L – i – s – b – o – n

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This post is very special. Not just because it is the 100th but because its about my favouritest (so far!) European city of Lisbon.

The capital city of Portugal is simply a perfect blend of all that is Portuguese and is the only European capital city on the Atlantic. In addition it is city that offers so many surprises from its very urban fabric to the people who fill in the stage. Renting out an apartment on Rua Janeles Verdes means that one is at literally a walking distance into the various quarters of Lisbon. Becoming a Lisboeta has one zipping up the knee length boots, wearing an easy smile and a working up a huge appetite for egg tarts. Hitting the streets late evening we were sure glad that the city stays open quite late. As pubs and restaurants overflowed onto the pavements, an atmosphere of cheer encouraged us to walk (quite fearlessly) all about town. Statistical evidence rates Lisbon as one of the safest cities in Europe.

On the first evening we found our way to the Rua de Prata, which quite conveniently locates the major banks and the chic shops. The Sighting of the Santa-Juxta elevator off this Rua, is exciting, an urban elevator that is ancient, built by a protege of Gustav Eiffel, it looked fantastic but didnt dwell on us the great truth yet. Then taking the famous Tram 28 into the older Alfama quarter. The tram ride was wholly entertaining, the tram driver sits in the centre, and ours seemed factiously wicked. Marking terse breaks, sounding the shrill alarm and driving with spite. Finally as the final stop of Martim Moniz presented itself, our man dramatically stopped the tram, got up, turned around and screamed ‘This is the last stop. Get Out’. Any other place I wouldve expected a fist-fight, but hey this was Lisbon. As I was just thinking that ‘can he do that’, everyone else on the tram burst into laughs and alighted all in good faith.  Acceptance, thats the first key to happiness. Just like that.

On the tram, the narrowness of the streets and the fact that the trams share space with the automobiles creates an utter chaos. Actually endearing chaos. Later sharing laughs on the eccentric tram driver, there there he’s going to be unforgettable already, we met a Danish-Argentinian, farmer-writer, couple and walked together to Baixa, the bestest and funnest district. Late already, but a quick dinner at the Baixa Chiado, the mall is killer, got us to get home. Walking back we realised, solely relying on us instincts and directional sense, the way back didnt seem the same, we were on an elevation, but the roads led all the way down to the shore and suddenly thats when the great urban revelation dawned on us. The city is built in levels, but so intelligently that it doesnt feel so, the upper levels dont dwarf the lower ones, in fact they are all so unassuming. So excited were we, that we simply had to unravel the city as we kept coming back the next few days.

Baixa-Chiado though is full of activity, from street-performers, to tourists, to cafes, and shops. Shopping, ice-cream in winter, and long walks are up on offer here, and entertainment galore while you are playing your part on the stage. A Fado performance was one of the treats we lapped up at Baixa. The Fado is a traditional singing style mostly tragic and sometimes happy, that captures a mood. Personally I loved the happy ones, the tragic ones have their own merit. The Fado evolves from a deep throaty singing style, its a popular pastime in the evenings taken in conjunction with the balmy ocean breeze. Though we had to cover a lot around Lisbon, we found ourselves coming back here at every instance we got. It simply was irresisitable.

At this point I need to mention a tiny restaurant in Lisbon, called Taverna Portuguesa. Run by young chaps with much passion. As we entered the homely and lovely ambience we were greeted by the owner/chef/waitor who set us onto a table and promptly served us with olive (I heart), cheese, bread and orange marmalade. Cheese was to be eaten with marmalade. A great combination. Later when I complemented him on the marmalade he says, ‘its easy, you can make it at home’ before sharing the recipe. Just like that! These people never ceased to surprise me.

