One of the world's oldest cities, safe harbor, budget traveler, fado, pastel de nata
12.12.2012 - 16.12.2012 16 °C
Portuguese is a Romance language, also spoken in Brazil. In fact at one time, in the early 1800s, during the Napoleonic Wars, Rio de Janeiro was the capital of the Portuguese empire. But I digress. Lisbon is the capital today.
I am pretty much awake when we arrive in Lisbon by bus from Seville an hour ahead of schedule at 430 am on Dec 11. Nothing is open, the buses aren't running yet or the metro, there is nowhere to sit inside, well this bus station is like an open air roof, drafty. We share a cab with a nice Portuguese guy, Dino, and hang out with him for a few hours at the main train station, he is catching the 8 o'clock train, going home for Christmas. Here they have coffee machines and seats inside and it is warm.
We cab it over to our hotel at nine, they let us in, we crawl into our beds and try to warm up. At three we find a restaurant and eat our first meal in two days. I have steak and an egg, this is served with both rice and fries, and a beer. We try the custard tart and it is good, tomorrow I will have that with hot chocolate.
It sucks to be sick in a foreign country, but things are looking up. We are staying at la Botica, a nice big room, wifi, tv with lots of English channels, the heater works, clean, three star, thirty euros a night. In Canadian funds this is a little under forty dollars a night at the current exchange rate. We have been using hotelscombined and booking.com and getting good hotel rates. Right off a very nice street, Ave de Liberdade, where the rich people shop, quite a steep three block climb from that street and transit, likely explains the price. Very nice staff, they rush to open the door for you, things like that. Bonus, it has an elevator, we are on their third floor, we would call it four. The main floor is 0, etc etc. The elevator has a door that you pull open and holds three small adults.
There is free port in the lobby for new guests but I refrained, can't explain it, just never felt like a glass of port when it was available. Darn. Port, Portugal, fortified wine - I like it better than wine actually. Not being a wine aficiondo, kudos to those who are though. We can walk to Rossio Square from here and there are a lot of restaurants in the area.
Portugal is hurting financially also, Dino told us the people are depressed, something is going to give, maybe on Dec 21, I am glad we are back in Canada by then, I would like to see these folks in the good times, they seem to be always talking and laughing, but likely the depressed people stay home.
In 1997 South Korea was bankrupt. Look at them now. Things change. South Korea paid back their loan to the IMF something like three years early. The citizens donated their jewellry and actually impacted (lowered) the price of gold back then to get their country back on its feet.
One other example. Iceland's crisis in 2008. They took a novel approach and let the banks fail.
Dec 11 -
Lisboa, Lisbon, has the best climate in Europe.
Sunny and temperate. Average temperature in December is fourteen degrees C. What a lucky break, ending our trip here.
We are going on the free walking tour, great way to get oriented.
Lisbon is built on seven hills and is situated on a wide salt water river, the Tagus, at a strategic point where it intersects with the Atlantic Ocean. The longest bridge in Europe spans the Tagus, the Vasco de Gama.
Lisbon, older than Rome or London, safe harbour.
Allis Ubbo is safe harbour in Phoenician and it is believed they settled here in the 12th century BC. St Vincent is Lisbon's patron saint, it is said crows protected his body so it could be returned safely to Lisbon, following his death by torture. Lisbon's colours are black and white,
Black for the robes of St Vincent, white for the robes of the Crusadors.
On Nov 1, 1755 Lisbon suffered severe damage from an earthquake followed by a tsunami followed by a fire that burned for five days. It was All Saints Day, the churches were full, candles were burning. The estimated death toll was between 10,000 - maybe as high as 100,000, considered the deadliest earthquake in history, felt as far away as Italy and Denmark. 85 percent of Lisbon was destroyed. The king decided to rebuild the city with wide, straight avenues, according to the latest fashion. Lisbon, therefore, is not a medieval city, although there are still medieval neighbourhoods. The roofless Convent of Carmo stands tribute to the earthquake, naked arches against the skyline, never restored.
Lisbon has the fanciest metro stations. The subway tiles look amazing. The transit system includes trams, a ferry and an elevator. Santa Justa Lift. The purpose of the 45 metre elevator is to bring people from the lower lying streets to Carmo Square. Designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel its appearance has similarities to another famous tower.
While waiting for our tour at Rossio Square Jeff was approached twice, marijuana or cocaine? The guides say they are selling fake drugs. After our 2 hour tour we walked up a few steep side streets to a mom and pop restaurant, no name, just number 99 on the door and a chalkboard menu outside.
