Leaving the clearing of Capela de São Jerónimo behind me, I am slowly following a little trail, enveloped in green. The path feels more like a tunnel, crossing the growing woods. Sunlight manages to pierce through easily, scattering in random spots. With a succession of short stairways, it zigzags down the hillside below. I am constantly looking in between the dense clusters of foliage to get a glimpse of the big avenue heading to the riverside. It's about 14 o'clock now, and I am about halfway through my hike down lovely Belém.
To the sound of clicks, squeaks and melodies from hidden birds, I leave the thicket to get to the last green lawn before the avenue, called Jardim Ducla Soares. At its edge, the statue of D. Nuno Álvares Pereira holds a sword, and seems to be trying to protect itself from the intense sun, while the grass is indifferently humid, and so is the trail under the trees at each side of the slope. The image of fallen brownish leaves covering some puddles is the only evidence that we are in autumn. Looking back at the city, the road sees a constant flow of vehicles, and every glass flashes with sunlight. I get to the sidewalk under the long row of trees, to get some refreshing shade.
On either side of the long street sit a collection on immense villas. The buildings show a variety of shapes and styles; there are houses that appear more traditional, some classical constructions, and modern designs aswell, all sharing a respectable size that imposes itself on the passerby. Behing each big gate and enclosing wall, are what seem like private forests, growing seamlessly. And beyond the rooftops and treetops that define the profile of the closest scenery, the south bank of the Tejo looms on the horizon. Already downtown, seagulls are beginning to appear around Largo Princesa. The river is getting closer.
I escape the neighbourhood for a moment to get a quick glimpse of the riverside. I can see the Torre de Belém beyond the marginal road and ferryway. In the backlight of the Tejo, mirroring the sunlight, people walk by the monument and the grass, almost like a mirage. There is a bridge connecting to the wide lawn, and from there I watch as people move as in a tide, coming and going and spreading by the area that spans from the docks to the manuelin monument. Getting back to the busy town, I take the chance to follow some streets I don't know. Lively and colorful, they hide arts and crafts studios and picturesque restaurants, right beside the busiest street.
The last half of Rua Bartolomeu Dias holds some last shops and cafes, and the residencies spread. Afterwards, comes the more touristic area of the district. The narrow sidewalk leads me straight to the wide open roads and lawns surrounding some of Belém's most famous attractions: Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Centro Cultural de Belém, and Praça do Império. Bower anchors become a regular motif, scattered a little bit everywhere. Vegetation regains strenght around each building and especially in the gracious garden of Praça do Império. The XVIth century monastery is the most impressive though, growing over the whole landscape.
People gather together like ants in the collection of roads and pathways, forming rows by each point of interest. Urban and express buses, taxis and trams regularly make their tours around the area; they bring new groups of visitors and take others away, jumping from one highlight to the other, as the crowd does, in an ongoing flow. It is the usual touristic buzz of Belém. I move on to walk about the garden, changing my viewpoint, and trying not to pay more attention to the commotion than the scenery itself.
A soft wind stirs the roster of flags at the entrance of CCB, and on the other side of the riverside avenue and railroad it lightly shakes the masts of sailing boats in the nearby docks. Padrão dos Descobrimentos rises nearby. The garden, the central point of the huge square, is lush and welcoming. Couples stroll slowly by, taking photos with the geometrical hedges as background. Seagulls hover around, leaving a cry from time to time. Families, school groups and foreigners, figures move through flowerbeds and stone statues, enjoying the big fountain, the water tanks, the charming greenery.
As each person walks the trails, their silhouette has a strange halo, a contour of light cast by the warm sun. Under an autumnal ambiance, Jardim da Praça do Império offers a sight of heavy vibrance and strong contrasts in its tones; the colours of the vegetation and the lively riverside are now being joined by intense shadows, steadily stretching on the tar floor, announcing the first minutes of the declining sun.
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