Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In which I geek out about trams

If any single object could be a symbol of Lisbon, it would be one of their yellow trams.

I love trains and trams in all their forms, and the Lisbon trams are especially wonderful.  They come in two varieties:  the regular trams and the "elevadores," which are funiculars and take passengers up three of the steepest hills.  One morning, Ian and I went out and rode them all, starting with the Elevadore da Bica, which was at the end of our street.

Approaching the Elevadore da Bica's housing.

In the station

Behind the controls

They're balanced by counterweights, so one is always descending while its counterpart ascends and they pass each other midway up the hill. To be a funicula operator must be a pretty sweet gig.  You drive the car to the top (or bottom) of the hill, then shoo everybody out, sit down with your novel or crossword puzzle for fifteen minutes, repeat.  And they get a very smart blue wool overcoat.

Besides the Elevadore da Bica, there are the Elevadore do Lavra--the oldest and steepest of the three, and the Elevadore da Gloria--the most popular. All were within walking distance of our apartment.  And while we're on the subject of elevadores, I should mention the Elevadore de Santa Juste, which tends to be classified with the funniculars, only it's an actual elevator, designed by an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel and is considered a form of public transportation, which tells you something about the topography of Lisbon, that they need a 148 ft elevator to get from one block to the next.

Elevadore do Lavra approaches

Elevadore da Gloria

Elevadore de Santa Juste

Tram 28 and tram 12 are the ones that attract the most attention, as they're the traditional ones that you see in all the pictures, and their routes run through picturesque areas of Lisbon.  Tram 28 passes through our neighborhood, and one afternoon, I went out alone and walked along the 28's tracks until their end in Estrela--a hilly, beautiful walk.  Then I caught the tram back home.

It was rush hour and these trams are small.  I got a seat, but soon there was standing room only.  I realized that the savvy people stand in the back near the exit.  I also noticed that the door didn't seem to open automatically and I couldn't figure out how the passengers signaled to the driver that they wanted to get off.  I was helplessly squeezed into my seat as we traveled up hill and down--the brakes grind in a thrilling manner when stopping on downward slopes.  When we did get to my neighborhood, the tram stopped and I managed to worm my way to the exit.

Another day, I followed the tram 28 tracks in the opposite direction to the Alfama.  A vaguely official looking woman got on.  She had a clip board and an ID badge and she approached each Portuguese passenger and asked a series of earnest questions.  She didn't talk to me and I wondered how she knew, without faltering, who was local and who wasn't.

I was intensely curious about what this woman was saying to everybody:  "The brakes on this tram have been deemed unsafe and you must all exit immediately."  "There's an escaped murderer in the vicinity. Have you seen him?"  Alas, my curiosity remains unsatisfied and the woman got off the tram with one of the passengers, talking and gesturing into the distance.

I didn't get any good tram pictures.  My camera is pretty crappy, they're a moving target, and it's awkward to stop on the sidewalk and take a picture when there are always people walking behind you. Here's a picture from pinterest where you can see how narrow the streets are on the tram routes.  This is at the Estrela end, headed toward the Alfama.  (That's the basilica in the background.)  The streets are even more narrow in the Alfama.  I swear the trams must brush against the laundry that's always hanging in the streets.

Tram 12 is another good line to ride for the scenery, although it overlaps some of the 28's route.  Whatever you do, don't book tickets on the red sightseeing trams.  They follow the same route as the 28, only I saw a sign advertising a ticket for eighteen euros!  It costs 1.50 euros to ride the regular trams if you have a viva viagem card.  It's 3.60 euros if you buy an individual ticket.

The day that we went to Belem (on tram 15) we passed a tram museum that was not mentioned in any of my guidebooks.  I knew nobody else in my family would be interested in a tram museum, but Jon gallantly accompanied me the next morning.  It was a Monday and the only other visitors were a school field trip of six year olds.  They were getting a very wordy guided tour, while Jon and I wandered freely through the first part of the museum, which contains myriad tram artifacts and extensive information about the history of public transportation in Lisbon.

Here is a statue of a tram operator.  I have no idea what is happening with the nude woman behind him. Operating a tram is sexy!  They do get nice overcoats, after all.

Once you're finished with the first part, you wait by a locked door, and eventually you are conducted to the second part of the museum in an antique tram.

