Highlights of Lisbon

While I might have found Lisbon like a long lost relative, lots in common but a bit difficult to approach and impossible to ever understand, it was definitely worth the visit. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Walking. Every European city offers what a true Angelino lacks: a walkable city. Lisbon is known for its seven hills–some folklore about a slayed dragon’s body creating the landscape–but as long as it isn’t raining, it is a gorgeous city just to walk around and try to take in. We even took a walking tour to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. Also worth checking out were the Miradouros (or viewpoints) that offer hilltop views overlooking various parts of the city.
2.  Museu do Design e da Moda. A free museum centered on 20th century design (mostly furniture), it was a quick hour of looking at interesting objects, some more noteworthy for the conversation they inspired than the actual piece. One of the most interest aspects is that the museum is in an old bank, the cellar vault still intact and now housing one of the largest repository of seeds!

Ferdinand Pessoa outside of A Brasileira

 3. A Brasileira. One of the cafes that boasts being a hangout of nationally revered poet Ferdinand Pessoa, A Brasileira offers a peak at the art nouveau still found in hidden corners of Portugal. The coffee and pastries were also pretty good and not horribly expensive. Then again, very little is super expensive in Portugal. The other upside to this cafe is the people watching: tourists, Portuguese high school students, old literary men. If you walk down the street through the Chiado district, you can find some interesting (although more high-end) shopping.

4. Igreja de Sao Roque. If you didn’t believe that Portugal was one of the wealthiest countries during the Age of Exploration, this church should prove it. It is GOLD GOLD and MORE GOLD. If the guidebook had told me that this was Mr. T’s favorite church, I would have believed it.
5. Berardo Collection. Unfortunately when we arrived at the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, another gorgeous Portuguese architectural triumph built in the Age of Exploration (and a UNESCO world heritage site), it was closed, it being a Monday. Turns out just about everything is closed on Sundays and Mondays in Portugal. It was just our luck to be caught in a tempestous downpour that was so strong, I didn’t risk taking my camera out while fighting with my 2 Euro umbrella. So Alyson and I decided to head over to the Berardo Collection, a free museum specializing in contemporary art, instead.
We first looked at a mediocre exhibit on contemporary Portuguese photographers (the subject matter was mostly slums in Africa and Brazil) and then came across Mappamundi, an exhibit focusing on the use of maps in artwork during the past 40 years, whether it was through the quotidian or the experimental. I wish I had taken some photographs of the various art, since the gift shop didn’t sell any postcards or catalogues. There was also a permanent collection, but it was much less interesting.

View from Casa da Cerca, looking towards Lisbon

6. Almada and the Casa da Cerca. Alyson suggested we go across the river Tejo, taking the ferry and checking out the dockside seafood restaurants in Cacilhas. It ended up being one of the best things we did in Lisbon, the ferry offering great views of the city, the Ponte de 25 Abril, a bridge that is identical to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, and the Cristo Rei, the copy of the Rio de Janeiro Jesus-on-the-hill statue.

Once off the ferry, we decided to walk from Cacilhas up the hill to Almada. There were wonderful vistas and while wandering around the winding streets and stucco-ed houses, found another great free museum and botanical gardens at the Casa da Cerca. The gardens are full of plants that would be used in painting, whether it is the materials to make canvasses and brushes or the plants used for pigment in paints. The museum offers exhibits on nature in art. There was an exhibit on 17th to 19th century botanical drawings and then another exhibit, which was my favorite, contrasting paintings and drawing by contemporary artists (mostly Portuguese) to the work of scientific illustrators.
7. Sardinhas Assada at Escondidinho de Cacilhas. Not sure how touristy each of the dockside restaurants at Cacilhas were, Alyson and I decided to pick the one that had people sitting out front. We wanted to have an early dinner and given that most Portuguese, like their Mediterraean counterparts don’t usually eat until at least 8pm, the waiter thought we were very strange wanting full meals at 5pm. It didn’t help that we didn’t speak much Portuguese and he spoke very little English. (A lot of Portuguese restaurants have menus in English, but unlike other parts of Europe, this doesn’t mean it’s a restaurant that caters only to tourists or that they will speak any English.)
I ended up getting a plate of grilled sardines, complete with salad and potatoes. Yum.

 8. The Mexican Bar in Bairro Alto. The Bairro Alto is known for its nightlife, which starts every night around midnight. Apparently everything really gets going at 2am. Playing tourist is a rough life, waking up before 8am to cram down a quick breakfast and make it out the door in order to catch that one bus to then go hiking up a mountain all day long. Top that off with a couple drinks and you’re falling asleep around midnight. Alyson and I did go check out the Bairro Alto one night with one of her friends, but it was fairly quiet, it only being 11pm. However, one bar stole my heart – a little Mexican themed one where they served a variety of tequila, had Dia de los Muertos decorations, and were playing LA fusion band, Calexico, one of my all-time favorite bands.

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