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Europe » Portugal » Lisboa
October 27th 2010
Published: October 31st 2010
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After 5 lovely days in Lisbon we are in the air, en route to Istanbul via London. My parents, who are flying to meet us from Amsterdam (where they spent 4 lovely days with Thai family partying it up and eating yummy hot Thai food…… why didn’t we think of going there again????) are still there as their flight was overbooked, but they got a VERY decent euro compensation! Anyways back to our story! We arrived in Lisbon on Friday afternoon from Sintra. Our hotel was very central, a short stroll from the metro and bam in the middle of one of the main pedestrian malls in Lisbon. We took a stroll down to Placo de Comercial in the late afternoon to take some happy snaps. And got numerous offers of hash along the way! I spent 3 months in Amsterdam about 7 years ago and never once got offered it (not that I would take it hello) it was being offered like hotcakes in Lisbon! After a walk around we settled for dinner and had a nice conversation with a Welsh couple (the husband thought we were Americans and got very embarrassed indeed when his wife chastised him and said I told you they were Australian. Serves him right lol).

The next day we went to meet one of Bill’s Portuguese friends who practices the Portuguese martial art ‘Jogo Do Pau’ which is basically stick fighting with large staffs. Similar to Egyptian Tahtib in many senses but without the music of course! Bill has been keen to instruct Jogo do Pau with his friends when they do their usual fencing but of course being Brisbane one can’t find places to learn certain martial art forms. So we played around the park with Federico (yes I did some fighting myself, whacking the stick) and went through some drills and of course I had to record some footage of this so Bill could use it for future reference. I tell you what my arms were tired! After that we went back to our area and walked around a bit more to different area and squares. Later that evening we went to a Fado performance in the Chaido district. Fado is Portugal’s answer to a national music form. Fado is what Opera s to Italy, what Flamenco is to Spain, it is the quintessential experience to listen to Fado when one is in Portugal. Fado was born in Lisbon (some say the Barrio Alto, some say Alfama), and it’s a great way to learn about the Portuguese. Fado music is emotional, passionate, mournful, fun and upbeat yet heartbreaking all wrapped up in one. The music itself in parts can be comparable to the Spanish guitar in parts but more melodic with mournful singing, but to my ears it has more in common in parts with Gypsy-ish music tradition when the Fado is a bit upbeat. The singer themselves have incredibly strong voices; evoke passion, emotion and happiness in their song. Of course, I can’t understand Portuguese but I love listening to non-English speaking music (which is displayed in my Ipod and car music collection).

The next day we ventured to Chiado again to visit the contemporary art museum for a laugh (and it was free Sunday morning). Yes not a big belly laugh as we got from the Kunsthaus in Graz (magic mushroom jump castles playing 60’s phsycodellic porn, rocks on the ground symbolising something, amps signifying artist struggle etc.) but we did get loads of laughs particularly from the aptly named modified shoebox (a shoebox with cut outs), painted iron, a white painted flattened cardboard box, a cardboard model of a building. And the list goes on.
After our laugh, we caught a train outside of the city centre and visited the Museo do Nacional Antiqua (museum of Antique art) full of antique art (naturally) and oriental art upstairs (Ming Vases, Turkish Iznik tiles, 12th century Persian carpets etc.). The painting I like the best was a very strange 16th Century painting by Bosch.

Afterward to ventured to find the shop that sells the very famous, most delicious, piping hot Pastel de Nata which is a Portuguese custard tart. The line was so huge, we went inside to find a table, where again the lineup for tables was very big. Very yummy we had 3 tarts each! After that we went to a very large, very gothic cathedral which, next to St Vitus in Prague, is my favourite Cathedral. Minimalist decoration (no cherubs) open space, the centre alter (prayer area??) was grand but yet again minimalist yet marvelous. The space was huge, the bare stone is what I love about Gothic cathedral, particularly with this one and St Vitus, is that the bare stone is turning black over the years, the character it gives is spectacular.

Afterward we went to the riverside to go to the fortress, but by the time we got there last entrance had just closed. Nonetheless we took lots of photos. That night we stumbled upon a Fado restaurant in the Alfama district. A little pricey but it was worth it for the live Fado performances of local artists. There was a younger girl singing whom we thought were the best out of all 3 but she wants selling any of her cd’s 😞

The next morning we joined a walking tour around downtown Lisbon. It was great, 15 euros each and 3 hours exploring Barrio Alto, Rossio and, Baixa Chaido and Alfama and a ride on the famous no. 28 tram (a lot of the older trams were purchased from San Francisco so they are old with a lot of charm). Our guide did tell us though that the old Moorish castle on the hill, the castle of Sao Jorge, is a fake and was re-built in the 20th century to reflect that of a Moorish castle because there are many Moorish castles in Spain and Portugal, of course Lisbon wanted their own. So the 7 euros it cost to go in, with that knowledge we decided to skip it. After finding free Wi-Fi and a cool, chilled-out café I searched for Thai restaurant and found one in Barrio Alto, so we went there for dinner to satisfy our Thai, chilli, rice and more chilli craving. It was YUM! Of course, being called ‘Sukhothai'’ no Isaan dishes (being loyal of course the best Thai cuisine comes from the Isaan region!). But yummy and yes expensive, but so worth it!

Ok now back on the 2nd British Airways flight - somewhat sleepy but satisfied after 2 pints of German beer at Heathrow! Ok, back to our adventure. Yesterday was our day to do our chores which we had been putting off - Laundry and sending a parcel back home. After finding a Post Office we were floored by the news that it is very expensive to send a parcel back to Australia. So after much deliberating we decided to send a small package home just because we had bought books along the way, many of which are about monuments that we had visited. Even though it cost a lot, and again Portugal (like Morocco) only have airmail to Australia, no surface mail (? Even Turkey has that!) it worked out the best. Afterward we had lunch and went for a last visit and shop to H&M before going to the Se, which is a 12th century cathedral. Whilst structurally it is brilliant (gothic style) I found it a bit small just because of all the pillars (although the cathedral is quite large). I’m not into the baroque style cathedrals as I think I made clear earlier on, but this seemed bare, and I know why. Minimal (if any) stained glass windows. On Sunday with our walking tour we went to Sao Dominic’s cathedral in ‘Tolerance’ Square and the church which caught fire in the mid-20th century, remained burnt. Cleaned up of course, but the bare stone remained burnt which to me gave the cathedral great character. After the Se, we went to the Fado museum. After going to the Flamenco museum in Sevilla (and paying 10 euros) I had a pretty good idea what we were in for (just looking at the history of Fado, some Fado shawls, pictures of famous Fado singers) so we weren’t that heartbroken when we were told, with 30min until closing time that we wouldn’t have time to look at the museum. So we went to the shop instead, very expensive considering the average price for a CD of famous Fado singers such as Mariza were 24 euros (when Bill paid $30 for her CD in Australia). So we walked and took a metro to the laundry place (the only self-service laundry in Lisbon) but we were too late as it was closing in 30mins…..

So we went back, I shopped for gifts for my parents and we went to the Fado restaurant again for a great Salmon meal and Fado. The older lady was there, the matron of Fado singers of that particular establishment, but the others were new. And an older man who brought ‘rock’ to Fado. It as nothing more than him singing Fado in a gruff voice (which was weird and not very appealing!)

That’s all from me. We had an early morning today, 2 flights and we shall be touching down in Istanbul just before midnight. Almost time for me to say Merhaba to a very dear old friend (that is ISTANBUL!)


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