Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lisbon: Football, Fado, Fish, and Fatima

We are so glad that Lisbon earned a map pin on our journey. It was a gem of a city - and one of our favorite destinations so far. And unlike Copenhagen where I didn't see anyone who looked at all like Michael - the Portuguese were definitely Michael's people. He's half Danish and half Portuguese.

Mr. Campbell - traditional Portugal goods for sure!
We left Athens behind mid-day November 7th and landed in Lisbon much later. Our first flight was delayed on the ground for over an hour due to a medical emergency. Michael was sitting next to an Iraqi Kurd who spoke English so he was happily engaged in political discourse so he didn't mind. Luckily I loved my book, and we have become patient travelers. However - we missed our connection in Barcelona and had to run to catch a flight to Madrid. Then we had a three hour layover before traveling on to Lisbon. We finally arrived just before midnight. Our bags were not as fortunate since they didn't get the Madrid vs Barcelona memo.

A view of the city from the top of our hill in Alfama
Always listen to that little voice that tells you to pack essentials in your carry on. You know, meds, clean undies, your toothbrush...that way you don't spend extortionate amounts ($15. for a toothbrush and toothpaste kit) at the only store open in a desolate airport. The bags were delivered around 10:00 pm the next night. All things considered, since this was the first travel hiccup we have experienced the whole time, so we took it in stride. Our host was great and picked us up at the airport at 12:30 in the morning and we sped off through Lisbon to our next 'home away from home'.

The apartment was ideal. Tall bay windows faced east to the river offering a great view of cruise ships coming and going along a bustling waterfront. The sunrises were spectacular and we had crisp, clear days with temperatures in the 50's everyday. Perfect walking weather.

Our view with my one and only handmade Christmas decoration!
Can't say we were dazzled by the food. Although I love anything from the sea and I did have a really nice, simple grilled Durado (local sea bass) that made my top ten chart. Michael is not a big seafood fan, and that is the main diet here. However, there were lots of great salads, sausages, and some of the best pastries we've had outside of Paris. Good thing we are still walking like crazy! Oh. And don't show up for dinner until at least 8:00 or you might interrupt staff meal and be the only ones in the place until after 9:30.

As always with fish, the simpler the better. This was so perfect.
But you can't go wrong with a picnic in the sun, either.

Our nearest grocery store was located in the train station nearby. It wasn't huge but we hunted and gathered enough to get along. I made some nice local dishes and interesting picnics.

 One of Europe's largest and oldest Saturday flea markets was just around the corner from our flat. I've never seen so much junk, er, I mean treasures in one place! All you needed was a small blanket and a willingness to sit on the ground all day and you were a merchant! You could literally buy anything you never knew you needed.

I don't think the old woman is for sale, but you couldn't really tell.
Mary Christmas from our lady Fatima.
Per Standard Senior Nomad Practices we took the free city walking tour. Each city offers a selection of vendors and we've tried a few different ones, but we have found Sanderman's to be the best. So if you do take advantage of one someday, use them if you can. Our young guide was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about Portuguese history. So knowledgeable in fact, our tour went for nearly four hours, but hey, we learned a lot! This country has a fascinating, colorful tale to tell.

And colorful she is. And bold and proud and very comfortable in her tile covered skin. Like a Dowager Queen. The city just seems to live life at a good pace. Stores open when they open - no rush.  Everything still closes in the afternoons and then comes back to life after the day cools down. This is the time for a late dinner and then a wander for a coffee, browsing or a drink at a Fado bar in the back alleys of Alfama (where we stayed).

A street lined with laundry line from the neighborhood restaurant.

I could have taken pictures of tiles all day long
We had a wide variety of experiences from a hair raising Tram 28 ride from one end of the city to the other. Not dissimilar to a roller coaster ride when the car is ratcheting upwards on a hill and then teeters before the downward run through narrow streets. The tram cars are movie quality vintage and they are emblazoned on hundreds of souvenirs. Along with sardines and the ever present (omnipresent!) red rooster, aka "Galo de Barcelos," - the feisty symbol of Portugal.

How I managed to leave Lisbon without a Rooster is a mystery!
Hang on the the ride on Tram 28!
We enjoyed two wonderful concerts. Both were small gatherings featuring unique music. The first was a free concert in San Roque church musuem. The program was Quarteto Vintage - all wind instruments. The second was in Belem at the Cultural Center, a modern complex with several venues a short train ride out of town. This program featured two cellos, a harpsichord and a Fado style guitar. Very nice. Michael attended a third choral concert in a convent that was very hard to find but worth the effort. The choir performed in the chapel - one of several gilded and gaudy places of worship we found.

Lovely statue that reminds us of our own Mary
Of course Portugal is know for it's beaches so we took easy day trips by train and spent time in Belam and Estoril. Both lovely cities with seaside promenades. The weather was too cold for more than bundled-up walks and hot tea at sunset, but I can envision the summer crowds frolicking in the sea.

Beautiful sunset on the beach in Estoril
It became obvious we were not going to find a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and our oven wasn't big enough to attempt one, so we decided to go "American" in a different way. Chinese food! Perfect in concept, mediocre in execution. But we had a good time. We played cribbage before and after and had a nice time reflecting on all of the people and experiences we are so very thankful for.

Good Fortune: You will be very thankful today.
Michael gets a much needed 'hip kids' haircut
Michael was able to attend not one, but two soccer matches in Lisbon - a city divided by Benfica fans and Sporting fans. He was able to share the love and the experience the culture of both teams.
At the Benfica match a huge Bald Eagle named Vitoria drifts down from the sky and then swoops round and round inside the stadium until she lands in the center of the field. A perfect landing means victory and the crowd goes wild. Michael was sure it was a robot until the fans near him set him strait and she settled on on her perch after one last graceful turn. Victory was indeed theirs.

Michael enjoyed soccer matches in most every city!
Other highlights included a day at the Gulbenkin art museum, the interactive Lisbon Story exhibit, complete with earthquake simulator, and a wonderful day in Sintra; the land of castles. Pena Palace was really special - a towering, multi-layered, multi-colored, fantastic wedding cake sitting way above the city.

It appears I left the best opportunity I had to make a new fashion statement in Florence. No other city had me fingering my wallet like that one. Lisbon is a shopping wasteland. I have lost a lot of weight on this adventure (28 pounds!) so I may just have to do a little further looking in Paris. I know, poor me. But literally, 'poor me', because it is also the most expensive city of them all.

 Looking foward to a last stop in Paris to see Mary and Greg and the babies and the one on the way before heading to Seattle. Happy holidays everyone!

Debbie and Michael
Senior Nomads