Our Time in Lisbon Comes to an End

We spent our last full Lisbon day in Belem checking out the "Age of Discovery" monuments in honor of Christopher Columbus - the founder of our 3 day weekend feast.  We hit the Monastery of St. Jerome - some of the most beautiful cloisters I've ever seen - oh to be a nun!  Reading, walking about, thinking...eating broth, staying single forever, waking up for prayers several times a night  ...wait, actually that sounds terrible.  Nun I shall not be, but cloister appreciator I shall.  The adjacent church actually houses the tomb of Vasco De Gama.  Vasco De Gama!
Monument to Discovery
Then we hit the "Monument To Discovery" (just what it sounds like) and sampled a very tasty treat called "Pastel de Nata" - a special custard cooked in a sweet filo dough type crust.  Divine.

For our last night we went to the Gulbankian Musuem where I accidentally bought an amazing book about all of the books from all over the world in the collection in Portuguese.  I was very sad indeed when I pulled it from my back pack and discovered "De Paris A Toquio" instead of "From Paris to Tokyo" like I thought I had purchased.  Not to worry, a sweet friend of ours in Portugal is going to swap it for us.

The museum, containing the late Mr. Gulbankian's personal collection, is really stunning.  My favorite section was the room comprising Persia, the Middle East, and Turkey.  At one point I looked up from a fabulous 3 x 5 yard, 400 year old Persian rug to see a small toddler making his way around the corner from the previous room.  He was running towards the rug from the opposite side of the rug I was on.  (If you see what's coming then hold your breath like I did.)  I waited for a few seconds to see who was with him and an old woman with moccasins and knee highs came toddling through the door, too many paces behind him.  Just then it dawned on me that she wasn't going to catch him in time.  I let out a pre-gasp gasp.   And then the small child jumped onto the platform, peddling across the 400 year old rug.  I must have let out a serious cry because Max ran to my side to ask what was the matter.  Not wanting to loose this fun game of cat and mouse the child ran a bit further (the threads!) and fell right down in the middle of the rug.  I didn't know I had such strong feelings for historical artifacts - but I guess I do.  The guards ushered both the child and the old woman out of the room and Max had me sit me down for a minute so I could get it together.

Perhaps that hidden (or not so hidden) compulsion to preserve cultural artifacts explains why I can't really talk about the looting of the Iraq National Library and Archive after the 2003 invasion without getting very sad.  Look it up.  Be very sad too.  Anyway, this particular rug did make it through the toddler invasion of 2011 and for that I am glad.
Tiles from the Gulbankian Museum
As we were packing up the next morning and recounting the many things we'd seen Max said to me "I thought this was going to be a relaxing trip" with a grin.

"But this was a relaxing trip!  This was me, low key planning." I said with a bit of panic.

To be honest, I'm a planning maniac.  I think we'll just see one thing today and spend the rest of the time milling about but then I realize that historical sites A, B, and C are all on the way so we should just stop there for a little while and this amazing church is only open for a few hours that afternoon so we should probably stop there too.  ooh, and wouldn't the perfect Brazilian dinner (which we ate at a place called Brasuca) be a great way to end our relaxing day?  And then! We'll walk down by the river front and see the ships come into port... you get the picture.

But I have promised, crossed my heart and hope to die, that our next trip will be a bit slower paced :)


Lisbon, Day II

Lisbon has a weekly flea market in the shadow of the 17th century Church of Sao Vincente de Fora.   After exiting the rickety tram that wound us up through the Alfama the next morning we wandered towards the church.  We found our way by noting the increased number of University students lugging antique mirrors and carved side tables back to their apartments as we moved further down the hill.   The sprawling market has an eclectic mix of old world book sellers, hairy legged hippies making hemp bracelets, Guinean’s hawking African statues, antique furniture with navel carvings, and the usual ‘junk from my closet’ collections of television remotes, half sets of china, empty chipped frames, and old shoes rubber banded together all spread across an old bed sheet.  I bought several black and white postcards of Lisbon from the early 1900’s but I found my haggling skills much diminished in this non Middle-Eastern country and I’m sure I paid too much.

Many of the churches in the Alfama share a roving preacher and are closed to the public much of the time.  We were very fortunate to catch the Church of Sao Vincente de Fora open for a few minutes after the flea market.  One of the enclaves has a pretty gruesome statue depicting a man, hands shackled but outstretched, and his heart plucked out – blood gushing down his chest.  My training in Catholic saints in minimal so we asked the caretaker about it as she ushered us out the doors to close for the day.  She told us that Sao Joao Do Brito was a Portuguese Jesuit who preached in southern India during the 17th century.  After a significant amount of success he was martyred – slayed through the heart.  My reading revealed that when he instructed a convert to divorce all but one of his wives one of the unhappy (an powerful) women began a campaign against Sao Joao Do Brito and he was later killed as he became increasingly unpopular among the upper class and religious Brahmin.  Funny though, in all my reading I couldn’t find anything about him being stabbed through the heart.  It’s a great story all the same.   I think that kind of history meets legend meets symbolism meets religious expression is what is so fascinating to me about religious iconography. 

After a lunch of pork chops – the first in months – and grilled sardines – which I’m slowly becoming obsessed with – we headed up to the Sao George Castle for a few hours.  This castle was first built by the Moors in the 12th century.   We spent quite a bit of time taking in views of they city and reading up on Lisbon from a shady spot we found…down in the dry castle moat.   It was good to rest our feet, but we spent a considerably amount of time trying not to get busted by the grounds police and making jokes about the number of dead bodies/animals/garbage and sundry things that had no doubt made their way into the soil through the moat.

