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Mom, Dad, We Want to be Lisbians: The Invasion of Iberia by Tall, White Americans, Vol. 2

22 May 2008

Continuing from the last post…and we’ve uploaded pix

So, the aforementioned Lisbon Lounge Hostel (awesomest place ever!) is on a quaint little pedestrian side street not too far from the main square, and is flanked by great cafés with plenty of outdoor seating. Since we had a few hours until we could check in, we took advantage of one of these and had L3 #2 (though at 9a really makes it more of a breakfast), which was most satisfying. And since it was Lisbon, dirt freakin’ cheap. Can’t beat that.

Upon departing the restaurant, we were immediately confronted by a grizzled, yet somehow seemingly well-kempt gentleman in a suit who growled in a Cheech-like voice “hasheeeesh? Mareeewannaaa?” while holding what looked to be dog crap wrapped in tin foil close to his waist. He then reminded us that, “eets leegal een Portugal…” Oh, well, if that’s the case, I’ll take a kilo! Chowderhead. Side note: we continued running into this same guy, with the same routine, throughout our stay, sometimes multiple times a day and within minutes of just having passed him (we made a lot of wrong turns). We figured that since he kept holding the merchandise below his waist, it must be legal to partake, so long as you keep it below the waistline. None of us being flexible enough to make that work, we politely declined. Admired his tenacity though. Overcoming our contact highs, we strolled around the streets, stopping to admire the great Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square), a major architectural element of the “new” city. “New” is a relative term, especially because most of the “new” city was built in the mid-1700s following a huge earthquake, tsunami and fire that nearly consumed Lisbon entirely (they really went for the trifecta there). We then headed to the “old” city, which is truly old (like Phoenician and Roman old), and hiked to the top of the fortress there, which provided amazing views of the city. It was here that we were reminded just how paranoid Americans are of being sued: unlike American archaeological sites, which—if they allow you inside at all—are protected and reinforced with guard rails, chains, ADA-compliant ramps, etc., this ancient castle offered the opportunity to scale 20′ high towers using only worn, slick, 900-year-old steps set at a ridiculously steep angle, with no handrail or other restraining elements. Needless to say, we climbed every single one of them.

Upon descending from the hill, the dynamic duo of Al and Dear and Beloved Friend Adi strove—successfully—to find a restaurant for lunch, searching for the one that was highly recommended in the guidebook. A challenge for sure, as the streets in Lisbon are as tangled as a hippie’s dreadlocks and about as impassible, with names changing every doorway or so and small open spaces that you wouldn’t think would count as a new street being designated as such. Given a solid team effort, however, we found the winding side street, and upon ascending the route, were pleasantly surprised to see it open up to a small courtyard with four or five tables set up in it, with the restaurant on the side. It was picturesque. Hemos comido bien.

Three hours later—with bulging stomachs—we started heading back to the hostel, only to be sidetracked by a plaza with a cool looking church, next to which was a great little hand-crafted ceramics store where we procured a few charming, though very fragile, physical reminders of our experience. We then wound our way back to the hostel, basking in the ever-improving weather and taking in the sights along the route, especially noting all the different tile patterns that adorn the exterior walls of nearly every building in the city. Each facade is a unique, intricate pattern, and the juxtaposition of these patterns from one building to the next is a feast for the eyes. The sidewalks, too, are a mesmerizing tapestry of black and white patterns, with each block and square having a unique and complex design. We could only imagine the bricklayer’s response to the work order: “You want me to do WHAT?”

After a nap, we hit up a great restaurant not too far from the hostel and, like all our other dining experiences, had a great time. Since Portugal, and Lisbon especially, relies heavily on tourism for sustenance, the service everywhere was exquisite, and from our perspective, genuinely friendly, especially if you tried to use some Portuguese (even though everyone spoke English or Spanish). In anticipation of our journey, we strove to break the ignorant American stereotype and picked up the essentials: falla inglés? (do you speak English?); obrigado (thank you); desculpe (I’m sorry) and mammas (boobs). Cause ya never know. And it’s funny. In a gross kind of way.

Tuesday morning broke with gorgeous weather, so we figured a trip to the nearby Cascais beach was in order. Unfortunately, getting 7 people to move with any sort of vitesse proved to be a bit of a problem, which became clearly evident an hour and a half later when we were still sitting at an outdoor café precisely 15 feet from the door of the hostel. By then, the weather had cooled significantly and clouded up, so we abandoned the idea of actually swimming, but figured we’d check out the beach anyway. Oh, and Paddy and I ordered beers, but since our comprehension of the metric system is a bit faulty, we ended up with a full on LITER of beer each (I don’t want a large Farva! I want a goddamn literacola!). Quaffage time further set us back from our plan. Oh well. Numb is fun.

