Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Loving Lisbon

21 March 2012

I'm retired. I should be able to stay abreast of current affairs, reread War and Peace, keep up with my blog, and solve most - if not all - of the world's problems. Well, actually I have achieved the last goal but nobody's breaking down the door to hear my brilliant solutions. As for keeping up with my blog ... well, let's just say that the Lisbon trip was in honor or my February 4th birthday.

And I have to get this blog done because I need to write a blog on the month I've spent in Florida, being nanny/grandma to the world's handsomest, smartest, most adorable grandson. (And no, other grandmas, those assertions are not open for discussion nor based on bias. After all, it is my blog.)

The advantage of being in Zurich is that you have lots of choices as to where you want to go. That's also the disadvantage: there are so many choices! Greg suggestd first that we take the train (we like trains) to Vienna but a google map search showed that it is an 8 hour train trip (we don't like trains that much.) And then, because the weather in Zurich looked like this as we were planning our trip,

Some of the vendors at our weekly market
encased their whole stand in a plastic cacoon
The guy with the nuts (pun intended) wasn't
so enterprising - look at the snow on his nuts.
I looked into someplace warmer. Barcelona beckoned but the flights to Lisbon were cheaper and so Lisbon it was. We were very pleased with our choice. We loved Istanbul and in many ways Lisbon reminded us of that city, with its slightly seedy air and friendly people, even in the cats we saw sunning themselves around town.

We flew to Lisbon February 2nd and stayed at the Vincci Baixa Hotel, a great hotel right downtown. The receptionist was really helpful and the room, although small, was modern and comfortable.

We quickly discovered two things:

  1. Portugese people are really friendly and helpful and nearly everyone we met (the exception being our taxi driver but more about him later) spoke English.
  2. As can be clearly seen, it is Greg who has the map!
  3. Lisbon is a great city to walk around in but, unlike Zurich where the city is in a valley with two hills sloping down to the water so you're never totally lost for too long, Lisbon is on many hills which makes for a lot of up and down and it's easy to get lost - especially if your husband leaves the map at the place where you ate lunch. (No, Greg, it's my blog and I get the last word: It was you who lost the map!)

The Age of Discovery (15th to 17th centuries), when sailing vessels were returning with great riches from the New World, financed the development of the Manueline architecture unique to Portugal.  Greg and I had mucho fun looking for the hallmarks of Manueline architecture carved in stone on building facades and interiors.
Armillary sphere

Anchor chain

filigree influenced by Indian architecture
fantastical animals

House of Spikes with its 1125 pyramid shaped blocks on its facade looks modern but was built in the 16th century and was one of the few buildings to survive the massive 1755 eathquake that killed about 60000 people.
Lest you think us extraordinarily well informed in the ways of architecture, I must confess: the guidebook told all!

The city is beautiful, with its buildings decorated with lovely old tiles and modern graffiti, its red clay tile roofs and its water views.

There were a plethora of wonderful old buildings but our favorites were:

the Moisteiro dos Jeronimos which survived the 1755 earthquake with minor damage

and the Torre de Belem, built in the early 16th century as a fortress to guard the sea approach into Lisbon.

After the earthquake, the city was laid out in a grid (not that that helped us when we were hopelessly lost) with beautiful squares:

and lots of statues.

Monument of the Discoveries

Lisbon has a very lived in feel and we engaged in a little harmless voyeurism as we absorbed the rhythms of the city.

The only time we substituted public transportation for walking was on Saturday, my birthday. We took one of the cool old trolleys to the Belem section of the city to see the Torre de Belem and the Monument to the Discoveries statue. It was freezing with the wind gusting off the water! We walked back towards our hotel, stopping off at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua because Greg was reading a suspense novel where the hero was named Hieronymous Bosch, after the totally wacked out 15th century Dutch painter, and the Museum had one of his paintings.

We also stopped at the Carriage Museum where Greg got into a technical discussion with the cashier over axels and whatnot while I gaped at the hugely ornate carriages and wondered how the poor horses had fared, pulling all that weight.

Remember the duke who was assassinated and his death sparked WWI? This was the carriage he was riding in and you can see the bullet holes. Pretty cool!

And then the day started going downhill. Over lunch, Greg and I debated taking the tram back to the area around our hotel. I, with my usual superior map reading skills, misidentified where we actually were for an area of town that was halfway closer to our hotel. So we decided to walk and didn't get the exact change we'd need if we changed our minds and decided to take the tram. I confidently headed up a hill, secure in my belief that if we walked up and across we would eventually arrive back at our hotel. Only, remember all those willy nilly hills I mentioned? And so, we walked ...

and walked ...

up hill and down ...

and up and down

until we were totally lost (because, as previously mentioned, Greg left the map at the restaurant.)

The sun was starting to disappear behind the hills and I suggested we grab a cab. My normally easy going husband (who feels about cabs the way cats feel about baths) snapped, "This is what always happens - you get us lost and then you want to take a cab!" Then we argued about who lost the map in the first place and then I teared up (because, after all, it was my birthday and he was being mean to me) and Greg huffed and and puffed but finally relented on the cab. So we hailed a cab. We didn't know that the cabdriver was the only person in all of Lisbon who spoke no English. Nor that he had the navigational skills of a blind idiot. We showed him the card with our hotel name and address and he nodded enthusiastically. Then we started on a circuitous route through the city, with our driver stopping twice to ask pedestrians for directions. We shouted when we spotted things that we knew were close to our hotel but this only served to confuse him. Finally, we stopped at an intersection and saw a wine shop we'd passed the day before. We knew it was right around the corner from our hotel and we wanted to visit it anyway (and to end our Alice in Wonderland cab ride) and so motioned to the driver that we would get out there. I think we hurt the guy's feelings because he frantically gestured that he knew where the hotel was now and it was close but I ended his impassioned plea by hopping out of the cab.

The day ended on a happy note as we celebrated my birthday at Solor dos Presuntos Restaurant. Food was great and we ended with what our waiter called "the best chocolate macaroon in the world". I can neither agree nor disagree, not having tasted all the other macaroons in the world but it sure was delicious!

Just to really get you salivating, here are some more food pictures:

Our standard cafe breakfast.


Three different kinds of salted cod, a Lisbon specialty. Actually, a little too much salted cod but it was good anyway.

Altogether, a wonderful time was had by all. The visit was too short but gave us a taste of this wonderful city and whetted our appetite for more.

Tchau! (pronounced same as ciao)

Not bad for a one year shy of 60 old broad!