Our trip is composed of both the new and the familiar. We've been to Madrid on several occasions, but never Portugal. Thus I have the opportunity to view Portugal through fresh eyes, a heightened awareness of the things that fall outside of my daily experience.
While Portugal is new to me, it still has the echo of similar places. When one has traveled a lot there is often a sense of déjà vu even if one has never been in the specific place before. Our first evening here we walked up a main street lined with restaurants. Tables filled the center of the wide avenue as people thronged about. It had an eerie familiarity that I struggled to place, finally remembering a similar street in Jerusalem, almost picturing the Jerusalem shops layered over this Portuguese street.
Lisbon is a very hilly city, built on seven hills. I did not expect it to conjure up San Francisco, but the downhill vistas with vintage cable cars chugging uphill certainly did exactly that. San Francisco is also built on seven hills. There is even an orange suspension bridge in Lisbon that looks uncannily like the Golden Gate. I was to learn that it was designed by the same architect.
When we first arrived in Lisbon and exited our metro, I was struck by one of the unique features of Portugal, the mosaic sidewalks in black basalt and white limestone. Each street seems to have a unique pattern and they are truly works of art. In the evening light they glow. Patterns suggest sailing ships, mermaids or simply elegant abstract designs. It is often referred to as Portuguese pavement and was initially installed in the mid 1800s. Squares and plazas are often the location of the more involved patterns. I already find it useful in identifying different locations and spend a lot of time looking down.
Hills, Tiles and Clotheslines
On our first morning in Lisbon we ventured out on our own walking tour. As we walked up several sets of steps and then continued up hill, it dawned on me exactly how hilly Lisbon is. I needed to feel it in my muscles and breathing to fully appreciate it. Our hotel is close to the water where the ground is level, but as we ventured forth it was all uphill. We gradually climbed higher until we finally began to move downhill through neighborhoods of narrow streets. Clothes hung from windows fluttering picturesquely in the wind. We conjectured Monday must be Portuguese laundry day. Many of the buildings had tile facades in a variety of unusual designs, another detail uniquely Portuguese. Artful graffiti covered many buildings, certainly not unique to Lisbon, but notably good graffiti.
We descended down to the water where the trains, buses and cable cars ran alongside the port. Huge cruise ships anchored not far from graceful sailboats while cranes moved boxes overhead. It is hard to get lost in Lisbon. You need only aim downhill and follow the coastline.
In route we passed the market and were puzzled by the Time Out neon sign. It looked like the magazine logo. We soon learned that this is Time Out's first foodie venture and just opened in May. They have installed 35 food kiosks representing a wide variety of food. Five top chefs have restaurants there. They will be adding exhibition space as they continue to execute their concept. Next to this extensive food court is the fish and produce market.
Today we went to Belem, an area on the outskirts of Lisbon which is known for custard pastries called Pastels de Belem. We brought a few back to our room to enjoy, quite a decadent feast. Aside from that we've been eating a lot of fish, especially cod which is prepared many different ways. My husband, who eats vegetarian plus fish, has not had trouble finding interesting foods from which to choose.
A Travel Oasis
We've been adding new art museums to our museum list. Nothing that has overwhelmed me yet, but some striking pieces scattered about. A room of Zubaran saints and a Hieronymus Bosch in the Museu Antiga, a Rembrandt in the Gulbenkian, a good scan of contemporary art since 1900 at the Berardo. Museums are often the destination around which we plan our day, an oasis when you travel offering clean restrooms, good cafés, wifi and art.
We have one more day left in Portugal and plan to go to Cascais, a small fishing village nearby. The draw for us is a museum of work by Paula Rego, an artist I've become familiar with on-line. Then on to Madrid.