Day #11,185-6: Because family and traveling are a few of my favorite things (Maria aimed a bit low with cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudel), Mr. M & I spent the last bit of 2012 in Portugal with his brother B, our soon-to-be sister-in-law L.P., Mr. M’s cousin Bash, and Bash’s girlfriend Jess.
By the time Mr. M & I got our arses out of London, the rest of the jet-lagged gang had settled our rented Lisbon apartamento and were ready for an inaugural dinner at a hole-in-the-wall place they’d found while exploring the neighborhood.
We toasted with vinho verde (Portugal’s famous green wine that is- somewhat disappointingly- actually white) and feasted on sardines, grilled fish and prawns. All except for herbivorous me, who was left with a slightly sad cheese omelet. Let it be known that Portuguese cuisine celebrates seafood. Not vegetarians.
Coming out of dinner, we noticed a gathering of older Portuguese men smoking cigars, laughing, and generally having a kick-ass Friday night. Six shot glasses later, our merry band had joined the party; cigar smoke swirling round, we circled up to toast our Portuguese adventure with deep-red, mystery moonshine.
It was one of those unexpected, singularly unrepeatable moments that you instantly recognize as being special and try to sear into memory.
Said Portuguese adventure continued the following morning in trying to find a pastry shop that Brother B had read about. We ended up getting lost in the beautiful, cobblestoned, winding hill-streets and realized that Lisbon was a lot more scenic and endearing than any of us had imagined.
The most striking element of Lisbon’s cityscape are the buildings themselves, which are all colorfully tiled rather than covered in brick or stucco.
One of our most fortuitous finds was Carmo Convent- or more accurately, the ruins of Carmo Convent, which was damaged in the massive earthquake of 1755. Rather than being completely destroyed, the remains were left open to the sky.
Our wandering led us up into the Alfama, the oldest hill neighborhood in Lisbon.
I love me some good street art, and Lisbon is full of it. Not the meaningless graffiti you see on freeway overpasses, but art that manages to give an urban space character and depth.
At the top of the Alfama, we indulged in a luxurious two-hour lunch at a hillside restaurant-slash-circus-school. I think it’s worth seriously considering any eaterie that also offers juggling classes. This was confirmed the moment our cashier matter-of-factly announced she was a Clown-in-Training.
Despite all the culture, the highlight of our evening was discovering a massive projection screen + video camera in the Praca do Comercio town square.
I mentioned in a previous post that Portugal had honestly not been on my list of places to see, and Lisbon couldn’t have proved me more wrong.
There’s something to be said for any city that so richly rewards meandering.
Each time we got lost, we’d end up uncovering an impromptu street gathering… a tiled palace mildewed in its faded grandeur… a new vantage point…
Little gems of moments scattered like treasures waiting to be found.
Although it might have had a little something to do with the company, too.
Details of the Day:
Accommodations: I booked our apartment through the UK site HouseTrip.com and had nothing but a good experience. The reservation process was smooth, and an apartment was a fantastic way to go with a party of six. Plus, it made getting away from the obvious tourist areas easy… we all loved that the proprietor of our local coffee shop didn’t speak a lick of English and otherwise catered almost exclusively to older Portuguese women amused by our mere presence.
Eats: Should you find yourself in Lisbon in desperate need of either a classy meal or a lesson in aerial acrobatics- have no fear! Resto do Chapito (Rua da Costa do Castelo 1/7) has you covered on all counts and even offers circus shows on certain nights of the week.