10: Lisbon, Portugal
Bridge across the river Tagus.
14 April, 2002
Lisbon is a gorgeous city, that reminds me slightly of San Francisco. It’s very hilly, so much so that they have built elevators in some parts of the city to allow pedestrians easy access to higher areas. One was built by a student of Monsieur Eiffel, and is lovely. Lisbon is on the river Tagus, which is spanned by a bridge that looks just like the Golden Gate. It should, as it was built by the same designer. There’s a statue of Christ with outstretched arms, a smaller version of the one in Rio de Janeiro, next to it. It’s a strange mix of landmarks known better from other locations.
We did the tour of all the must-see tourist monuments yesterday. The Monument to the Discoveries, the Tower of Belem, the Monastery of… and we drove all over the city. It was Sunday, so there wasn’t the usual traffic.
Torre of Belem.
The Muslims brought the art of tile-making with them, and it’s still very popular today. Many of the buildings are covered with patterned tiles, and the sidewalks are made of white and black stones with various swirls and designs. The Portuguese are incredibly proud of their exploring and seafaring days, and much of the art and architecture is dedicated to telling those stories, especially Vasco de Gama, who is buried in the Monastery.
We also went to the Coach Museum, more interesting for what it reveals about the culture than for the ornate coaches themselves. A gold-encrusted carriage was built for the illegitimate children of one of the kings, with a lovely painting of the royal coat-of-arms on the doors. When the coat of arms is shown upright, it signifies the Royal family, but at an angle it is reserved specifically for illegitimate progeny. These children were born by the king’s favorite mistress – a nun. I love Catholic countries.
Building covered in traditional azujuelo tiles.
We finished our tour slightly ahead of time, and our guide asked if there was anything else we wanted to see. There was one site that had been recommended by a Portuguese crew member, several in fact, that all sighed in ecstasy at the memory. Pasteis de Belem, a pastry shop opened by the monks, after the king chucked them out of the monastery and told them to make themselves useful. They did. The shop still makes the pastries according to their recipe, and it’s incredibly popular with the locals. A winding maze of blue-and-white tiled rooms, it was full of Portuguese enjoying these cakes with coffee or with port. We had to lurk against a wall and wait for a table, but it was well worth it. The sweets were a sort of egg custard in a crispy shell, with cinnamon and powdered sugar on top. I don’t think we could have made our guide any happier. She had two.
I went out for dinner with the crew to a restaurant owned by one of their relatives. It was possibly the best meal I have ever had: clams, prawns and bacalhau. Then we went to a few different nightclubs, that finally got busy around 2am. I woke up the next morning with the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had (outside of India, anyway). So, that was all I saw of Lisbon. I tell you, though, it was almost worth it.