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Bienvenido a Portugal!

Over the river and through the fog, to Lisboa we go! Hello, Lisbon — Portugal's capital and one of the oldest cities in all of Europe — often called "the white city" because of the mirrored reflection of the water, and meaning "beautiful bay." We experienced some traffic getting into Lisbon (though not of Fort Lee, N.J., proportions) and crossed the Tagas River on what looked like the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco — with good reason — the same makers of our America's Golden Gate made the April 25th Bridge (named to honor Portugal's revolution and independence).

We met our local guide, Teresa, and toured the St. Jerome Monastery and Cloisters. The next time you get a little frustrated at Mass, consider the monks here praying for at least seven hours a day, hearing the confessions of sailors and kneeling on the bare planks of wood beneath the equally uncomfortable pews — we have it pretty easy, all things considered.

We saw the tomb of famed Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, visited the Tower of Belem and marveled at the Monument of the Discoveries — built in 1960 to honor the 500th anniversary of the height of the Age of Exploration and Henry the Navigator. The monument is nearly 200 feet high and was featured in a challenge on "The Amazing Race."

Most in our group made our way over to Pasteis de Belem for a popular local pastry (The bakery makes over 20,000 each day!) — a small custard tart that's usually topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. They were delicious, and our group is now possibly divided into Belem Tart and Madrid Churro factions... Many of us found it telling that all the tourists head over to the pastry shop while all the locals head over to the Starbucks next door!

We were given a free afternoon to explore the city so famous for explorers. Most locals speak English quite well here in Lisbon, which made the purchase of shoes, port wine, ceramics and ginja (a cherry brandy drank as an after-dinner cordial) much easier for some of us. Tomorrow's tours promise more exploration of the sights and sounds of Portugal.