace and Gardens, to name a few.  In Sintra, we would hop onto a bus that circles all of the attractions in a big loop - but come to only see one of the sites which would take most of our afternoon up, the Pena Palace.

The Peña Palace is absolutely a wonder to behold. It was built in the mid-19th century on the site of a former monastery by the Portuguese king-consort Dom Fernando II as a summer palace for the royal family. In doing so, he combined various architectural styles into something that at first glance most resembles a wedding cake utilizing some of the most brilliant and vivid color choices. The palace is one of Portugal's most visited sites. Our self-guided tour consisted of visiting the grounds of the palace (some of which had some incredible views of the Tagus River, Lisbon in the distance, and even the Atlantic Ocean) as well as the beautiful interior, consisting of various parlors and bedrooms with beautifully handpainted walls and ceilings, many of which had been painstakingly restored to their original splendor.

We headed back from Sintra as the sun was beginning to set.  With our race beginning early the next morning - myself in particular, since I had to get all the way out to Cascais, we opted to get dinner at an Italian place relatively early as we returned back to the Oriente area near my Airbnb.  After a delicious meal, we retired back to our accommodation to get a good amount of rest and lay out whatever clothes I needed while packing everything else away, since I had to manage my time with my flight being Sunday afternoon, mere hours after finishing the marathon.

The sun rises in Cascais
I woke up quite early the next morning, and got dressed for the race as the other two slightly stirred from their sleep, as their race would start two hours after mine, and they only had to get to the street in front of the Oriente station to get shuttles to the half marathon start on the Vasco da Gama bridge.  Knowing the metro system would not be operating at that time, I got an Uber to pick me up at that ungodly hour and take me to Cais do Sodre train station for only €9.  From there, runners were allowed to board the train free of charge by showing their bib, and take it to the last stop on the line to Cascais.  Already, at 6:30AM, the area was buzzing with marathoners prepared to get to the start via the roughly 33 minute train ride.

The slow walk to the startline from the Cascais trains station 

Upon arrival at Cascais, we embarked on a quiet, 3/4 mile walk to the start line from the train station, just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. We were treated to gorgeous views of the Rio Tejo, with sailboats dotting the water and the sky a mix of pinks and oranges.  Normally, it can be very windy in Cascais (particularly in the afternoons), but this morning it was just PERFECT.  I got to the start area alongside Marechal Carmona Park. Already, the weather was nice and balmy, and in the high 50s.  It was going to be a WARM day. I stood in line for port-a-potties with several other runners in the parking lot of the Hipódromo Manuel Possolo next door, and while they were getting lengthy, I waited my turn.  However, in line only a few people in front of me, it seemed a runner decided to take the ONLY roll of toilet paper in the port-a-potty with him, angering those of us in line.  Ah well.  When the "corrals" were opened, we self-organized ourselves on the Avenida República, and then made our way past the startline just after 8:30.  At first, we headed up to a short out and back on the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, then took the Avenida Vigia do Facho to the river.  We would be right alongside the river for the rest of the way, and pass the downtown area of Cascais onto the N6/Avenida Marginal highway, first passing several of the area's beachside resorts, running eastward toward Lisbon.

Running down to Cascais Harbor

Palácio Seixas, a building that houses meeting rooms for the Portuguese Navy, and one of the more iconic landmarks of Cascais - next to the Villa Cascais, a former aristocratic residence turned luxury guesthouse
Cascais was once just a small sleepy fishing village on the outermost point of the bay of the Rio Tejo, and is an important part of metropolitan Lisbon. In the late 19th century, King Luís I decided to turn the citadel of Cascais into his summer residence, so that the whole Portuguese royal family could enjoy the sea and spend their summer vacation there, only a short distance away from the center of Lisbon. As a result, Cascais enjoyed many privileges and became a popular residence among nobles. It was the first in the country to enjoy electricity in 1878, and gained its railway eleven years later. Many mansions that were built then still remain to this day.

Palm Trees!
New condo buildings along Avenida Marginal
Forte da Cruz
While I knew the elevation of the whole marathon was relatively flat, it seemed some of the more recognizable uphills in the race were early on, as we made our way through Estoril and its prominent beach, Tamariz, which was at about the 5K mark of the race.  Also along the way, we saw the Forte da Cruz, an impressive fort that was first built in the 17th century by the Portuguese monarchy, used to protect the Portuguese coast from oncoming enemies.  Now it is used as an event space.  We also passed through the villages of São João do Estoril and São Pedro do Estoril at miles 4 and 5 of the race.

