Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Touring Lisbon

Lydia wrote this post and my hilarious yet informative quips will appear in [brackets].

Divided into several neighborhoods, Lisbon seemed tough to conquer in one day. We decided the best way to tackle this city was with a walking tour. Luckily, Sandeman’s New Europe had us covered. We’ve been on Sandeman’s free walking tours in several other cities, and they’re always fantastic. Today’s tour was no different.

[The Santa Justa Lift was built in 1902. Lisbon is so hilly that there are lots of public elevators so people don't have to trudge up endless stairs to get across town. I want to say this thing was originally steam powered.]

[Joseph: Um, has that elderly Argentinian man been here this whole time?]

[I felt cool when we kept seeing the cherry liqueur ginja from Óbidos for sale everywhere and we just had some from the source yesterday!]

Before the tour we stopped for a traditional Portuguese breakfast at Manteigaria. We both had a Pastel de Nata (egg tart). So yummy.

We met our guide, Yuri, at Largo De Camões in Lisbon’s Chiado neighborhood. Yuri was a very knowledgeable, energetic guide. He was so passionate about Portuguese history, that by the end of the tour, I found myself wishing I was Portuguese! [I on the other hand wish I was a pterodactyl.]

Near our meeting point was a sculpture of Luís de Camões, Portugal’s most famed writer. He’s been compared to Shakespeare, Homer, and Dante among others. His most famous work is the epic poem titled Os Lusíadas published in 1572. It details Portuguese voyages during the Age of Discovery. His writing is so influential that Portuguese is sometimes referred to as the Language of Camões.

Just a block away we stumbled upon a second statue of a writer, António Riberio Chiado. Chiado was a poet who often free-versed on the street. According to Yuri he enjoyed drinking and smoking a little too much, leading him to develop a squeaky voice. He earned the nickname Chiado meaning squeaky in Portuguese. He was such a prominent figure in this part of the city, that the whole neighborhood is now known as Chiado.

The most interesting character we learned about was the writer Fernando Pessoa who, according to our guide, developed over 125 heteronyms. Wikipedia says, “the literary concept of heteronym, [was] invented by Portuguese writer and poet Fernando Pessoa, [and] refers to one or more imaginary character(s) created by a writer to write in different styles.” This is not to be confused with a pseudonym. While a pseudonym is only a name, a heteronym has an entire backstory. Apparently the locals think Pessoa is pretty great too; as Yuri was telling us about him, a local walked by and shouted “Pessoa is the greatest poet of all time!”

[Some requisite Facebook jokes were made before moving on.]

[Lydia rockin' some earrings I got her. They are the Rooster of Barcelos, a dead rooster who came back to life to prove a man's innocence who had been sentenced to death. It's a weird story but it's a common symbol of Portugal and they looked kind of cool.]

Appropriately, the Chiado neighborhood is home to Portugal’s (and maybe the world’s) oldest bookstore, Livraria Bertrand, opened in 1732. Obviously this bookstore has seen a lot of history, including Portugal’s involvement during WWII. During the second World War, Portugal remained neutral. The dictator at the time, António de Oliveria Salazar, wasn’t really interested in the war itself, but instead in its potential to make money. One resource that Portugal had was tungsten. The Axis powers needed tungsten in order to manufacture bullets and tanks. Ever the businessman, Salazar convinced the Allied forces to pay three times the Tungsten’s worth to prevent Portugal from selling to the Axis powers. However, in order to make even more money, after collecting from the Allied powers, Salzar sold the tungsten to the Axis powers. In the end, he’d made six times the tungsten’s worth. Now that’s a smart guy.

Up the street from the bookstore is the Carmo Convent. This convent was founded in the 14th century by Constable Nuno Álvares Pereira. However, it was partially destroyed by Lisbon’s 1755 earthquake. It was never fully reconstructed, and today serves as an archaeology museum.

We saw a couple of Royal Guards outside the convent. They weren’t as serious seeming as some we’ve seen in other cities. One even made eye contact with me!

We wound our way down the side streets to the Baixa area. Lisbon is a very hilly city, so there were lots of pretty views along the way.

We passed through Rossio Square to admire a sculpture of King Pedro IV. Interestingly, it actually depicts Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, but by the time it was finished, the Mexicans decided they no longer wanted it, so the Portuguese decided to pass it off as one of their own. Tricky, tricky.

