a wandering woman writes

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Scenes from a first visit to Lisbon

Notice how I've already labelled this my first visit? As much as I hate to make my syrupy Spanish guidebook right when it guaranteed me I'd leave Lisbon longing to return, I did.

How could I not love a city built on 7 hills?

-1-The city
Lisbon is a walking city. There's hardly a hill I climbed or a corner I turned that didn't leave me with a vertical slice of blue, a quick view of the river and the sea beyond. I loved Victorian houses as a child, for the same reason; I loved wondering what was around the next corner or at the end of the next long, dark hallway. In Lisbon, as in San Francisco, the city Lisbon most brought to my mind, what's around the next corner is often water.

The Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa called Lisbon a "confusion of houses" -- and it is! A lovely, lovely, higgedy piggedy confusion of houses. I think that's part of what reminds me of San Francisico: a city built on hills, a city on a bay, brightly colored cablecars running up and down unnavigable hills, sailboats making a quick escape to sea under the red Golden Gate-styled 25th April bridge....

I found Lisboetas open, down to earth, and slow-moving enough to look you in the eye and indulge in a few quiet moments of call-response (Portuguese to Spanish) about anything, or nothing.

-2-Chikatachikata....clackety clack
The Spanish taxi gods chose to laugh at my hard-learned mistrust of early morning transport this trip. My taxi arrived 2 minutes after I called him Saturday, leaving me alone at the Salamanca train station at 415 am, a full 50 minutes before my train. The man in the station coffee shop was at his usual routine, dishing out "hard love" to the old men who spend every night with him while delivering my cafe con leche with the doting demeanor of a grandfather greeting me when I'd just woken up and crawled out to the family kitchen. As though he knows HE has to get up at this ungodly hour, but me, hija mía, let's take good care of me, forced to join him.

My travelling companions barrelled around the corner about 445. Once we got through the obligatory kissing, compared train snacks, and calculated actual hours slept the night before, we clambered aboard and found our seats.

-3-Never travel without merienda.
During our trip to Dublin, Nieves introduced me to homemade membrillo and cheese sandwiches. She didn't disappoint this trip, either. We feasted our way across Portugal with little sandwiches of her mother's fig preserves and dry sheep's cheese, sweet bollos which we promptly stuffed with white chocolate, pipas, oranges, dates,toasted maíz, and bocadillos of jamón with tomato for the main meal. The American college student in our train car contributed the best of American cuisine: cherry Bubbelicious. All you could chew.

-4-Rain expands my vocabulary

Our first day, Lisbon generously handed me the perfect opportunity to pull out some of my favorite Spanish expressions, and learn a new rain word. We arrived to soft drizzle (my chance to try out llovizna and chirimiri) that every now and then would spontaneously morph into chaparrones - fierce, pounding downpours that left us no choice but to duck into the nearest cafe for tea and pasteis de nata. No choice, I swear.

The champion chapparón hit while we were climbing through a residential neighborhood on our way to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, and gave me one of my favorite Lisbon memories: three traveling Salmantinas, hovering in a doorway for at least a half an hour, laughing, as the waters rise below us and two raging rivers roar down either side of the cobblestone street. Plenty of time to show off my lloviendo a mares (raining seas) and lloviendo a cantaros (raining jugs-full). And the Salmantinas? They picked up "raining cats and dogs".

Lisbon is a city of miradoures, landscaped lookouts where tourist snap photos, mothers gossip while their children play and old men play cards. It's a lived-in city, a city just the way I like them - not perfect, full of faded, gritty corners, but alive and spirited, and, again, lovely, right down to her sidewalks.

A short list of What I Brought Home from Lisbon:
A bottle of Espenheira ginghina, a tasty cherry liqour I watched Lisboetas drink from small plastic cups outside the tiny bar selling it.

A packet of Piripiri (little chili peppers)

A new respect for New York taxi drivers. We feasted our away across Portugal, then whiteknuckled our way around Lisbon in death defying taxi rides. Two, yes, two taxi drivers chose to approach our hotel careening through an emergency room parking lot at what felt like at least 60 mph.

A fado song, something about "Ayy, Maria", still echoing in my brain.

The word saudade.

A travelling companion who, having taken full advantage of her stay in a city that posts vital information in Portuguese and English, can now knock your socks off with her English elevator impression (her "going up" is particularly strong) and her dramatic recitation of the emergency instructions posted with the firehose in the hotel hallway ("To access firehose, break the glass...") I'm afraid to ask what new vocabulary she picked up during her middle of the night viewing of "The Tina Turner Story" on Portuguese TV, joyously undubbed.