Climbing uphill in Estoril
Carcavelos Beach
We continued along the coastal road, passing the beach in Parede, a mostly stony beach with small sandy stretches, at mile 6; and the largest beach in this part of the riverside, Carcavelos, at mile 7. Carcavelos Beach is very popular and very accessible.  It is an energetic beach full of activities, from kitesurfing to board surfing, as well as paragliding. Formerly, Carcavelos was a small fishing town, but now is surrounded by newly built apartment buildings and condominiums, but some of its old charm still remains. Further east, at the mile 9 mark, is Oeiras.  Oeiras is a hugely popular beach town, as it is the first town outside of Lisbon proper along what's known as the Estoril coast. The water here is relatively still, and the beach is reasonably sized with many bars and restaurants. It’s especially popular among families and the after work crowd. The town of Oeiras, which feels more like a suburb of Lisbon than a town by itself, is within walking distance.

Running by Santo Amaro de Oeiras Beach in Oeiras
Looking behind me as I run through Oeiras.

At the 10 mile mark, we reached the locality of Paço de Arcos.  Deriving its name from the Palácio dos Arcos, located along the water, this location was where King Don Manuel I of Portugal watched Vasco da Gama's caravels leave for India.  This is also the site of the Escola Náutica Infante D. Henrique, Portugal's maritime academy, dedicated to education and training of merchant marine officers, as well as the training of other professionals for the maritime industry, ports, transportation and logistics.
Paço de Arcos
A section on concrete through Caxias that I wasn't too fond of, but volunteers were out with national flags and we had our first glimpse of the Ponte 25 de Abril (the "sister" of the SF Golden Gate Bridge) in the distance
A long stretch of road in Cruz
Quebrada, just after the halfway
A mile later, we were in Caxias, at a point where we got off of the asphalt of the Avenida Marginal for the first time, and followed the seawall that ran parallel to the train tracks.  The approach onto the seawall was a bit gravelly with uneven surfaces, but the nice part of this area was having it be lined by spectators holding national flags of the marathon participants.  In the distance, we could see the 25 de Abril Bridge.  The seawall was made of concrete, which offered an alternative, if not less reactive surface to run on, but thankfully this was only for a short period of time.  It was roughly about a mile on this section of the course, before we returned to the Avenida Marginal, after ramping down to an underpass under the train tracks.

Upon returning to the highway, we entered the area of Cruz Quebrada-Dafundo, as well as the halfway point of the race.  Much of this section of the course was under the cloudless sky and the blaring sun, with an endless stretch of three to four-story apartments on the left and the train heading back and forth from Cais do Sodre and Cascais on the right, with the Tagus just beyond. By mile 15, we had reached Belém, the area that I had visited on my first full day in Lisbon.  Along the course, we were treated to awesome views of the Jerónimos Monastery, as well as the Torre de Belém, which I had initially expected to be much closer to where we were running, but unfortunately, the train tracks formed a physical barrier from being able to run right alongside it.

Torre de Belém

Jerónimos Monastery from the race course
As we continued along the road (which had changed its name to Avenida da Índia), we reached the parish of Alcântara, and ran underneath the span of the 25 de Abril Bridge, the 27th largest suspension bridge in the world.  On the other side of the bridge, we could see the Cristo Rei statue on the south bank of the Rio Tejo.  The Santuário de Cristo Rei is a Catholic monument and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ overlooking the city of Lisbon in the city of Almada. Completed in 1969, it was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, after the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited that monument.

Under the span of the 25 de Abril
Bridge, with Cristo Rei in the distance.
Continuing along the course, we got closer and closer to the "center" of Lisbon.  Now running on the yet again name-changed street, the Avenida 24 de Julho (they sure love to commemorate dates here in Portugal!), we reached the National Museum of Ancient Art at mile 18, or the "MNAA" (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga).  By Mile 19, we had reached the Cais do Sodre station, where I had begun my trip earlier in the morning.  On the other side of the street was the unmistakable oriental dome and  large clock face of the ironclad Mercado da Ribeira, Lisbon's main food market since 1892.  We made a short turn toward the river, passing by the pink buildings of the Portuguese Navy, as we ran along the Ribeira das Naus, a redeveloped waterfront pedestrian promenade where many of the legendary Portuguese explorers' ships were built. Immediately after passing these buildings, we turned once again, as we reached the Praça do Comercio, and headed northward for our trek toward the Rossio along Rua Áurea.

