The train takes an easy hour to reach Lisbon. I have instructions to get off at a certain station but I decide to get off earlier. It’s a glorious day for a walk and the train is the worst way to see a city. Walking is the only way. Besides, it’s only 2km (1.4 miles) from the first station in Lisbon to my destination. Why not enjoy the sunshine and sights.
I could go sightseeing here. I have about five hours before my cousin finishes his university classes. But sightseeing is not really what I do. I have missed more “must see” sights in the past two years than I have seen. So why start racing around now. It’s a good day to just chill and see what I see. Like this very cool scooter belonging to a member of the Vespa Club of Lisbon. The stickers tell of a life of adventure.
I walk past a massive billboard advertising the Communist Party of Portugal. The old hammer and sickle motif getting plenty of airplay. There are Communist Party headquarters in many villages and towns here. It’s an odd sight when you are from a country where that philosophy only exists in the guise of other names. I pass some street art not far from the billboard and wonder whether it is a reference to the same philosophy or whether it’s just coincidence. The themes in the art indicate it is.
I stop at a mini market to buy some bread, chicken and grated carrot. It makes a delicious picnic lunch in the square where I am headed. This cool building has been preserved and a shopping mall built underneath. It’s a pretty place to eat lunch while the pigeons wait at my feet for scraps I might be so careless as to drop. This is what I like to do in cities – walk randomly, see what I see and picnic in parks.
I haven’t yet seen a movie in Portugal and it would be remiss of me to skip this country. In Spain movies are dubbed (do not get me started on how stupid dubbing is and how it totally destroys the film experience – even in Australia we subtitle foreign films) so I skipped the movie experience in that country. But in Portugal movies are shown in original tongue with subtitling. The cinema is small but has a very cool foyer with loads of movie-themes statues. A few selfies pass the time before the ticket office opens. Brooklyn is the only film showing this early in the afternoon so that’s what I see. I have the entire cinema to myself. It’s a small cinema so the screen is just a large square frame with a white screen taped over it. But it doesn’t matter – I’m ticking off Portugal as one of my movie-going countries and I’m enjoying the whole thing.
My cousin lives nearby (not in these flats) and comes to pick me up from teh cinema. After dropping my gear, he takes me for a walk of his city. A city he obviously loves to live and skate in.
He takes me to the downtown area so I can see some of the most familiar aspects of Lisbon, like the yellow trams.
Naturally, we go to the big square where tourists flock to take photos of the statues and arch. It was all rebuilt in the 18th Century after a massive earthquake caused the city to be burned. My cousin, a passionate student of architecture, tells me that the whole main boulevard and square was created mathematically so that the big entrance arch always circles the statue and never blocks it off from anywhere on the boulevard. It’s a pretty impressive feat of design.
Across the road is the river. The late afternoon sun shimmers off the waters and the ode to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is perfectly silhouetted on the skyline. It’s all very glamorous indeed and I can appreciate why people love Lisbon so much.
We meander some more, taking in the atmosphere. There’s a cafe with a stunning view so we stop for a drink. A glass of milk is one of the options on the menu. It’s a strange choice but suddenly I just need to drink some milk. And, given that I’m making non-sugary choices, a hot chocolate is the one drink I want to avoid. I’ve never sat at a cafe drinking a glass of cold milk before and might never get the chance to find this on the menu again.
Back on foot an old car catches my attention. We have old cars at home but they are different brands to the old clunkers here in Europe. I always say I’m not a car person but oddly enough I have more than my fair share of car photo on my Instagram account. I guess I like the shapes, colours and stories that these inanimate objects we place so much value in tell.
As we walk we discuss all manner of things. Especially the light of Lisbon and the way it brings out the colours of the city. The pastels that looked so washed out in the villages of the Alentejo are perfectly at home in this city where the blue sky is tempered by surrounding buildings and trees. I realise it’s too bright in the villages for these colours to pop, especially not against the bight whites, blues and yellows of the other houses. But here in Lisbon it works and gives a magical warm glow.
The shapes of the buildings are also pretty. A perfect blend of historical and new. A mix of original and recreated. A song of function with style.
We watch the sun setting in the west from a few different vantage points. This is something I will miss at home – sunsets that take longer than 10 minutes to be completed. I won’t get the chance to change location to get a different view of the sunset when I am home where the time between daylight and total darkness is less than a quarter hour long.
We walk a lot through local neighbourhoods beyond the invisible border that separates the tourist zone from the locals’ homes. It’s fascinating this dance that exists in the world’s big cities between what the tourists and touts own, and what is left to its own devices. The tuk tuks are gone now. As are the trams. And the big flashy cameras are nowhere to be seen. Menus are in Portugese again and there’s no signs in English advertising “genuine” Fado music.
We take dinner at Mr Lu’s Chinese restaurant. My cousin tells me it’s the best Chinese in town and that we are going there to celebrate our Sino ancestry (our great grandmother was Chinese and our grandmother is from Indonesia). The food is amazing and I can highly recommend it if you are in Lisbon. Look it up. It’s well off the beaten path from the tourist menus of Spanish paella and Italian pizza. We sit and talk for ages eating the most delicious duck and crab and noodles. There are twenty years to catch up on so the conversation flows all the way back to my cousin’s apartment.
Today was my final day in Portugal. It’s been a fantastic ride. As I write this I am preparing to fly back to Holland for my final few days in Europe.