  • Very good!
    The cakes look delicious... yumm
    I'm glad you had a good time.

    By Anonymous Alex, at 9:09 PM  

  • Gorgeous photos! Now I have to add another city to my Places To Visit list.

    I think I would have found an excuse to eat those cakes, rain or shine! :)

    By Blogger Angie, at 10:50 PM  

  • I loved this!!

    By Blogger woman wandering, at 11:38 PM  

  • Lovely! Lovely!
    I can't wait to go Lisbon again.
    Summer 77 working on a ship during my student days!
    I loved the pavements, the food, the people and most of all Fado!
    Saudade is my favourite song by Cesaria Evoria!
    You lucky thing!

    By Blogger cream, at 5:45 PM  

  • Green with envy, that´s me! Four months ago I booked a trip to Lisboa. Sadly, I´m currently out of work (due to an illness), and out-of-holidays as a matter of fact. My seat in the plane went and came empty. I feel SAUDADE at its high. Anyday after my recovery I´ll get there, I promise!!

    By Anonymous ana, at 8:53 PM  

  • Yes I love Lisbon too, and occasionally "have to" drop in for a galao and pasteis de nata at one of the local Portuguese cafés. But, although I eventually find I can understand what people are saying (as you know you can read a lot of it without too much trouble), I find Portuguese incredibly hard to pronounce - it seems to be as much a matter of what you leave out as what you put in!

    By Blogger qaminante, at 11:10 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 10:08 AM  

  • Oh, get there, Ana. Get there.

    Qaminante, yes, yes, it is odd how you can understand them, perfectly - my Spanish travelling companions even better than me, obviously, but then every once in a while, they'd hit a word we couldn't get--that had nothing in common with the Spanish word. I think if one of us had also known French, we could have deciphered everything. I'd love to make Portuguese my next language conquest; another beautiful language, I think and a good travelling language, too...dosh, tresh, Oh I really enjoyed it.

    Galaos turned off my Spanish friends, too milky, but they (shh, secretly) reminded me of the cafe con leches I make at home for myself - leche con cafe, really.

    10:08 AM

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 10:12 AM  

  • Cream, I just reread my post and realized I cut out the line where I confessed Saudade is my favorite Caesaria song, too, but I'd never known what she was singing about. I'm still swimming around in that word, saudade. I just love it.

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 10:28 AM  

  • Erin,

    For the past two days I have been reading your blog front to back... And I finally made it to the end - which is all too sad because now I will have to wait with bated breath for the next post.

    I too lived in Salamanca, though only for a year, back in 2002 - 03. Back when Salamanca was the Europa Ciudad Cultural, 2002. Your paseos down the many streets brings back such vivid memories (though it's a shame that Calle Gibralter was changed). I'm glad to hear that my two favorite accordian players are still camped out on Calle Toro, and I wish I could have partaken in the rana quiz. I will continue reading, and it's so good to find someone that has also fallen in love with Salamanca. Have you yet had the chance to watch the guy scale the old cathedral tower while proclaming his love for Salamanca and Spain?

    As for Lisboa, the next time you go, be sure to make a quick side trip to Sintra - an amazing place that sits in it's own little world 29km from Lisboa. I believe that the legend goes that once you've been there, you will one day need to return. And take your notepad, I promise you'll be inspired.

    Also, Fatima in Portugal is a great place for Catholic history and a fun place to stop along the way should you be driving...

    Alas, all for now, but I hope you don't mind me stopping by with quick comments and thoughts from time to time. Keep it up, you've earned another loyal reader. Oh, and I would be VERY interested in the post about how you landed a job in a foreign country. (hint, hint :o)

    By Anonymous Joel, at 7:27 AM  

  • Wow, Joel, thank you! I didn't catch the guy climbing...oh I forget what he's called. There was some question about his health, whether he do it this year, but in the end he did, and I wasn't warned in time. I'll have to catch him next ascent!

    Thanks for the Portugal tips. I'll be headed back that way soon. Fatima is on the train route, too actually (which was the highlight of my report for my very Catholic mother, even though all I saw was the train station (which is lovely, but still, it's just the station!)

    I'll tip the accordionists for you. Would be great to see you back here.

    And yeh, I'll do the how I got the job post...

    By Blogger wandering-woman, at 9:13 PM  

  • Oh this was so lovely to read and the pics are wonderful. I was in Portugal, including Lisbon about 18 years ago (can that be true?!) and it remains one of my favorite places. Definitely want to take Scott there. I have to make that a priority...maybe in a year or two. Not longer. (i hope i hope)

    By Blogger Laura Young, at 3:44 PM  

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