Monday, January 14, 2013

Lisbon update

We're alternating ambitious days with "take it easy" days.  An ambitious day means we have to get up early and catch a train.  Otherwise, we have a lazy morning and see local attractions in the afternoon.

I've always taken for granted knowing the value of a coin by its appearance.  The euro coins have different sizes and colors, but I don't have them memorized and there are eight types of coins.  Do you know how long it takes to try to count out exact change for something if you have to look at the number on each coin?   And the Portuguese, like the Italians, don't like to break big bills, although they're not as grumpy about it as the Italians.  The easiest thing to do is fill your palm with coins and hold it out trustingly to the merchant.  Once, at the supermarket, I tried to count out the change myself, but took too long.  "It's very simple," scolded the cashier, and reached into my palm to take the right coins.

In Italy, the only time the restaurants are empty is between 5-7pm.  Here, at 5:00, the tables are full of people having a coffee and a pastry. The restaurants even have an "afternoon menu." A nice custom!  Dinner starts at 8:00pm, which is fine because at home I rarely manage to have dinner ready before 7:30. 

Speaking of dinner, the tapas place we noticed turned out to be spectacular.  It was more upscale than the taverna we tried.  After little toasts with tomatoes, we started with a lightly seared tuna steak.  It was coated with a peppery rub and served over caramelized red onions and arugula.  Next came little pastry cases filled with goat cheese and walnuts, seared scallops, an egg dish, (eggs and vegetables and shrimp), a "tortilla" which was a large potato pancake, and the best dish of all: a little stack of scallops, apricot, foie gras, and apples, dusted with cinnamon.  We shared two desserts: a sweet potato cake with olive oil ice cream and a chocolate/ginger cake.  Both were delicious.  The olive oil ice cream had a crumbly, less creamy texture than traditional ice cream.  Flavored with cardamom?  Anyway, I'm glad I tried it.  This dinner was cheaper than the horrible boiled potato/fish dinner at the fado place.  So if you're ever in Lisbon, look for Meson Andaluz on Travessa do Alecrim.

The next night we ordered take out pizza.  Many of the pizzas on the menu had either hardboiled eggs, or fish or both as toppings.  I don't think a codfish pizza would fly in the US, but I enjoyed all of the pizzas we tried.

Last night we had a very good meal in a restaurant in our neighborhood.  Diversion provided by a guy, arrestingly clad in red lace panties, who banged on the door and waved to us all inside.

Every day, there are demonstrations in the square near our house.  They have ear-splitting horns that they blow ceaselessly.  Except for traffic tie-ups around the square, it's business as usual, so we're not worried.  The police are there, mainly to direct traffic and facilitate.  What do I know?  Maybe this is Lisbon's official demonstration square.  Or maybe it's not even a protest. One night, a bouncy castle appeared.  The other night as we walked to dinner, a procession of cars and trucks passed that were connected with the demonstration.  They were decorated with different things and I studied them to try to get a sense of what it was all about.  What did I see?  A large toy giraffe.*  No closer to being enlightened, we're just chalking it up to life in Lisbon.

We walk everywhere, except when we take the metro or the train or a bus or a tram.  Lisbon has those rechargeable metro cards, which will work on any form of public transportation, including the train to Sintra.  They're easy to buy from the machines in the metro stations, which you can set to give instructions in English.  They make it very easy to get around without a car and there are grocery stores, banks, and all the other necessities of daily life on nearly every street where you can walk to them from your house.  Of course, there are cars, lots of them, but it' still very easy to walk.  I have not once felt the pedestrian rage that I experience almost daily in Charlottesville.  There's a big difference in attitude.  In Lisbon, there doesn't seem to be an attitude of entitlement among drivers.  Pedestrians and drivers truly share the road. (I have not seen any bicycles, but I can't imagine biking on these steep hills with their slippery, rain-slicked cobbles.)  In Charlottesville,  I feel like pedestrians are generally seen as a nuisance.

A warning: it's going to be all Lisbon, all the time for a while as I write about the different things we saw and did.

*After attending the Museum of Decorative Arts yesterday, where there is displayed a tapestry that features four giraffes, I realized that the giraffe at the demonstration is probably a symbol of Portugal's history of being world explorers. 


  1. All Lisbon, all the time sounds good to me. I love the updates.

  2. These updates are terrific. Please don't leave out any details on the food. I am so pregnant that I have no room in my stomach for much food, but I find great comfort in at least reading about food.

  3. When we were in Edinburgh, in the late 1990s, we rented a car, and noticed how much more polite the drivers were. Not just to pedestrians, but to each other. Instead of everyone trying to get ahead of any car in front of them, which seems to be the major theme for American drivers, all drivers happily took turns.

  4. It must be so weird to hang out in the middle of things but not really understand what's going on.
    Pleasing to know the tapas place exceeded your expectations!