I finally managed to do something I always intended, but never quite accomplished: keep ongoing notes for posterity about a trip while it’s happening. (Let me tell you, it wreaks havoc with verb tenses.) So below are the writings and notes, with very little edits other than back filling in the names of restaurants and locations (warning, it’s long). Here also are a small set of pictures. The full album is on Facebook.
Reading about Sicily while flying to Lisbon is akin to planning dinner while eating lunch. Both of those things make me very happy. I put my book down to watch our descent. The lights of Portugal weaved a beautiful pattern from the sky as we swung around the city on our approach. Orange-yellow strings of fairy lights swirled around waterways and edged the Atlantic. My Atlantic.
We arrived late and well after dark. The taxi ride in was enjoyable and fueled by the dulcet tones of Abba. The kids marveled at how I always make friends (or at least friendly attempts) with taxi drivers. I hope they pick up the habit some day.
The apartment we rented through AirBnB was spotless and thoughtfully provisioned. Fuzzy bathrobes fresh fruit and a bottle of wine were just some of the extra steps the owners took to make us comfortable.
Manually opening the floor to ceiling rollladen in the morning revealed a small cobbled street wide enough for one car and two people. It slanted down to my left and colorful laundry waved from equally colorful buildings, colorful but worn, faded and crumbling at the corners. To the right the alley slanted up and curved a bit with a teasing glimpse of some inviting salmon colored archway (spoiler: it was only a hospital entrance, but it was really pretty). The morning air smelled of laundry, wet stones, and scooter exhaust. To me it smelled like Italy, but I guess it just smells like old European cities.
Outside the living room window we stared at the remnants of a old foundation wall dotted with wild rosemary and other determined weeds. Above the seagulls circle and the blue sky beckoned. Larry returned with train tickets and an armload of delicious Portuguese pastries from Nata Fina next door. Who knew there could be so many varieties of egg custard pastries?
The church bells ring nine. It’s time to go fall in love with Lisbon.
Our first destination was Saint George’s castle but we took a winding wandering way to get there. Lisbon is so beautiful in its shabbiness its colorfulness and its inviting alleys. Steep uneven stairs promise a peek of ordinary life that time is anything but ordinary. The tile is remarkable. The cobblestones are treacherously beautiful. I steal glances into every open door and window.
The view from the castle is unrivaled. The estuary is so beautiful. The bridge so familiar (a copy of the Golden Gate). We spent a couple hours relaxing and wandering through the castle grounds, up the stairs, through the arches, around the bends. We stumbled upon the peacocks and reveled in our delight with them. On our way out of the castle we decided to enjoy a glass of wine while just sitting on cork benches and absorbing the view. Our weather was perfect and our family, happy. While we did not have the castle to ourselves completely, it was relatively empty for us. As we were leaving waves of tourists were entering, the queue for tickets long. I’m glad we arrived early.
Many hills. Many stairs, uneven and crooked. Wandering in and out of the Alfama neighborhood was a joy in exploration. Lots of laundry draws the eyes up but the millions of small, diamond shaped cobblestones force your eyes down. St Vincent’s, Sé Cathedral, and the church of Santa Engracia were landmarks we stumbled upon. The sun was shining and we were all getting warm with the climb. Just up a side street from St Vincent’s we stopped for lunch outdoor at a tiny cafe, Gato Pardo. Beef and pickles and a friendly expat Swede who told us to proudly declare we come from Munich and that it makes Europeans proud that Americans move here.
After lunch we needed to really hustle down steep, winding hills to make our tour appointment. It was hard to take it all in while dodging trams and people, but there is so much to see: street art, graffiti, tiles, decorations, laundry, tiny stores nestled on the bottom floor selling everything from ladders to lettuce.
We met our walking tour guide and got two hours of history and anecdotes. We wandered down to the river and all over the central part of the city. Then it was time for our port and tapas. She led us through the underground up three steep escalators, through a very busy square popular with the college kids and an inspiration to JK Rowling. She proceeded to send us though a hilly quiet neighborhood until we reached our destination: Lisbon Winery, a quaint wine bar built around a 16th century cistern. We sampled a world of port and ate delicious food. We were even able to meet the owner’s puppy Casper, which delighted all of us, even Casper. Although we were really, really full, we did stop at the very famous pastry shop, Manteigaria for a couple samples. The bell had just rung indicating they egg custard pastries were fresh from the oven. Who could resist? We made our way back to the apartment, tucked the kids in, and then Larry and I headed back out via the 28 tram to the alfama neighborhood where we listened to fado music, enjoyed some ginjihnga and admired the city at night.
Day two started with stroll to the waterfront with multiple detours into interesting shops. We followed the beat of a drummer and found ourselves in the gathering square a half hour before kick off for a pre-carnival parade. Serendipity is a funny thing. We then wandered the Barixou neighborhood, taking the same metro escalator shortcut from yesterday. We ducked out of a passing shower into a cafe/record store/used musical instruments where I tried in vain to convince Larry to buy a fado guitar. We meandered through neighborhoods ever upwards ending up at a beautiful overlook park Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara.
After a wander and a drink and a delicious pork sandwich we took the funicular tram down a few city levels. We found a very interesting statute surrounded by plaques. (I found out later that they are thanking Mr Martin posthumously for miraculous cures, The man has a bit of a cult following it would seem.) From there we headed to our seafood lunch at Cervejaria Ramiro. After lunch we headed back to our apartment. Kids rested. I napped. Larry brought his book to the park across the street and met a few U.K. Expats living our Munich life here in Lisbon.
Refreshed and renewed we all met up again and enjoyed a fantastic 3 piece band at the vibrant park, Martim Moniz, across the street. The band certainly drew its share of interesting characters, including one octagarian who had to be reminded to keep his clothes on during his exuberant dance routine. Three of us jumped into a cab (the 28 tram was beyond packed) and rushed up to Miradouro das senhora do Monte for the sunset. A bit cloudy and cold, it was still an amazing overview. We walked down the steep cobbled streets, darkness settling in the alleys and corners.
Back at the apartment we prepared for dinner, a short walk away through now familiar streets to the restaurant recommended by a friend, Solar dos Presuntos. It was a noisy, boisterous seafood restaurant filled with loud diners and louder waitstaff. Celebrities’ pictures covered the walls and ceilings. The seafood was perfect and much needed. My oysters were the best I have ever eaten. My bass perfectly prepared. We walked home, a happy family, full and sleepy.
I woke early on our last day. I wanted to make sure we were all packed, showered and fed early. The kids and I had to leave for the airport around noon so that left just enough time to grab a taxi and head down to the Tower of Belem. We arrived just before opening hours and marveled at the beautiful 16th century stronghold close to where the ocean meets the river. The white, worn, ornate building contrasted against the deep blue sky. After exploring it from bottom to top, and treating the kids with a frozen yogurt we took a taxi back to the apartment. It was time to say goodbye. For now.
I loved Lisbon. It is stunning and vibrant and alive. It is a faded beauty with many buildings in need of repair, much trash and litter in need of collection. But is is beautiful in a way different from any other city I’ve visited so far. It is a city of secrets and surprises. It has ornamentation everywhere. It has friendly people with a good sense of humor and who are quick to laugh. I’m so grateful we got to visit and hope to do so again.