Letters from my mother… Lisbon Day One and Two

We arrived in Lisbon after 31 or 32 hours door to door and, despite all the flights and connections going very smoothly,  it was still arduous and I did not feel at all sparky. All that notwithstanding, the lovely soft warm and sunny day was a much appreciated welcome to Lisbon.

I had asked L the Wonder Agent to find us a hotel because her son had been married in Portugal the year before and she knew the ropes. As usual, she has put us in a quirky boutique hotel in an interesting area and, as usual, at first I couldn’t work the hotel out at all.

It has no street presence, just a doorway, and you have to climb up a huge number of steps which twist and turn, surrounded by high dull red walls and purple bougainvillea, to arrive in a quaint courtyard that gives no clue as to where the reception might be.

Our room is small, clean, neat and nicely decorated but lacks the one thing I really wanted – a king sized bed as promised in the voucher. The bed is too small!!!

The windows of our room look across the narrow road straight into a typical Lisbon apartment block, one covered in blue and white glazed tiles with beautiful wrought iron balconies in need of paint, run down and with a rusting roof. There are many such beautiful apartment blocks and buildings which are in desperate need of money to restore their glory.

We decided to orientate ourselves by walking about six kilometres to the main square.

My first impressions of Lisbon were of how run down it looked. (Wasn’t Portugal one of the SHIP (Spain, Hellens, Italy Portugal ) EU countries threatening to financially collapse a few years ago?). Most of the buildings are beautiful but oh so in need of paint, repair and new roofs. Shops are shut or hopelessly selling old fashioned goods, there’s graffiti on many places and the limestone cobblestone footpaths are a minefield of undulating dips and curves and holes which makes me watch every step I take.  They, too, need repair.

However, I knew I wasn’t doing Lisbon justice and I wasn’t cracking the code, so to speak, so we bought a bus tour ticket that lasts several days. This I hoped would orientate me and give me a way into the place. The tour yesterday and the tours today have helped a lot but a private guide, such as we had in Russia, would have been a much more effective way of going about it.

Lisbon sprawls in low rise buildings a long way along the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and over seven hills which feels like 16 hills, all of them very steep. This makes it difficult to get around and have a mind map of the city.

My favourite way of orientation myself is to walk everywhere, after all I’ve walked enormous distances covering huge chunks of huge Istanbul, but this city defeats me. Roll on the buses.

One of the bus tours today took us around Belém, a more salubrious district where many embassies are situated, and from where all the great Portuguese explorers, including Vasco da Gama, set off to explore the world and acquire colonies. The houses in this district are gorgeous, some in the vernacular and some very sleekly modern. Relief! Lisbon isn’t all past glory and current depression.

Another impression is of the great number of museums and galleries there are in this sprawling city. There’s a museum for just about anything your can think of – puppets, science, electricity, the Orient, the colonies, Brazil, Portuguese culture, Portuguese tiles, war, the explorers, art modern and old, etc etc. Some of these museums are quite new giving me the impression that the EU has poured money into community projects to prop up the state.

We also hopped on a tiny tram to take a tour around the hill district immediately behind the main square. This is a great way of getting around this area because driving a car would be very scary. Too steep, too narrow, too much foot and other traffic and too hard to walk around, however, it’s charming (if run down) with terrific views over the rest of the city to the river.

This area is also the home of Fado, that singing style unique to Portugal. I had intended to go to a Fado show but, after the bus tours playing it non stop, we are now so sick of it that we won’t be found sitting in some smokey bar listening to live Fado.

We are now off to find a little local restaurant for dinner at a price half that which we paid at the hotel last night. Food is cheap here if you don’t seek out extremely up market restaurants. The reason for the pricing is, according to our hotel manager, the average wage is pathetically low, about 500 euros a month, and most Portuguese can’t afford any higher.

Tomorrow we plan to go outside Lisbon the the former royal area of Sintra. Thanks Tors for the tip.
I hope all are well, especially the little ones.



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