On Wednesday I flew home from a 24-day solo trip to Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Seville, and Lisbon again. I'm blogging excerpts from the (slightly neurotic) travel diary I kept, and illustrating from memory the very memorable meals I had...Start from the beginning here.
Day Two: Lisbon
Woke up this morning with a slightly puffy eye but I don't really feel like doing anything about it. Haven't caught anybody giving me strange stares yet so I think it just makes me look very tired. Guess I'll know in a day or two if it's a full-blown infection, which is pretty exciting for my second day overseas.
I've decided to really treat myself on this trip and sleep in whenever I can. Today I made it all the way to 9:30am (apparently it's working really well.)
After my comment yesterday about Lisbon's appearance I feel badly that I forgot one image of beauty: the white mosaic-ed pedestrian streets, white light, Christmas lights strung up above and smoke from the street vendors rising in great clouds. Another thing that was beautiful was after not being able to find somewhere to eat*, coming back to the hostel and being offered a hot bowl of buttery soup.
*(I need to interject something here: I don't speak Portuguese or Spanish, and though I learned a few words before I left - and eventually learned to order a whole meal in Spanish - having difficulty choosing the "perfect" restaurant is a recurring theme in the trip. Even though almost everywhere I went there was someone who spoke perfect English, I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to not come across as a "stupid North American tourist" and so there was more than one occasion where I actually chose to eat at a place where I could simply say "Bom dia," point at what I wanted, and "Obrigada" instead of having to resort to speaking English. Is that crazy? The answer is definitely yes. But the good news is I loosened up eventually, waiters were more than usually kind, and I let myself off the hook. But that's later, and this is now, hence "not being able to find somewhere to eat." Anyway, back to the diary.)
I'm having "uma bica" (espresso) in a delightful glass-walled cafe in Praca do Principe Real - escaping a quick rainstorm by accident - and gazing over the garden, which reminds me of the park I saw yesterday up in Bairro Alto with crowing roosters, giant black ducks, and a peacock all roaming freely. And that statue with marble slabs engraved with thanks to doctors (I think) for either saving their family members or for trying their best...
Sun's back out at the moment - I guess I should try to make a run for it.
To cap off the end of the day - I got horribly lost trying to make it up to Centre do Arte Moderna only to find out they were inbetween exhibits. Very exciting that was. So I went home for a nap - oh, no wait, first a zip down into Baixa/Chiado to the contemporary art gallery there to see a Portuguese painter whose name I have subsequently forgotten (it was Columbano). Turn of the 20th century portraits of Portuguese bourgeoisie, nice and moody and dark.
Oh, god, no before that I had lunch in another park, watching the ducks. What a strange cafeteria that was, following the curve of a man-made pond. The ducks liked it, and so did I. Managed to order a quiche that tasted a little like it might have had Cheez Whiz as one of its ingredients but I was so pleased that I ordered it correctly that it tasted delicious.
So after lunch then I had a Modern Art Fail and then Modern Art Success. Ok, back on track.
So, to the nap. Afterwards, chatted briefly with one of my hostel roommates over some truly terrible instant coffee. She, it turns out, is a professor from Kazakhstan here in Lisbon taking an English test (go figure) and she talked about how sometimes she notices that students who did really well in school weren't always the ones who really succeeded outside of it. The ones who made mistakes, who didn't do well on tests - those were the ones who sometimes ended up in the CEO positions. Her theory was that these particular people had to learn all kinds of different ways to get where they wanted to go, whereas grade A students knew only how to follow the one path. As someone who did really well in school and who is definitely not in a CEO position, I found myself agreeing.
The big joy of the evening though was fado at Esquina d'Alfama. I tried to get to A Baiuca like my friend Sean suggested but for whatever reason it was closed. But this place was great: it seemed like a little family-run place (whether that's true or just part of the show I'll never know). But it was just one room with seating for maybe 30 people, and the singers and guitarists played in a tiny space at the centre. There's no talking during the fado, but I don't know why you'd want to.
I tried "bacalhau a Braz" - salted cod with rice and onions and so, so buttery and my own 1/2 bottle of red wine - which may have enhanced the experience just a bit - but the men! in suits just so! And the women with their black fringed shawls, between making cappuccinos they took the floor and sang! Oh, the songs...and Ricardo who leaned against the tiled wall like his heart was breaking. And Maria with the red hair and smoky voice. And the guitarist who wished me a good meal and a pleasant evening. And my waiter who slipped off his apron when no one was looking and donned his suit jacket to sing the final songs of the evening. What a great experience.