Lisbon Day 4

Friday 5 July 2013

It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that today was our last full day in Lisbon. We had not allowed nearly enough time to explore this fascinating city. Four lifetimes would not be enough, so four days was completely inadequate. We keep reassuring ourselves that we will return soon, but that’s what we said about the cities of Mexico twenty-five years ago, and we have still not been back there.

It is impossible not to notice the importance of ceramic tiles in the architecture of Portugal. We frequently admired both the abstract geometric designs, and the more pictorial designs in which a scene or a portrait has been designed and then transferred to a grid. For our last day in Lisbon we therefore chose to visit the Museo Nacional do Azulejo (the National Tile Museum), which provided a wealth of examples of both abstract and pictorial designs, including a panoramic view of Lisbon before the catastrophic earthquake of 1755. A large room was set aside to display the latter, which was clearly given pride of place. Tiles help to create cool interior environments, so the museum was a sensible choice of venue given the hot weather outside.

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Tile museum (detail)

In the afternoon, we decided to take our chances again with the Number 28 tram. This time we were more successful: we managed to catch the tram up to the highest point of the Alfama and find the famous lookout at Graça. This was hidden behind military barracks at the top of the hill. On the way to the lookout, Susie spied a shop that sold the famous Portuguese natas. We purchased several of these to consume later when we returned home.  At the lookout, we joined an indolent crowd to watch the sun go down with a cerveja or two. The next day we would be looking back at this very spot as we crossed an enormous bridge over the Rio Tejo, as we headed south to the Algarve.

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View from Graca

I snapped a photo of Susie in the setting sun with her box of natas and a cold cerveja. The smile says it all.

When the sun had set, we walked from the lookout back down through the winding streets of the Alfama, tracing the tracks of the No. 28 tram. We stopped at a local restaurant that seemed to have sprouted spontaneously out of a small plaza above our apartment.

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Pup-up restaurant, Alfama, Lisbon

All that was on offer was barbecued sardinhas, cerveja and more of the local Fado. When the sardinhas arrived, I realised to my utter delight that my sense of taste had returned. It might have been for this reason that I decided these were the best sardines I have ever eaten. Alternatively, it might have been the skill of the cook, who clearly looked like an old hand behind the barbecue in his apron. Perhaps it was the combination of the Fado, the setting sun, the Alfama, the skill of the cook, and the freshness of the sardines that combined to cure me of my horrible, ironic affliction. The sardines were so perfect I almost wept into the plate. Susie had enjoyed her “Point X experience” at the lookout. Now it was my turn.

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Sardinhas!

Our last outing in Lisbon was an assignment. A friend of Susie’s called Kim was travelling in Portugal at roughly the same time, but her schedule did not permit her to meet up with Susie in person. So Kim and Susie each photographed herself in a location which the other had to identify and locate, in order to create a similar photograph. Kim had photographed herself with a brass statue of a Portuguese poet that was located in the Baixa district of Lisbon. Susie and I therefore got to walk around the “newer” streets that were laid out after the earthquake of 1755. It was amusing to consider that the “new” section of Lisbon pre-dated the discovery of Australia by James Cook, but contrasts like these characterise the meeting of the old world and the new. Our journey through Iberia has been a meeting of this kind. And it was about to continue south into the Algarve, and then east into Andalucia.

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