Another thing to mention is that they use the Century gothic font in all the train sign ages! The graphics are cool and the Baixa-Chiado station looks like a disco 😀

Of all the day-trips Lisbon offers, the one to Sintra is the best. The dreamy Sintra Palace and the Castle are unparalleled in terms of beauty and fantasy on a roll. And Lisbon prides itself with various modes of transport, the modes to getting about are taxis, bus, tram, train or the metro.

After reading much about the fairytale palace of Sintra I couldn’t hold my excitement as the train pulled in. Quickly downing egg tarts and coffee, we made our way to the castle and Pena Palace of Sintra. The palace is beautiful, much because of its location and much because of its make. Its compact and unlike grand palaces we Indians are so used to. This one atop a hill and is very much like what one would imagine as a tale of beauty. Misty weather added to the dreamy quality of the palace. Yes dreamy, thats probably the best description of the palace. The queens quarters in a combination of scarlet, fuchsia and rose pink and the ‘India’ room filled with gifts from the Indian Emperor are startling features of the Interiors. On the outside the palace is designed with elaborate classic features. The style of the palace can be described as Romantic Classicism. The rose trees (!) had pretty flowers in bloom, and such tall rose shrubs are beautiful. Settling down to capture the imagery on paper I drew out a version of the dreamy palace. At the palace, upon strong recommendations we got the Queijadas, a cinnamon spiced sweet bake traditional to Sintra.

Spreading cheer on Valentines, we bought charity paper hearts and did our bit to help school children to add to their charity fund for Africa. Lunch at Sintra, for vegetarians is again, freshly boiled veggies in Pasta, the broccoli is my recommendation. Beware though the Portuguese are very generous with everything, including their helpings! Just like us Indian 😀

Next up is the Castle, and a long long walk up to the summit. More of the Husband’s domain I would say, his love for mossy/green stone walls got us hiking all the way up the Castle. The sight of Sintra below was very well worth the hike. At the Sintra town, cute little art shops offer interesting pieces.

And very very reluctantly we made our way out of Sintra, feeling dreamy of course.

Off the city centre in Lisbon is the Tower of Belem, the watch-tower and symbolic stance that saw-off and received the brave and talented Portuguese nautical personnel who set off on far off adventures. Getting off at the Belem stop we stumbled into the Belem Cultural Centre by Portugal’s celebrated architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. It was stunning. With block of commanding proportion and ratios it was a starkly resplendent example of contemporary Portuguese architecture. The kind of my liking. Art on display made my day! Then to fill in at a breakfast place by the tower.

The tower of Belem is poetry in Marble. The 4-5 storey tower is mostly illustrated as a saving messiah during rough seas. Something that offers bountiful blessings to the sailors. It is in fact also a prison for political prisoners brought from plunders of the sailors. A short walk from here is the Praca Imperio, and a constellations of ‘museos’. A church and an attached monastery complete the complex. The Italian influences are hugely visible here, ofcourse with a Portuguese twist. Perfect light quality makes the architecture extremely dramatic. The Museums held Portuguese archaeologic collections.

Another thing amazing area in Lisbon is the Oriente Station of Calatrava, the Parque das Nacoes, the Vasco de Gama mall. Interestingly the malls in Portugal seem to have a tad bit of regionalism without completely bowing down to the American mall culture blindly. The Portuguese Pavilion is another personal favourite. The Ponte Vasco de Gama looks stunning over a cable car ride in the area, while the Lisbon Science centre is very engaging.

Needless to say after all that we went back to Chiado. One last time before heading out of Portugal. Hopefully not for good. 😀

P.s A great country to let down presumptions, assumptions, prejudices and all else one may have. Architecture is stark but friendly, much in sync with my beliefs of good architecture. At Belem we sighted a yachting centre that I might have quite easily been inspired by, for my thesis of well, a yachting centre. Portugal is very endearing, everyone seems to be encouraged to set their own pace. They understand quite well that no two souls are the same. They seem to more than tolerate, celebrate that. One can hardly be another brick in the wall here. Lisbon is simply unforgettable and a definite favourite.

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