Monday, May 31, 2010

A week in Portugal

For years, Annie and I have talked about renting a place in Europe for a few months to get a feel for “living in another culture” rather than visiting as a tourist. We were offered a wonderful rental deal for our home in Minneapolis for an entire year. And some would call this “an offer you just can’t refuse”. So we decided to stay 7 of those months in Phoenix and take off across the ocean for the rest of the year.

On May 25 we flew to Lisbon. We rented a small, one bedroom apartment in the Alfama district of Portugal’s’ capitol for five nights. Lisbon, like Rome, is built on seven hills. In 1755, Lisbon was devastated by an earthquake and the Alfama district is one of the few Lisbon neighborhoods that remains Medieval in nature. This neighborhood is made up of old, twisty, curvy, narrow, cobblestone streets, where stray dogs and feral cats roam the barrio. If there is one outdoor stairwell cutting through this neighborhood, there must be 100.
The culture of this area here has not caught up with 20th century America. Laundry hangs from every window, public telephones mark every corner, local grocers carry simple basics and only the seasonal fruit. Artists paint pictures and ceramic tiles in small groups.

Fada is the music that Lison is known for, and it is performed in the local cafes and restaurants.
Annie and I were lucky enough to stumble upon one such café last evening where all of the staff (waitress, cook, hostess alike) sang the Fada at full volume. Each song is accompanied by two guitars; one being a12 string Portuguese guitar. And the performers are sure to don a fringed shawl with a rose as they bellow out a song of love, passion and beauty. The Restaurant Viela d Alfalma, on Calcada de S. Vicente #26 is a treasure of neighborhood song-birds to be enjoyed with grilled sardines, a fist full of green olives, fried potatoes, mango pudding and sweet cherry wine.

This is a wonderful walking and public transportation city. The trams that run through Alfama and the Bario alto takes you everywhere you want to go. There is plenty to do here just in seeing the city. Bldgs from the 1300’s to bldgs of the 17 and 1800’s. This is a city with lots of history.
Yesterday we visited the Castle of Sao Georg

Today we took the train to Cassias and Estroil, suburban beach communities of Lisbon. Where Lisbon is a protected port on the mouth of a river these communities are directly on the Atlantic Ocean where the wealthy come to play. Its beautiful here and new, quite a contrast to the rest of Lisbon.

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