I think now I am in the “acceptance” phase of this new normal – stay-at-home restrictions, which is in effect in most of the countries including mine. So what better time than now to finish up the backlog of posts that have been waiting for me to put them out – you know something like in the “Pensieve” from the Harry Potter world. Interestingly, Portugal has a lot to do with HP! You’ll see in the next posts, if you didn’t already know :-). Stay tuned!
Unbelievable that the previous post was on the 29th of December, when 2018 was still “last year”. Now the experience that I wanted to write about, has become from 2 years ago!
Anyhow, let’s continue. So on the second morning, I got some breakfast at the place I was staying. It was not a lot due to my dietary restrictions, but was enough to get me started.
It was a pleasant day – not cold nor hot. There were clouds but sometimes the sun would peek out, making the views change completely. I had planned to go for the tour of the Alfama neighborhood that day but it was still some time before it was to start. So I had enough time to explore the public transport viz. buses and trams, go through the zig-zag, hilly streets, discover some souvenir shops to come back to later, and best of all – find the miradouros! Remember the miradouros from the last post? They are the view-points with awesome views over the hilly city and the sea side.
Let me tell a bit of history of Lisbon/Portugal here. It has been a human settlement since around 3200 years, with Iberians, Celts and then the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians are the ones who introduced alphabets and the one thing that Portuguese are crazy about till today – the Sardines!
Then came the Carthaginians, followed by the Romans, Germanic tribes, Visigoths and Moors. Finally the Christian crusaders took over and since then Portugal has been a Christian country. Of course, you know the famous Vasco de Gama and his explorations, who probably was the most famous explorer for having discovered the sea route to India, in the European Age of Discoveries/Explorations (15th -17th centuries). The beautiful blue/white tiles that are found adorning buildings everywhere in Portugal, and wherever the Portuguese made their colonies – be it Macau or Brazil, they are called Azulejos. They came in fashion first of all in the 15th century when King Manuel I visited Seville and impressed with the tiles, brought the idea to Portugal. The word itself is of Arabic origin which means “small polished stone”. It lost favor in early 20th century but made a revival and now you see it everywhere in Portugal!
Now back to the relative present, which 2018 seems to be, compared to the 15th century. After taking a couple of pictures at the miradouros, I made my way to the meeting point. It was at the foot of the St. George castle. I waited but didn’t see anyone else but gradually people started coming. There was no sign of the tour guide still and people began checking their watches and asking each other if everyone was there for the walking tour. Finally the guide came. I’ve forgotten now what was the reason for the delay, but that is unimportant now. Our brains are amazing – a lot of things that makes you annoyed or happy one instant, become totally worthless when you visit that moment in retrospect. Doesn’t that happen with you too?
So we started our tour of the Alfama neighborhood. There was the festival of St. Anthony about to begin in two weeks and the whole neighborhood was getting prepared for it. Each house in the neighborhood becomes a shop selling something during the festival time!
We came across this beautiful “calcada” mosaic of Amalia Rodrigues, who probably was the most famous Fado singer of Portugal. During the dictatorship period of Portugal between 1933-1976, Fado was promoted as the “national song”, of which Amalia was an icon.
Moving on, we came across the church of St. Anthony, which was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 but reconstructed in 1767. Since 1755, a procession leaves the church every year on June 13th going via Alfama – hence the festival that I mentioned above. The festival runs for a whole month and not just one day though! The Portuguese seem like party people :-). And what’s party without music? So here comes – Pimba – a raunchy genre often heard in rural Portugal during weddings etc., but also a big part of the St. Anthony’s festival. So much for commemorating the saint!
The guide also told us that the people in the area were beginning to get on the Airbnb bandwagon and hence, were renovating their houses. That commercialization of residential areas was making it difficult for the locals who couldn’t afford the rents anymore as the income levels are quite low there compared to other European countries. I am just wondering now in this moment, as to how are the people who were investing in all that renovation and stuff, coping up at present, considering tourism is at a halt all over the world! It makes me philosophical – a country which ruled the seas and had colonized so many places, is now way past its hey days and now having an economic dependency on others coming to it! Ah time..
We made a pit stop at a house where the lady sold ginginha out of her window.
The funny thing was to see the old style public urinals – of course for men. The guide told that during the festival (read – uninhibited drinking time) ,there are crazy queues outside these. My nose gets twisted just imagining the stench that must emanate!
We also came across a courtyard, which today has a hotel, where a room costs around 3000 Eur/night. In the Discoveries era, more than 500 years ago, Vasco de Gama was here to spend a night, before his big meeting with the king in the castle! The reason for sailing out was threefold – curiosity, expansion and spices!
The guide told us some funny things too like the names of some of the places like Das Pichas Murchas, Cruz quebrada and so on. I’d leave you to do some look up on google for the meaning.
We ended the tour somewhere after the Cathedral, got some sightseeing tips from the guide, paid him of course and then were free to explore the rest of Lisbon.
I think I went to get some food somewhere after that and then headed to another interesting church. More on that in the next post.