European style we were seated with another customer, nobody spoke English, the menu was in Portuguese. Jeff had a wonderful bowl of soup, the rolls were large and fresh, I ordered fried sardines or some small fish with saffron rice and we got the best tomato salad, so flavourful. I ordered a glass of red wine for eighty cents and got a whole pitcher of very good wine, keep in mind I am not a connoisseur. I tried to give some to the other lady at our table, I hate waste but could not drink all of it, I had to walk back down that hill. We had coffee too, a nice experience, thirteen euro, a bargain. I am wondering why the tomatoes are so much better here than at home. Maybe they use heritage seed.
The lucky thing about me is that I am not a picky eater. Or a connoisseur. So long as it looks and tastes relatively fresh, I can eat/drink most things put in front of me.
13 Dec - another sunny day, warm enough to sit at an outdoor cafe. We bought rechargeable transit cards at a machine at the subway station and took the ferry to the town across the river, Barreio. The port for the ferry is just past Comercio Square, a huge waterfront square where the royal palace stood until the earthquake of 1755 destroyed it. Still it was here that King Carlos and his eldest son were assassinated in 1908. Commercio Square is the largest and grandest square in Lisbon, bordered on three sides by arcaded yellow government buildings, bisected by the Triumphal Arch and home to the biggest Christmas tree in Europe. At 36,000 square metres, Commercio Square, or Terreiro de Paco is one of the largest squares in Europe.
In the evening we took in a Fado show at an atmospheric tavern in the district of Alfama, an area near the port that survived the earthquake, therefore narrow winding streets. Medieval structures still stand. A classic guitar, a 12 string, lute-shaped Portuguese guitar and a singer are the basic ingredients. Fado was invented in Alfama, the wrong side of the tracks back then. The first identified fado singer was a prostitute. Songs of longing, rejection, lost love, sort of dramatic, performed in dim light, no spotlights, no talking during the performance, everyone is attentive, we clap loudly after each number. Four songs in a set, break, another set, we see one female singer and two males, this will go on from 10 pm til 3 am. We leave just before 1. Part of the Fado admission of fifteen euros included a jug of wine and green soup and chorrizo sausage which were flamed at the table.
In the afternoon we stopped for a coffee at an outdoor patio. I was admiring my purchases when the lady at the next table said do you speak English. Hey that is my line. She was Portuguese but had lived in Toronto for thirty years. She had travelled across the country singing......fado. She loved Canada but had returned to Portugal as her son and grandchild are here. In her estimation Portugal is worse now than when she left in the early seventies. Too many pickpockets now and small time thugs. She was feisty, likely eighty, well spoken, stylish, opinionated. Lina. We wished each other Merry Christmas and kissed both cheeks on a warm December afternoon 8348 kilometres from home. It was 17 degrees Celsius.
14 December - raining but not cold. We walked around Alfama and toured the Fado Museum. Really Fado was the music of the lower classes, ordinary people with tattoos and scars, sailors, pirates, guys in jail, songs made up on the spot, passed around, embellished and then the aristocrats and poets got involved and Fado became mainstream, then they put out Fado records, etc.
Salazar's fascist dictatorship which lasted from about 1932 to 1968 sanitized the fado and made it politically correct. The Revolution of the Carnations, a bloodless coup, ended the dictatorship in 1974.
Fado magic happens in a small, crowded bar, candles flickering, one guy playing classical guitar, another guy on Portuguese guitar, a lady with an alto soprano voice, the performers gather in a dark corner, the guys sit on chairs, the singer motions for the lights to be turned off, the patrons are drinking wine and beer, cigarette smoke is thick in the air, no stage, they are right beside us. We are sitting so close I could reach out and touch them, then a balding man with a grey moustache whispers a word to the guy on classical, a few chords are played, he surveys the small crowd, speaks, the guitars are playing along, this is all in spoken word, his voice rises and falls, he rolls his rrs with gusto, he is telling a story, biggest applause of the night, the audience was engaged, we were part of it, I don't know what he said but it was mesmerizing.
Saturday, the time is ticking down, it is a cloudy day but sixteen degrees, we are warmer here than in Spain, walk, shop, have cappuccino and custard tarts, admire the Christmas Lights on Rossio Square after dark, cab fare is cheap here we decide to take a cab back to the hotel,we have the hotel card with address to show the driver, he drops us off at the wrong hotel, we did not notice til we got out, this hotel is on a hill too, has a green hotel sign just like ours, we are somewhere??? Of course the driver took off the second we stepped out, now we walk, down though, at least it is not uphill, we have a map, the desk clerk at the wrong hotel gave us directions. I bet I walked 10 k today with a swollen knee, hope I can walk again tomorrow. Lisbon seems pretty safe, lots of other people walking, warm, wish we hadn't tipped the driver, likely further than if we had walked back from Rossio in the first place.