 After that we checked out the School of Portugese Decorative Arts --an awesome old house full of enough patterns, prints, tiles and carvings to make your head spin—ate a mediocre Indo-Portuguese Curry and, shame of my shame, caught an American movie in English.  In my defense, all of the movies in Casablanca are in French or Arabic and never subtitled in English.  For a few moments I felt like I was back home at Movies 8 with a purse full of smuggled in candy. 

I guess sometimes travel is as much about discovering home as it is about discovering new places.


A Rough Start, But...

It was a double puking.

I probably haven't seen someone throw up for 15 years when my younger brother threw up in the back seat of the minivan on the way to Grandma's.  My sisters both rolled the windows down and held their faces out, wailing the whole time that they too were going to be sick and how would they survive?

The flight from Casablanca to Lisbon is very short and the plane size is commensurate to the journey.   When the man behind us suddenly passed out and vomited into his shirt pocket I traveled back in time to the minivan's backseat.  I, however, didn't attempt to stick my head out of the window -  for the obvious reasons but also because I wanted to help.  Too bad I don't know anything about helping other humans in need of physical aid and I could only sit there holding my puke bag out lamely... in case he needed another one?  Note to self: take a first aid class for crying out loud.  

I'm not sure what actually happened, but after someone roused the cabin crew the man came to, changed his shirt and everyone went back to their Portuguese Sky Mall equivalents like nothing had happened.

Very strange. 

The second puking occurred on the church steps next to our guesthouse.  4:30 in the afternoon seemed a bit early for drunk street puking, but what do I know about Lisbon?  (And actually, I later learned that "street drinking" is a legal and popular activity in Lisbon.  It's just what it sounds like.  Yikes.) 

That's not a very good way to start off describing what was a wonderful trip we had in a wonderful place, but sometimes people get the idea that travel is all about leisure and glamor.  Sometimes you have to wade through a bit of street puke to get to the "leisure" part....and I'm not speaking metaphorically here people.

ANYWAY, all grossness aside, we arrived at our guesthouse overlooking the Tagus river at about 5:00 PM and were greeted by what sounded like a Brazilian dance party.  A retro jukebox blasted a mix of classic American Rock and rhythmic Brazilian Forro.   Pedro, our host, worked a juicer to the beat - churning out two tall glasses of orange juice for us.  Do you ever feel like you are the least cool person at the party?  That's certainly how I felt in my librarian sweater (it's a bonafide, honest to gosh librarian sweater we are talking about) and Rick Steves guide book sticking out of my camera bag.  But whatever.  If you worry about not being "cool enough" for the Europeans, or the Jet Set, or the World Travelers or whoever you'll never go anywhere.  Who cares.  Wear your librarian sweaters with pride I say!

Lisbon. Is. Beautiful.  We keep coming back to the adjective "easy".  It was easy to get to and from the airport, easy to walk in the streets at night, easy to find something cheap to eat, easy to ask people for help.  Our first night we took the quaint city tram (not unlike San Fran's) up to the top of the Alfama neighborhood - where sailors and salty sea characters of yesteryear once rousted.  This area was one of the few places in Lisbon not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake that leveled most of the city.

That night we wandered down the steep lanes and stopped at lookout points to take in sweeping views of the Atlantic as the sun set.  We sampled Lisbon's famous Bacalhau - fried salted cod fish - and the Pastel de Bacalhau - a kind of codfish cake with potatoes, parsley and eggs all fried together in a delicious ball of goodness.  The Bacalhau tasted a bit like beef jerky with breading - only made of fish..  In its defense, we did stop just before closing time when the Bacalhau had been sitting under a heat lamp all day.  Mea Culpa.

Bacalhau Shop
For our actual dinner we took a ferry across the river to the other side of the bay and dined on squid stew and a cod fish and cream dish.  Even though squid isn't at the top of my 'love it' list, I feel very strongly that you just have to eat the things the locals eat when you travel.  Have I ever gotten sick?  You'd better believe it.  But I have also discovered many new things I like - the stew was actually quite good and the squid very tender.  But the best moment of the night was when Max asked the waiter if they had anything with pork on the menu.  After months of pork-pravation in Casablanca when he brought out a large dish of mixed Chorizo with flames still licking up through the sausages we knew we were going to love Lisbon. 


How to Celebrate a Birthday

...I know, I know,  I always post a teaser when we go somewhere and (usually) follow up with a more substantial post a bit later when I have more time.... today is no different :) 

 Any guesses? 


"Give it Up Y'all!"

Brooke: "No, no, no, I can't say that!"

Max: "Make some noise?"

Brooke: "No, I can't say that either..."

Max: "What about put your hands together!

Brooke: "...well... oh, no. That will never work."

Max: "Well, what do you feel comfortable saying?"

Brooke: "Well, something like Hello and Good Evening.  I'd like to welcome you to what is sure to be a great show.  Please enjoy your evening."

Max: "At a hip hop concert?  You want to say hello and good evening?"

When I started my new job in the Public Affairs section a few months ago I knew I'd be well, interacting with the public, but I didn't know I'd be called upon to emcee a hip hop concert.  If you know me you can confirm that I am, in fact, a huge nerd.  I like to read, I like to make and appreciate art, and I like documentaries.  I like to stay home and parties make me really nervous.  I like fogey rock and indie music that you could sleep to.  But when a Muslim Hip Hop band from America comes to Morocco and it's your job to introduce them in front of several hundred people - you do it.

Just before I went on stage one of the band members, nice as pie, gave me a little pep talk about gettin' my groove on.

"You just have to be a little vulnerable"  he said

"Yeah, that was it, that laugh you just did - it's relate-able and engaging.  You can do this!  ...Just don't be a...librarian..."  he finished with smile.  

I'm happy to report that with only one minor mess-up my gig, as the kids call it, went very well.