This year the exchange week kicked off on a Saturday morning at the airport. As arranged, all the Portuguese families were there on time to pick their son’s or daughter’s most expected partners. After lunch we gathered at the beach in Costa de Caparica, so that the group could mingle a bit and play around to break the ice, which was extended to dinner and after dinner.
Sunday was family day and everybody had a programme out according to the families’ routines and lifestyles.
Monday was spent in the monumental zone of Belém where students had to accomplish their very first task - “Discovering Belém” - a peddy-paper about the area, its historical monuments, buildings and squares as well as related historic eventsworthy of notice in the area. The quiz was traced so that students could capitalize all the way upon the visit and learn a bit of the Portuguese history and architecture by identifying the national significance of monuments such as Jerónimos Monastery, the Discoveries Monument and Belém Tower, and pointing out characteristics or traits of their architecture.
Before lunch we savoured the delicious and famous Belém pastries (custard tarts) and learnt a bit about its confection and history as well. In the afternoon we made to MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, an impressive space with a white tiled futuristic swirly structure set on the Tagus river embankment like a landed space ship. As it had newly opened there were no exhibits at the time except the Pynchon Park - an oval pit in the hall with soft mats, fit balls and bean bags simulating a zoo for alien observers to study us! Guess who offered as volunteers to go inside and play?! On our way out we could not miss walking over onto the nice roof, which curves over as a big wave offering a good view from the top.
On Tuesday morning we went on board of a typical fully restored salt galleon for a relaxing and enjoyable dolphin-spotting boat tour along the Sado estuary. It seemed though that the dolphins were still sleeping as unfortunately they didn’t showup! Yet the quietness of the river with its amazing colours and the beautiful Arrábida vegetation saved the trip to some extent! After a short lunch break in Setúbal we took a scenic route along the Arrábida coast with its magnificent view over the Sado estuary on our way to Sesimbra’s Moorish castle, an irregular shaped hill fort built by the Moors prior to the invasion by the Christians in the 12th century. It was one of the first victories for the Christian conquest of Portugal over the Moors in the 12th century and its strategic positioning was important for the defence of early Portugal. While most of the kids chose to relax and enjoy the panoramic view from the ramparts over the village and the surrounding coastline, some of the boys had fun climbing the ramparts and steep stairs and jumping down. Fortunately nobody got hurt!
On Wednesday morning we took the ferry to Cais do Sodré, Lisbon, and queued at the tram stop to take route 28 to São Jorge Castle. After half an hour of fruitless waiting we decided to walk up the hill to get to this iconic landmark standing highin Alfama with far reaching views over Lisbon and the Tagus waterfront from its fortified walls. The visit took us the restof the morning as there was enough to see and to keep everyone happy. On our way down the hill we visited the Lisbon cathedral, better known as Sé de Lisboa, the oldest and most important church in the city. Its construction dates from the 12th Century, and is predominantly Roman in style. After some free time downtown for lunch, we visited the Story Centre Exhibition, a chronicle of Lisbon from its humble beginnings as a Roman trading post in 138 BC right up to the present day. Along the way it highlights Lisbon’s extraordinary role during Portugal’s golden age of discoveries, the dramatic 1755 earthquake and the subsequent rebuilding of a “new” city led by savvy visionary, the Marquês de Pombal, among other events.
Lisbon’s downtown programme wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the triumphal arch of Rua Augusta, a symbol of the rebirth of a new Lisbon after the tragedy of the earthquake, fire and tsunami in 1755 and it states, in Latin, “The Virtues of the Greatest” - the strength, resilience and achievements of the Portuguese people. One can’t help but be inspired by these values as you admire the truly singular and impressive view of Baixa and the river.
On Thursday morning we headed to Cacilhas (southern margin of the Tagus river) to visit Dom Fernando II & Gloria vessel, a wooden-hulled, 50 gun frigate of the Portuguese Navy, restored to its appearance after almost destroyed after a fire in 1963. Afterwards we made a short tour in Almada Velha and climbed the Cristo Rei Statue to enjoy the sweeping view over Lisbon, the Tagus estuary and the 25th April bridge.
Thursday afternoon was time for our beach clean volunteer activity. The Dutch volunteers were asked to clean up a sand extension stretching from S. João beach to Tarquínio- Paraiso beach. Hat, sun cream, water, gloves, a bunch of trash bags and a lot of energy were the essentials required to embark on this enjoyable but exhausting adventure on the beach! After this experience they truly needed to recharge batteries! In the evening the Portuguese traditional dinner with the parents enhanced the essential role of the parents in this amazing experience. At the end of an exhausting week they were still available to cook a variety of tasty dishes. So we truly thank all the parents for their contribution to the success of this exchange.
At the end of this intense and exhausting week everybody was undoubtedly enriched by the unforgettable experience!