16 December - Day 88 of our adventure
Yes it was cloudy but the temperature was 16 degrees C. Since a lot of the museums are free on Sunday between 10 and 2 we got an early start. First walk down the hill to a cafe for cappuccino and custard tarts (pastel de nata). Then walk down past Rossio to catch tram 15 to Belem. Just buying your ticket on the tram is expensive, two euro eighty-five. Then there was an event up ahead so we had to walk the last ten minutes. Bonus. It was the changing of the guard at the pink palace, marching bands and cavalry, a great spectacle that we observed by sheer dumb luck.
This is the ULTIMATE changing of the guard. There are a couple of bands, they have dogs, they have horses, ninety people must be involved maybe two hundred. This only takes place one Sunday a month outside the President's residence, Belem Palace. Colourful, lively music, horses, guards, free - this is the best one we have seen by far!!
Then on to the church and Monastary of Jeronimus where Vasco de Gama is buried. The service was just finishing so we watched the guy playing the pipe organ, likely our last foray into a church for awhile. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos dates from 1496. Then on to the museum of Modern Art, not our thing, but I was taken with the Christmas trees made of wine bottles.
The big 'Christmas Tree' in the Commercial Square is like a giant three sided triangle, as you walk by the tree films you like a tv screen. Interactive.
Around one pm it starts raining, we stop for a coffee and then continue to Torre de Belem, lots of stairs. The tower of Belem, a fortified tower about 100 feet tall, built in the 1500s on the north shore of the Tagus River in mainly manueline style from local limestone. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
We had lunch in Rossio Square, piripiri chicken, basically grilled chicken. Lots of grilled fish and meat in Lisbon.
If the waiter provides bread, a cheese tray, a bottle of water, anything you did not specifically order, do not eat it unless you intend to pay extra for it. It is a good idea to inquire if, whatever it is, comes with the meal. If not, then say simply, you can take it away.
Shopping - cheaper than Spain, buy shoes, boots, trinkets here, clothes, tablecloths, nativity scenes and religious icons, lots of rooster themed souvenirs if you like that type of thing. Buy port and olive oil.
The rooster is an unofficial symbol of Portugal and is said to bring good luck.
We traveled from Morocco to Spain then on to Portugal. We needed to be in Lisbon on 17 December for our flight home.
9 Dec - long van ride from Marrekesh to Tangier, arrived in Tarifa around 630 pm, the time changes, we started out at 7 am and we both have the chills, coughs. So go to our hostel and do not leave, just wrap up in blankets and I dream that we are in Egypt. Turns out we have to go back to Seville on the bus and the trip into Portugal is going to get us into Faro at 2 am.
10 Dec - I finally crawl out of bed to take an ibuprofin, decide I might warm up in a hot bath, crawl back into bed, something kicks in and by 10 we are drinking caffe con leche, pronounced cafay con lechay, coffee with milk. They have good coffee here and excellent hot chocolate.
We trundle our packs down to the bus station,18.50e each to Seville, leaves at 1230. The bus to Portugal doesn't leave Seville til midnight, this is likely different in the summer. We decide to go to Lisbon, forget Faro, at least we will arrive at a more civilized time. When the sun goes down it is chilly, this bus station as well as the restaurants and bars leave their doors open and it is a damp kind of chill. Now we are in toques with our hoods up, freezing, I wish I had bought that blanket in Morocco. We huddle together at the station, I have booked a hotel, we can sleep all day tomorrow. Finally it is midnight, The bus is nice and warm, not crowded, things are pretty quiet til 2 am and then the driver turns up the radio and we are jolted awake by bon Jovi's I Want to Lay You Down on a Bed of Roses, yes I am relating now to the bed of nails part, oh but here is Sarah McLachlan with The Arms of the Angels, the driver did not seem to understand me when I asked about where to sit so I marvel about him listening to these lyrics in English.
We walked back to our hotel, admiring the wide avenues, the designs of black and tan cobblestones in the walkways and squares, the rain had stopped, lots of people out walking, enjoying a drink at a sidewalk cafe, we decide Lisbon makes our top ten must visit European cities. Obrigado. Thank you. Obrigada.
It is hard to believe that our adventure is almost over. When I get back home to Victoria I will have traveled almost 31,000 Km (19,000 miles), walked 890 km and visited 17 countries for the first time. At 63 I backpacked across a continent, taking in a bit of Asia and North Africa as well as Europe. I could not have been an extreme budget traveler without the support of my son. Choose your travel companion wisely, I did. Also, you cannot go everywhere in 90 days. We chose places we had never been. We found places we would like to revisit. It has been unbelievable, memorable, incredible, wonderful. We could, in fact, have spent less than fifty dollars a day, had we done a few things differently. If I can do it, anybody can do it. The budget airlines in Europe make travel very affordable for Europeans and we too can take advantage of this type of travel once we get there. We did use Couch Surfing for seven nights, others could use it more extensively. For us, it was just the right amount. If you want to travel but think you cannot afford it, think again.
A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.