Running by the brilliant pink
buildings of the Portuguese Navy along
the Ribeira Das Naus.
Around this point, there were a trio of ladies wearing unmistakable green and yellow jerseys (perhaps they were from Brazil?) and I ended up playing a bit of leapfrog with them as we took this out and back onto the Rossio.  This was probably where we were greeted with the most amount of spectators so far in the entire race.  As we headed back toward the river, we were treated with brilliant vanishing point views along the canyon-like Rua da Prata.  As we headed back onto the riverside street (again, renamed... now called the Avenida Infante Dom Henrique), we ran through the Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon, spreading on the slope between the São Jorge Castle and the Tejo river.  Further inland within Alfama are some of Lisbon's most historically important buildings, including the Se Cathedral, Lisbon Castle, National Pantheon and Saint Anthony’s Church. Prior to the 13th century, Alfama was the district just outside of the city walls, and home to Lisbon’s poor. This tough and deprived reputation continued as Lisbon expanded and Alfama became home to the dock workers and sailors. Today, Alfama has become a young, trendy and fashionable area of Lisbon but, fortunately,  has lost none of its ancient charm.  Here, we also finally began to see some of the back-of-the-pack runners for the half marathon, who had an out and back running to a turnaround point in Alfama, at their 8 mile mark, our 21 mile mark.

Making our first turn in the whole race, toward the Rossio. I played leapfrog with these three ladies dressed in green and yellow for a few miles

The canyon like Rua da Prata heading back to the Praça do Comercio.

The last few miles of the race as we headed toward the Parque das Nações were through the "off-the-beaten path" neighborhoods of Beato and Marvila, in Lisbon's east end.  Once a pleasant area with farms, wineries and convents dating back to the 16th century, the area became an industrial hub and factories proliferated in the centuries that followed.  It was by far not the prettiest part of the race course, but in this “cemetery of factories”, as some call it, a renewed city is being born. Attracted by the lower rental prices many young people are starting projects in industrial places, such as creative cultural spaces, charming cafes, craft breweries, and rock climbing facilities - all interesting adaptive reuse opportunities that make this architect-slash-urban planner quite appreciative of its re-envisioning.
Running through Alfama and seeing a cruiseship docked in the distance!
The more industrial part of the race.

The Edificio Écran in the distance
For the last mile and a half of the race, we ran through the Cabo Ruivo section of Lisbon with the end goal in sight, making our way toward the finish line at the Parque das Nações.  We passed the unique façade of the 19-story tall Edificio Écran along Alameda dos Oceanos, which has the most extensive tile-fronted façade in Lisbon.  Its imposing corner location has shows off vivid blue rays that diverge from the bottom of the building to the top.  We made our way closer and closer to the finish, passing the modern buildings that enliven this part of the city, many built as part of the reclamation of the land during the 1998 World Exposition.  The crowds became more substantial along the Avenida Dom João II, as we made it down the final stretch past the Oriente train station, and looped ourselves around to the finish chute in front of the MEO Arena.

I finished the race in 5:18:01, eight minutes faster than the week prior in Berlin.  I found Jennifer quite quickly afterward, as she was waiting around for me, and we rushed back to the apartment. I took my headstand photo at the top of the hill near my Airbnb that overlooked the Oriente station's glass and metal lattice roof, designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  I had a short amount of time to get showered, dressed, and then rush out of the Airbnb with Pete to make it back to the airport via Metro for my flight back to the US that afternoon. Thankfully, it was free to enter the Metro since we ran the race!

Victory Headstand!

I arrived at my boarding gate with lots of time to spare, despite having to wait in several different queues to check in and for security, and then walk a LONG distance on tired marathon legs through the airport. It was an exciting couple weeks in Europe, and I was treated to beautiful views out my window seat of the city below, as we journeyed across the Atlantic back to New York City.

Beautiful... and to think, I ran on that entire coastline!
The Vasco da Gama bridge on our ascent

Two European marathons, check!  Two continents down, five to go...

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