We have been in Lisbon almost a week….a wonderful week! We are staying in a lovely studio apartment in the Alfama, the oldest part of Lisbon. It was originally settled by people from northern Africa, so there is lots of Arabic influence. A good number of the streets are too small for cars so it is quiet with lots of foot traffic. Our apartment is in a small cluster of low masonry buildings that are perched up on a high terrace, with views of the Panteo Nacional. It dominates our sky and is stunning at night when it is lit.
Our taxi from the airport dropped us off at one of end the nearest larger street (meaning one small car could navigate, and clearly he wasn’t will to do it). We walked a ways up this street (up being the operative word here!)….and then we began walking steeply up a trail of narrow cobbles and steep steps to our terrace. But what a reward at the end!
Each morning we have been walking down from our high perch to have coffee and pastry at Alfacinho coffee shop which has good internet. The coffee everywhere here is delightful. I don’t know why we cannot get better coffee in the US! And the traditional sweet pastry is delicious!
There is so much to do here that it feels somewhat stressful making sure we see all the “important” sites. So we have tried our best! The well known tile museum, and of course the Gulbenkian, and both were as impressive as we could hope! But the best part of being here is walking the tiny medieval streets, listening to Portuguese, looking at the views!
On the first day we chose sites that were within walking distance, and we walked a total of 8.5 miles. I slept really deeply that night! The next day we tackled learning the metro system and headed for the central part of the city, where we found a bank and the long walk uphill through the park to the Gulbenkian Museum. Aside from most places NOT taking our Visa card, everything is going really smoothly. We are a long metro from a bank, and of course there are limits on what you can withdraw each day…..so living on cash is going to be a bit dicey! And who knows if there will even be banks in the smaller towns.
We went to the Castelo San Jorge, which (naturally!) is on a high bit of land where it could be well defended. It was originally a fortress built by the visigoths, and then later acquired its current name. Portuguese certainly know how to relax…. there are cafes everywhere, and in fact, at the castle there was even a wine cart, where we bought two glasses of wine and and sat on the parapets enjoying the immense 360 degree views of all Lisbon. The city has sprawled out over a number of hills that rise up from the Atlantic and the Tagus river. Walking anywhere involves much steep ups and downs…..feels like mostly up no matter which direction we head! How can everything be uphill in both directions??
There were falcons and owls inside the castle, and a group of trainers who worked with the birds. You could even pay to have your photo taken with one of the birds. At one point a trainer let one of the owls fly about. The owl was quite reluctant to come back, and after quite a long time the owl was still flying about the courtyard.
Last night was our first weekend in Portugal, and Alfama was a great place to spend it. It is well known for many tiny taverna style restaurants with live traditional Fado music. Fado is a type of folk song, always sad, always accompanied by guitar. The place we chose last night had three guitarists; one playing 12-string, one on 6-string, and one playing mandolin. The singers rotated between three men and two women. They were all very entertaining! At one point the two women sang a duet together. I could not understand more than a random word here and there, but I definitely got the impression that the two women sang about loving the same man. One of the men had a beautiful tenor voice. It was a great way to spend the evening.
We are still sleeping later than usual each morning….perhaps we begin to show our age? Tomorrow we will figure out our way to Sintra and for the rest of our stay we will mostly be in smaller towns. We hope to settle in somewhere quiet where we can make day trips to other locations, but stay settled in a quieter location than bustling Lisbon.