Our parents came to visit for a week and we decided to take the opportunity to go to one of the few European countries than none of us had ever visited. My parents have the traveling bug just about as bad as I do, and have a good 25 years on me, so they’ve been around the block a few times. Portugal is an untapped well for both them and I, so off to Lisboa we go. Four days, five nights, and lots of ~family fun~.
Lisbon played a huge role in the era of history in which sailing was all the rage (as was conquering other people groups and subjecting them to a variety of tortures, but that’s a blog post for another day). In the spirit of Henry the Navigator (who never actually navigated a boat himself), Vasco da Gama (who mercilessly burned a ship of peaceful pilgrims), Christopher Columbus (who was Italian, not Portuguese or Spanish, and was also indirectly the father of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and generally a mean person) and a bunch of other boat-loving, sword-hoisting, flag-planting men, we decided to go for a little cruise. Don’t worry, we left the swords, cannons, and torches at home.
Captain Luís and Skipper Ze took us out into the Tagus River and fulfilled my mother’s dreams by letting her pilot the sailboat first. When my turn came she threatened to go get the captain’s hat that was below deck to take pictures. That would not be the first time she put something I didn’t want on my head – you should’ve seen the bows I wore as a child – but fortunately, it was a bit too windy for the hat to stay on. I think Food perhaps understood a little less of the mechanics of sailing – she told the captain she liked it better when we weren’t moving which is counterproductive, to say the least.
While Portugal may be the center of a lot of history, multiple natural calamities that rocked the city throughout the last three hundred years have caused countless old buildings, squares, parks, etc. to be absolutely decimated. An earthquake in 1755 nearly flattened both Lisbon and the surrounding areas, with an estimated 85% of buildings destroyed including palaces, libraries, and ancient churches, and combined with the fires afterward, was one of the most deadly earthquakes in history. A tsunami that swept the city less than an hour after the first shocks of the earthquake was reported to have traveled all the way across the Atlantic to the coast of Brazil, then a Portuguese colony.
However, older sights such as the Tower of Belem and Jerónimos Monastery, which both survived the disaster, can be found in the Belem neighborhood to the west of the city, and newer sights such as the Discovery Monument, Santa Justa Lift, and Rua Augusta Arch are interspersed throughout the city.
By far the oldest sight within Lisbon’s limits, other than the city itself, is São Jorge Castle, sitting on a hilltop overlooking much of the city with fortifications dating back to 200 B.C. The castle itself was erected by the Berbers in 900 C.E., and has since undergone many changes. However, viewing the walls and grounds that have housed up to 10 different people groups – including Celtics, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Visigoths, and more – was quite fascinating. The off-key Maroon 5 karaoke coming from a nearby bar significantly less so.
The views around the castle are stunning, and the courtyard areas are both peaceful and home to a family of peacocks – or really more like a bunch of very vain males and two rather drab females. The men would go around squawking and flash their mesmerizing tails, drawing quite a crowd. We were drawn to their display, but, sadly, their women seemed rather unimpressed.
Tamsen, my mother, would probably disown me if I didn’t talk about the tuk-tuk. For the first two days, she’d been wanting to take a tuk-tuk ride. She’s been on them before, but the novelty of the tiny motorcycled carriage was evidently enough to make a tuk-tuk ride in Portugal a near-mandate. And what Momma wants, Daddy does his damnedest to make sure she gets (setting the bar high, fellas), so we took a ride up to São Jorge Castle from Rossio Square and when we got to the top of the hill, the tuk-tuk driver asked if we wanted to stay. What she meant was did we want her to stay and get us when we were ready to leave, but Tamsen willfully misunderstood her and went “Stay? In the tuk-tuk? I’d like to do that.” She was exceedingly sad (and Food and I were crying with laughter) when we let the tiny car leave, but was ecstatic when my dad gifted her a huge, beautiful platter in white and blue. By now half the dishes in our house are some mixture of flow blue and cobalt.
Happy (belated) Mother’s Day to this amazing woman. Lover of tuktuks, blue and white china, and, most importantly, all 7 of her rambunctious kids (and the husband that instilled the wild spirit in each of us). Thanks for giving us a love of traveling and other cultures, and giving us the wings to get there once we got older. You’re a treasure, and we’re so lucky to have you.
Our last dinner was spent at a fantastic pizza place close to our flat. It was good enough that we chose to break our self-imposed rule of never going to the same place twice, and had this both for lunch on our first day and dinner on our last. Unfortunately, I had been feeling a bit iffy for most of the day, but powering through it because you’re only in Lisbon once (or twice, or three times – I will be visiting again, even if it’s just to listen to the Fado). However, this feeling came to a peak while standing, waiting for a table. My stomach aching, my mouth watering – I learned that it wasn’t just a bad feeling, but rather, food poisoning when I had to run, pushing past a confused server, to the restroom. Food ran after me, and we both reached the men’s – ew, gross – in time for her to grab my hair and… well, yeah. You get the picture. So did the chef, who was cooking in a glass-encaged area right next to the restroom, when he saw me virtually sprint to the bathroom, blindly push open the door and leave it open because privacy was not a priority, and walk out a minute later heaving like I had just run a marathon. I stayed away from anything remotely spicy, or nausea-inducing after that, but, thankfully, that seemed to take care of it all. The body is both miraculous and has really really bad timing.
Despite the necessary embarrassment, Lisbon is a beautiful place – awesome views, great food, and absolutely spectacular music make it a definite must if you get the chance. And, oh my gracious, drink the port, that is, after all, its birth country. We’re looking forward to going through some smaller Portuguese cities at some point, so we’re not saying tchau to Portugal just yet. But we will say “Obrigado!”