First impressions of Portugal

6 Jan


Yesterday was a long travel day–freezing blizzard conditions driving to the airport in Vienna, a 3-hour flight to Madrid, where we had to wait 5 hours for our connecting flight to Lisbon (nice architecture by Richard Rogers.)   But it was 60 degrees and there was evidence of sunshine at the airport, and even though we arrived after dark, Lisbon was still warm enough to allow us to take off our winter coats.

Lisbon’s airport was a bit inefficient, but we finally made it to ”Azulejos,” the apartment we rented through IMG_20160105_215258”Azulejos” means ”tiles” in Portuguese, and that’s exactly what we found. The original early-19th-century tiles are still here! The apartment building, in the Bairro Alto (the old town), won an award for historical renovation. The only drawback: VERY steep and narrow stairs! Sigh. I keep forgetting to check on this issue when booking these places.

Helena, the apartment manager, could not have been more helpful–and everyone seems to speak English. We slept well, until the butcher shop below the apartment began pounding meat at 7 a.m.! That made us venture out onto the street, where we can now savor these unbelievable old houses–many of them IMG_20160106_115914with tile facades in various states of repair, and little, tiny shops (like the butchers) on the ground level of the buildings all along the street. We ate breakfast in a little bar/cafe, where workers crammed in to have a morning drink (beer!). And then, on these already narrow streets, come the trams!IMG_20160106_103908

Our street has a tram line right down the middle; the one in this picture is from a side street near our building and runs down to the river. I literally gasped when I saw this view. Breathtaking!

Our only goal today was to find a post office to mail a package that we couldn’t do before leaving Vienna. This gave us a good opportunity to take a short walk–well, hike, since Lisbon is nothing if not hilly–over to Praça de Luís de Camões in Largo de Chiado. Named for Portugal’s national poet, Camões (1524-1580) has been described as ”a swashbuckler with a penchant for kvetching,” and was beloved by Melville, Byron, Emily Dickinson, and Borges. Across from this grand statue was this humorous little statue to Antonio Ribeiro ”Chiado”, another 16th-century poet, but a comical one. Legend has it that he is the source of the neighborhood’s name Chiado–a word that apparently comes from the word meaning ”creaking.” This area used to be where intellectuals and poets hung out, but it is now filled with the chicest shops.

While the day started out a little soggy but with sunshine and clear skies, by afternoon as we headed out of the subway station, the rains came. And of course we hadn’t brought umbrellas or other rain gear! This weather pattern seems to be the one that we will have for most of the month–this is, after all, still winter, if not a Northern one. Locals told us to wait a few minutes and the rain would stop–and it did, briefly. We made our way to the tram stop–they are not very efficient, and we waited a long time, and then 3 came in a row.  But they seem romantic!

Some quick observations:  we have noticed a strong African presence here, the legacy of Portugal’s colonial past. Nice to see lots of black faces, and many mixed couples with beautiful children. Also a strong Goan community! We had lunch at a very nice Goan restaurant.

Today is Three Kings Day, and knowing what a big deal this is in Latin America, we assumed it would be a big deal here, too. Not so, although we did find King cakes in many of the pastry shops. We finally found one that would sell us a couple of slices rather than the whole cake for our afternoon tea.


Today is also the 20th anniversary of my sobriety, so this was my little celebratory dessert. It was 20 years ago that I entered the detox unit at Woden Valley Hospital. I haven’t had a drink since. So here I am, in Lisbon, Portugal, with King cake, and a cup of coffee, in our beautiful tiled apartment. Not a bad life, eh?IMG_20160106_155021


6 Responses to “First impressions of Portugal”

  1. esauboeck January 6, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    George here, don’t believe it, the butcher cuts the beef at 7, but we don’t get out until 9.

  2. Jonathan Gluckman January 6, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    Kvetch? Of course: Year of the Wood Monkey.


  3. esauboeck January 6, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    That’s how the article I found about Camoes described him!

  4. Martha B Ingalls January 7, 2016 at 1:04 am #

    You are so fun to read!!!!

  5. Anna M. Rodriguez January 8, 2016 at 4:38 pm #

    Nice read. I’ve been busy and I finally found time to read your post from my inbox. Fun! Happy Birthday!! Live it up 🙂 Oh, and what is a Goan?

  6. esauboeck January 8, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

    Thanks, Anna! A Goan is from Goa, a Portuguese colony in India. Those Portuguese Jesuits got everywhere….

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