Just the photos

Saturday, 9 July 2005

Flew into Lisbon, caught the airport bus, got off at Restauradores, and walked to the Pensão Londres, recommended by the Lonely Planet. Very satisfactory indeed, nice rooms, reasonable price, and at one end of the Bairro Alto where I was told all the action is. Unfortunately could not get a top floor room with a view, but hey the view was just around the corner at the São Pedro de Alcântara viewpoint, at the top of the Elevador da Glória (which I took up from Restauradores, a moderately fun funicular ride though the novelty palls).

So later that evening I walked around a bit, ended up at the Praça do Comércio, and sat down and had a beer (in bright sunshine! at 8pm! I called some friends in Cambridge to gloat but it turned out they were having fabulous weather as well. Always happens to me.) The square was enormous and strangely empty, about 30 people in all, of which 25 looked like tourists and the other 5 were trying to sell them hash. Absolutely no sign of life otherwise. I am told by my Portuguese/Lisboeta acquaintances that 8pm is *way* to early, people are just then having dinner/thinking about dinner/having lunch/waking up, depending on the level of exaggeration. Funny how some people take great pride in having daily routines that are significantly offset from everyone else.

Then I walked around a bit more on the Rua Augusta which is the main shopping drag, taking random photographs of things such as the girl having an altercation with the street performer/vendor/beggar dude. It looked interesting at the time but now I've forgotten the story.

And so back up to the hotel, with another pause at the viewpoint, natch. From the viewpoint you can go down the hillside a little bit down some steps, and there's a little garden sort of thing, which no one seemed to go to (tons of sightseers up on top), except the people who had left a very evident stench of urine on the stairs. Recessed into the hill side of the garden was a sort of nook with something that was either homeless-people-bedding without the homeless people, or some kind of urban art that I don't get.

Sunday, 10 July 2005

Decided to do the day trip to Sintra, recommended by LP (what else) and also Martin Szummer, who had just been there the previous week. So I went down to Restauradores, where by all accounts I would find a train. I tried to get into what patently looked like the entrance, and couldn't. Finally noticed the little scrap of paper tacked to a corner, which had Portuguese on it, but I could understand most of it, it said to go around to another entrance, very impressed with myself. Romance languages aren't that different written down. ANYhoo, it's a good thing I could read the writing, because the accompanying sketch map was quite surreal and Escher-like. Eventually after casting about randomly I did figure out how to spiral up the hill to the other entrance, only to find another sign saying the place was closed for repairs, a polyglot bunch of tourists standing their chattering confusedly, and a very tired-looking official dude who (having first made sure everyone spoke English; I guess he wanted to minimize the number of times he repeated things) told us where we could actually get the train from. The good part about all this is that I struck up an acquaintance with a very nice Flemish couple, Helke and Kurt, who were also going to Sintra.

So, Sintra. The first place we went to was the famous Palácio Nacional da Pena, aka Disney castle, a few km from the centre of Sintra but quite a pleasant hike, especially the last bit that goes through Parque da Pena. Actually you had to walk 300m up from the park entrance, buy the tickets, and then hike back down if you wanted to walk up again through the park. By now I considered myself a veteran of Portuguese pointer-chasing. You get some really fabulous view from the castle.

And the castle itself was the most fantastical mix of styles and colours, Gothic arches, Victorian turrets, minarets, you name it, and every now and then stunning blue and white walls of azulejos. The only thing like it that I've ever seen before is Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria.
That's Helke on one of the balconies of this crazy-ass building.
Funnily enough, the castle was designed by a German dude, though not a Bavarian, and he also had a huge Don-Quixote like statue of himself erected on a hill across the valley. Modest chap.

I quite liked the gargoyle or whatever it was over one of the doorways. That splash of pink near the top is my fingers. So I'm not the world's most professional photographer.

There was tons of other stuff to see around the Pálacio and in Sintra, but we decided to do a 5 km hike to the Convento dos Capuchos, a now defunct Franciscan convent. Everyone calls it that, its official name I don't remember exactly, something like the Convent of the most holy only-shower-once-a-year beardy weirdies Christ upside down on a bleeding cross Holy Maria and all the angels. Some nice scenery along the way.

Actually, I didn't take any photographs at the convent itself because it was pretty dim, and also I was listening very intently to the tour guide. You can only take guided tours, and we'd missed the English one, so rather than wait half an hour we took the Portuguese one. I found if I listened hard, and by now I'd picked up the rudiments of Portuguese pronunciation, I could make out many words and then it's not that different from Italian. So I understood quite a lot, and pretty interesting it was too.