After a 30-minute walk to the intercity train station and a harrowing purchasing of tickets with the unsolicited and very pushy assistance of some local gypsies, we finally made it to the beach town of Cascais, about 45 minutes from Lisbon proper. The town was a quaint fishing village with several inlets and small beaches bordered by soaring cliffs, the bays cluttered with anchored fishing boats. It really didn’t get more romantic than that. But since we couldn’t actually go in the water (it was freakin’ cold, in both Celsius and Fahrenheit) we decided to go to a cliffside bar and admire the view. It was at this juncture that we came to the realization that as we get older and continue getting together as a crew, we really only end up looking for more and more expensive places to drink together. Eh, could be worse.

Returning home, we regrouped and hit up the hip end of town, dining in a great Argentinian steak house and stopping by a bar afterwards. There was, uh, good conversation…

Wednesday was more schlepping around, hitting the sites and stores we missed the previous days. We took a ride in the Santa Justa Elevator, which links the lower part of Santa Justa Street to Carmo Plaza, found atop a hill apparently too steep to access any other way. It’s basically an Eiffel-Tower-esque structure with two 20-person cars that take you up and down with a café on the roof. Great views. At the top of the hill, adjacent to said plaza, is the Carmo Convent, basically a Gothic cathedral that has been partially rebuilt following its collapse during the aforementioned earthquake. Partially basically means that it has no roof, only the stone ribbing that would support it and is about as Romantic / “ruins of a former empire” flavor as you can get. It was an awesome experience to explore the grounds and the adjoining museum, as we were standing in grass where the floor of a mighty cathedral once stood. Just check out the pix because the description won’t do.

Another L3 followed, though this one ended up with unforeseen negative consequences as poor friend Jenny ended up getting food poisoning, which we didn’t realize until much later, about an hour before we boarded the night train to head home. Most unfortunate. She handled it like a trooper, though, despite the adverse situation and locations in which she had to…uh…pretend she was a post-fiesta college student again. But since we didn’t know she was contracting bowel death at the time, lunch was great!

Post-lunch we continued exploring, basically whiling away the hours before our train left at 10p. We hit a bunch of Port stores (in accordance with our abundant whiteness, we’re now officially into Port, having attended several tastings and even buying a few bottles ourselves) and other souvenir shops and I think a bar or two. No, wait, definitely a bar, because that’s where Jenny realized she shouldn’t have had the omelet and like the rest of us, gone with the waiter’s recommendations. Yup. Definitely at the last bar. That was unfortunate.

Anyway, it’s at this juncture that we must again pause, as the final segment of our adventure (the train back) requires its own post. Quite an adventure.

So, overall, you could definitely say that we freakin’ loved Lisbon. The city has a great Old-World charm about it, with an intriguing—though never pathetic—sense of being the functioning ruins of a crumbled empire. Monuments to former glory are everywhere and the kind of suspended decay of the buildings, combined with the plethora of trams make you feel like you’re in some sort of ridiculously authentic European historical theme park. The civic and national pride is evident and the people are warm and friendly, especially when trying to sell you weed. The architecture and visual textures are so diverse and interesting that you could live there forever and never see the same pattern twice. We all mentioned numerous times how fun and easy (and again, so freakin’ cheap!!) it would be to buy an old building downtown and rehab it and have it be our official gang hangout for summer trips and such. We figure if we get our various doctor friends to chip in, the dozen or so of us could totally pull it off. We’d be great Lisbians. Or Lisboners? Not sure what you call ’em, but both are pretty funny. God, I’m so 13…

Will our heroes make it back to Madrid on time and in one piece? Will the night train pass without incident? Will our valiant travelers get their passports back at the end of the trip? Is there enough beer on the train? Find out with the next installment!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Countess of Cava permalink
    22 May 2008 6:59 pm

    Give us the concluding episode A.S.A.P.
    Everytime I think your new segment of the blog is the best ever, the next addition surpasses my expectations.
    I felt as though I was with you as you savoured the sights of Portugal.
    It is indeed a very special place to visit.

  2. Peter permalink
    23 May 2008 1:40 pm

    Stars and Stripes tile my friend. You know it’s gonna happen.

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