Once at the bottom, John and I stopped to admire the trolley cars. The trolleys in Lisbon have been running since 1873. They were originally pulled by horses!

We ended our tour near the Rua Augusta Arch on the Praça do Comércio. The Praça do Comércio, once home to the Royal Palace, was redesigned after the earthquake of 1755. The square overlooks the Tagus River and has a statue of King José I in the middle. Apparently the sculptor didn’t think very highly of King José I and didn’t portray him in a very positive light. The King’s horse is retreating, the King has a fairy wand in his hand rather than a sword, and the horse has a bow on his tail! Pretty hilarious.

[There was a cool trolley with cork siding.]

[These tour guys almost always tell the same joke at the end. "If you liked my tour rate me on TripAdvisor, my name is Yuri. If you didn't like the tour my name is Sam". Har har har.]

[Another really cool looking tinned fish store.]

After the tour, it was time for lunch! I found an awesome place, Casa do Alentejo, in the guidebook. It was covered in tiles known as azulejos in Portuguese. Portugal, once ruled by Moors and very near Northern Africa, has many Arabic influences. One being the use of decorative tiles. This restaurant was decked out. Not only was the decor nice, but the food was good too. We ended with a dessert sampler.

[Lydia had a chickpea and spinach soup in a squash broth that she seemed to dig.]

[I had some delicious meat that now escapes me but it came with chestnuts on the side which are my favorite.]

Our morning tour was so enjoyable, that we decided to join another in the afternoon. This time our tour-guide, Ronnie, took us through the Alfama neighborhood. Alfama is the oldest area of Lisbon and has many Moorish influences. It’s located at the top of Lisbon’s highest hill and is overlooked by The Castle of St. George. The castle itself isn’t very exciting, it was rebuilt in the 1940s as a tourist lure using stones from the original structure.

[This group was really fun. Our guide pitted us against each other by country, with various ways of earning points. Of course I was honor bound to lead team USA to victory. Second place was a group of Puerto Rican girls so it was questionable whether they were even allowed to compete in these Olympic games. This little French kid was babbling on and on about his balloon the whole time. He knew next to nothing about Portuguese architecture. Read a book! When the tour was over our guide exclaimed "this is the maddest tour group I've ever had". Compliment accepted.]

One interesting story we heard about Alama was its role in the 1755 earthquake. At the time, this area was Lisbon’s Red-Light District. It was filled with prostitutes, drunks, and other “ungodly” people. Just imagine everyone’s surprise then, when this neighborhood was spared from ruin during the earthquake. According to our guide, this led many to question the existence of God and some historians say the beginning of liberal revolutions around the world including the Boston Tea Party and the French revolution. Interesting theories.

As I mentioned, the Alfama is high on a hill, so it afforded us with more great views of the city below.

As we spiraled through the maze of streets, we stopped by a local’s house for shots of Ginjinha, Portugal’s cherry liqueur. You may remember we sampled this yesterday in Óbidos .

[This whole transaction was like an alcoholic version of Sesame Street. We just wandered over to this friendly man's living room window and he served us homemade shots for euro coins.]

[You can see the flag of Portugal in the picture above so why not talk about something cool I learned about it? The gold circle thing behind the shield is an armillary sphere. Wikipedia: "the armillary sphere was an important astronomical and navigational instrument for the Portuguese sailors who ventured into unknown seas during the Age of Discoveries. It was introduced by the Knights Templar, whose knowledge was essential to the Portuguese Discoveries."]

Since this is the neighborhood most influenced by the Moors, we passed a lot of cool tiled buildings.

[Our guide told us that some of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood have tiny doors to slow down potential invaders.]

[None of us could figure out what these bottoms of bottles sticking out of all of the walls in the neighborhood were for.]

[Turns out they were just resting places for sticks used to hang laundry to dry.]

At the end of the tour we stopped in Lisbon Cathedral. It was built in 1147 by the crusaders in an area that was previously occupied by a mosque. This cathedral is unique because in addition to its churchy features, it can also act as a fort.

After a long day of learning (and walking!), we settled for a quick, easy dinner at McDonald’s.

[I was impressed with the cool automated ordering system they had in this one.]

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