Saturday, 20th October 2007 – Lisbon, Day 2
Saturday we had a late-ish breakfast then headed for the Praça do Comercio where we discovered that the princely sum of 17€ each we could play with the historic tourist tram, a splendid electric tram of some early vintage, which would take us for an hour and a half’s ride round the historic bits of Lisbon (with an English commentary to boot). It took us a few minutes to figure out how to open the windows so we could take photos – and enjoy the cool air – but once we did we all really enjoyed the trip, although it was then that it became clear that all famous Portuguese navigators have statues in some Lisbon square or another and they pretty much all have seagulls sitting on them somewhere – at the other end of the scale, pigeons sit on the statues of poets and writers. Maybe that’s how you tell the difference…
After a bit of indecision we settled down to have lunch somewhere on the Rua do Ouro – garlic soup (bread, garlic broth and a poached egg) and then seafood rice, which was pretty damn good, very plentiful and ridiculously cheap – the most expensive wine on the list came it at 10€ so the fact that the waiter recommended it didn’t worry us much.
After lunch it was time to start walking – which was when a fact that had seemed merely entertaining from the tram became very obvious – there’s a lot of up and down and no flat bits to speak of in Lisbon. Our first stop after a somewhat meandering and breathless walk from the Baixa to the Alfama was the São Jorge Castle, a wonderful ruin with stunning views over Lisbon (and a fine collection of semi-feral cats including one called Hillary Clinton, and their human, a somewhat deranged American who sells coffee paintings in the courtyard when he isn’t accosting visitors to tell them about Hillary and her rather extended family).
Heather kept her distance from the nutter, while the rest of us were entertained and, in the case of Lynne, scratched when Hillary took exception to being stroked. Inside the main keep things were happening – a man was playing guitar in one area, while in another two women in medieval costume had a bunch of small children enthralled by the story they were telling. An unsuitably dressed (well, shod if we’re being picky) young woman was clambering round the battlements bare-foot, a pair of shocking pink shiny stiletto shoes in her hand. A folk group of some sort was having an impromptu al fresco lunch in the outer courtyard, guitars and – more worryingly – accordions at the ready. The local police seemed to have joined them and were enjoying the red wine.
After we finished with the castle, we felt in need of refreshments. Well, it was getting late, and we wanted to make it to the Cathedral too. And that was when we found Chapito which is a bar/restaurant as well as a circus/circus school… Janice decided that what she really had to do was try a glass of the local firewater, ginginjha, which is a medicinal tasting drink made from cherries, and served with a morello cherry in it. Personally, I wouldn’t have wanted more than a mouthful, but Janice seemed to enjoy it. Angela opted for a local beer, and when asked if she wanted light or dark went for dark and discovered Portuguese stout, which was lighter than it looked but still not what you would expect.
After a suitable pause we lurched further down the hill, fetching up at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa, otherwise known as Sé de Lisboa. It’s a splendid structure, with more decorative excrescences than any building could reasonably be expected to support! The interior is stunning, and the cloisters will be glorious when the archaeological dig going on out there is completed. At the moment, however, there are fascinating glimpses of Roman buildings, a Moslem house, medieval sewage pipes and even an 18th century pavement all on show. It was well worth an hour of anyone’s time, and ended with the utterly bizarre glass case full of a very odd “scuplture” which seems to show a nativity scene in the foreground, but in the background has all sorts of odd things, including a lot of elephants (which we would see even more of the following day). Quite clearly developing an empire had an effect on Portuguese artists.
Exhausted after all that sightseeing we finally staggered back to the hotel, changed and headed back out. Heather and Janice put on their England rugby shirts and went in search of a bar showing the Rugby World Cup final, while Angela, Lynne and I went to O Funil for dinner. It’s a very Portuguese establishment in terms of cuisine, and we had a splendid meal of bacalhau fish cakes, followed by duck rice (the eel stew had run out so I had to change my order), and the last portion of fried eel with rice, which was wonderful. We shared a pudim, and were then given birthday cake by the people on the next table.
We took the remnants of the meal back with us and Heather and Janice ate them when they got back from seeing England beaten. They’d had two pints of cider for dinner at that point, so we figured the least we could do was feed them. And so to bed…