We were trudging back from the convent and then decided to try and hitch to Sintra, and actually got a lift from some people who were also in our tour group. I got in one car and Kurt and Helke in another. Mine was an English-Spanish couple with one very talkative kid (we'd already seen him in action during the tour), so all in all the time passed quickly. (they gave us a lift all the way into Lisbon, which was pretty cool). We all headed to our respective hotels to wash, and then met for dinner. By this time it was about 10:30pm, and not a single dinner place seemed to be open. Either Lisboetas start really really late, or they actually shut down pretty early at least on Sunday evenings. I am inclined to the latter theory. We struck out in the Praça do Comércio area, and wound our way into the Bairro Alto. Finally we found one very inviting looking place, a Cantina do someone or the other where people were digging into enormous and very tasty looking plates of grilled and fried seafood. Unfortunately we couldn't get a place, the owner making go-away-we're-already-overflowing signs before we even entered. After more wandering, we found a restaurant that was open and had a table, in fact it was alarmingly empty. And as we found out later, it was a Thai-Portuguese fusion place run by a Moroccan guy with a Bangladeshi chef. Despite all of which, the food was actually pretty good.

Monday, 11 July 2005

The next morning I found my way to the workshop hotel, which was the Holiday Inn in Saldanha, easily the least interesting hotel in town. Oh well. I bumped into Maurice Herlihy and Liuba Shrira and their kids, and we decided to go out together to do more touristy things. We meandered gradually towards the Castelo de São Jorge, first going through the Baixa and pausing to ascend the Elevador de Santa Justa.

And then to the castle itself, which has great views over the river but isn't much to speak of architecturally, most of the building I gather having been reconstructed in the 19th century. There's a café with pretty dire looking food, but the peacocks and pigeons seem to like it.

By about 3 we were thinking food thoughts (I was ravenous, hadn't eaten anything all day), and wandered around trying to find something based on the Lonely Planet. Always a bad idea. In general a good guide book but I've never had luck with their eating advice. Everything seems closed, we take an unintended tour of Alfama, and finally find this one place in a basement that seems open. I poke my head in and it was covered with this azulejos, except tacky imitation kind rather than classy world heritage kind. Gave me the feeling of having wandered into someone's bathroom. At one table in a corner there was an old couple sitting almost motionless, conserving energy I guess (did I mention it was very very hot, the basement was actually a win in this regard being a bit cooler). I attract attention and the lady gets up and walks over, I try my bad Portuguese, making it abundantly clear that I am a clueless tourist, so she decides to speak French to me. Why French I don't know. Maybe it was the only foreign language she spoke. Anyway, she wants to know are we eating or just drinking, and we say eating. I got the impression it wasn't worth her while to walk all the way to the bar just to get us beers.

I figure, I'm in Portugal I've got to try Bacalhau à Brás at least once, so I order that and a nice cold beer. Salt cod, egges, and potatoes all scrambled up in a pan neither sounds nor looks very appetizing, but it is tasty. And extremely filling. Waddle out of this place barely able to stay upright, and walk back towards Saldanha. Maurice et al go off somewhere, and I'm trying to decide if I should soak in the world's smallest swimming pool, really a glorified tub on the top of the Holiday Inn, but hey you can lie in the sun and look around at Lisbon.

But instead I decided to head down to Belém, home among other things of the famous Pastéis de Belém and also lots of architectural stuff commemorating the golden age of Portuguese seafaring, Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, all that. I got off the tram ride, very proud of myself for having figured it all out with only the Lonely Planet and my sketchy Portuguese, and then opened the LP again to read "don't go to Belém on Monday, everything's closed". So I had a pastéis and looked at things from the outside.
This one's the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.
And then there's the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or rather the outside of it. The guys on the big limestone prow are Enrique himself, our friends Vasco (da Gama) and Fernão de Magalhães (Ferdinand Magellan to you and me, the Cape of Good Hope dude), also Camões (who wrote the Lusiads, including hey a reference to Mylapore). It's all very cute but a little sad, it's like being caught in a nostalgic time warp, everyone is still stuck in the late 15th century because that was the only time in history when Portugal was top of the pops.

On the way back, I just had had to photograph this. Recognize them golden arches? Junky fast food ... but with typical Portuguese laid-back flair, patio seating and all.
And one last photo from the São Pedro viewpoint, this time at night.