The second part of the museum is a shed full of examples of Lisbon's early buses and trams.

Double decker buses

An early horse-drawn tram

Carris is the name of the public transportation company. I like their logo.

We took tram 15 back home.  I loved the tram museum, but I was feeling unwell.  I'd slept poorly due to a horrible ache in my hip and by the time we got home I had chills and that skin-hurting feeling that comes with viruses.  It killed me to spend the rest of our second-last day in bed, but that is what I did, where I fell so soundly asleep that I was only dimly aware of the Portuguese electricity board men who had to come into my bedroom to check the meter.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: On the nightstand

Actual Nightstand

The nightstand:  ideal place to keep the books you're planning to read soon. (Opposed to the bookcase, where you keep the books you're planning to read someday.)  Here's what's on my nightstand right now.

The Philosopher's Pupil by Iris Murdoch.  This is what I'm reading now. It has the classic Murdoch elements:  well-off people living in beautiful houses, facing existential crises, and dogs with personality.

An English Year by Nan Fairbrother.  Also reading this, although very slowly.  The chronicle of a year, written by a woman who was living in the English countryside with her two small children while her husband was off fighting in WW II.

The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot.  Written in 1943.  Fabulous illustrations.

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Book three of the Cazalet Chronicles.

Casting Off  by Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Book four (and last) of the Cazalet Chronicles.

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth.  Written in 1800.  Possibly inspiration for Jane Austen.

Inflating a Dog:  The Story of Ella's Lunch Launch by Eric Kraft.  Eric Kraft's whimsical novels are hit and miss for me, but I can't resist the "lunch launch."

Nikolai Gogol by Vladimir Nabokov

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E.Stevenson

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian  The 10th book in the superb Aubrey/Maturin series.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.  A long-term resident of the nightstand.  I read it when I'm bored with whatever else I'm reading.

Whipped, not Beaten by blogging friend Melissa Westemeier. I'm saving this one for a rainy day when I need cheering up.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Out and about in Lisbon

After our trip to Belem, the girls and I walked to the Museum of Decorative Arts, a truly wonderful place.  It's housed in a palace in the Alfama.  We were the only visitors on that quiet Sunday.

This is an 18th century coach in the vestibule.  Beyond this point, no photography was allowed. :(

It's an entire museum devoted to 18th century interior decoration.  What could be more enchanting?  We saw many wonderful things: mirrors and statues and ceramics, tiny, delicate four-poster beds and a rare, inlaid gaming table.  There were dishes and silver and rugs, upholstery and bed linens. There was a statue of the Madonna and child, with the Madonna dressed in an 18th century gown, with her hair piled high, as if she were Marie Antoinette, rather than the Mother of God.  We also saw an exquisite gentleman's coat in pale green silk with white facings, embroidered with green and purple sequins.

Another day, Ian and I walked to Estrela, the neighborhood adjacent to ours on the west.

The Basilica

The Jardim da Estrela.  Lisbon is on the same latitude as Charlottesville, but the plant life proves that they have a warmer climate.

Typical Lisbon streets

A view from a Praca whose name I forget.  In the distance is the basilica we'd walked from.

What's the story here?

Another abandoned house--there are many abandoned houses in Lisbon.  I wish I could rescue them all.

And another, this one around the corner from our apartment.

A Smeg refrigerator in Portuguese flag colors?  Yes, please.

A tram passes Ian

Church of St. Lucy

Tiles surround a round window

Almost done with the Lisbon chronicles!  Coming up are a post about our last day, with a visit to an art museum and a disappointing trip to a flea market, and a post all about TRAMs. 

Monday, February 18, 2013


Gentle readers, the Lisbon tales are nearing their end, I promise.  Today's post describes our third-last day in Lisbon, in which we visited Belem, a western suburb of Lisbon.  The biggest attraction in Belem is the Torre de Belem, built in the early 1500s as a defense tower for Lisbon.  It was originally located in the middle of the river, but much of the land has been reclaimed so it's close to the shore now, although still surrounded by water at high tide.  It is touted as a prime example of the Manueline architectural style.

On one of the lower decks.

The Tagus, framed by a window. 

An ideal place to enjoy a gin & tonic.

This is a famous rhinoceros

View from the top

The thing to do in a tower is to climb to the top.  The Torre de Belem has a single spiral staircase, with minuscule, smooth stone steps, a tight curve, and no handrail, for two-way traffic.  If you think spiral staircases are scary in general, imagine trying to squeeze past people going in the opposite direction, in a space tighter than a confessional, with one misstep sending you plunging straight down with nothing to grab, other than the legs of other people who would then fall on top of you.  

I hate to invoke my history as a trauma nurse, but AS AN EX-TRAUMA NURSE, all I could think of were the many different ways my neck would break if I fell down those stairs.  Going home in a halo vest is, arguably, worse than going home in a body bag.  There was no one on the stairs as I entered to make my last climb to the top level, so I made a quick turn around and a beeline for the lowest level where I fretted about the necks of Jon and the kids, who made it safely to the top and back.

After the tower, we walked to the Monastery of St. Jerome, another Manueline structure, which includes a church and the monastery.  The monastery encloses a lovely peaceful quad.

King Manuel seems to have had a thing for stone ice cream cones.

After the monastery, we explored the church.  We had had by this time, a little too much Manueline architecture.  If I were to do this day over, we'd probably skip the monastery and go to one of the less serious Belem attractions, like the National Coach Museum.

We took the number 15 tram back to Lisbon--about a thirty minute ride, and were home by mid-afternoon, exhausted.  The girls and I did visit the Museum of Decorative Arts later that day, but I'm saving that for another post.  Ciao for now.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: D.E.Stevenson

I'm taking a break from chronicling what must seem to you to be the longest vacation in Lisbon ever, to offer another reading assignment.  Yesterday, the books I ordered from Amazon arrived.  I don't buy books very often, as most of what I want to read is available at either the public library, or the Alderman or Clemons libraries at the University of Virginia.

As a Health Sciences employee, I have access to Iliad, which is UVA's inter-library loan system.  One of the very first things I did after getting hired--I was still in orientation--was sign up for Iliad and request Outbreak of Love by Martin Boyd, which languishes in the "Ivy Stacks" which are inaccessible to regular folks like me.  We Health Sciences people pick our books up at the med school library and when Outbreak of Love arrived, I thought the clerk gave me a strange look.  No matter, I was delighted to have access to all the books in the Ivy Stacks that I hadn't been able to get my mitts on before.  Several months later, I requested another book.  I can't remember what it was, but I got a curt email telling me that my request was denied because the book wasn't "work-related."  Nonplussed,  I tried again with a third book.  This time, a librarian called me.  "Is this book work-related?" she asked.  I knew there was no way I could convince her that Six Months in the Sandwich Islands  by Isabella Bird (1873) was in any way related to the health sciences.  I confessed that it wasn't, and I was denied the book.  And that was the last time I used Iliad.  Apparently Health Sciences employees are expected to confine their reading to the health sciences. I can only surmise that the word "outbreak" in the title of my first request is what got it past their work-related filter.  OUTBREAK. OF. LOVE.

Since I can't use Iliad, I use amazon, and I can usually find cheap used copies of whatever I can't find at the library.  Yesterday came Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson.  I read the "Mrs. Tim" series by D.E. Stevenson, and they made me want to read more of her.  Our public library does have several of her books, but not this one, and this one, for reasons I can't remember, is the one I wanted to read.  D.E. Stevenson wrote comfortable novels about British women and families.  They are exactly the sort of thing I like to read: tea cups and lisle stockings and charwomen and quiet villages.  I can't wait to get started on Miss Buncle, although since the anticipation is half the pleasure--it was in my Amazon cart for over a year-- I will probably read several other things first.  Incidentally, in searching for cover images, I found two interesting book blogs: The Bamboo Bookcase, and Leaves and Pages both of which have recent reviews of Miss Buncle's Book.  I also found this collection of D.E. Stevenson cover art.

Tell me two things:  Are you familiar with D.E. Stevenson?  What book have you bought lately that you're looking forward to reading?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cabo da Roca

We couldn't miss the opportunity to visit Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of the European continent. We caught the train for Cascais, a seaside town, about forty minutes from Lisbon.  The train hugs the coast and the view was much nicer than that on the train to Sintra, which takes you through a string of dreary suburbs.

In Cascais, we had to catch a bus to the cape. These buses fall outside the range of Lisbon public transportation and have their own ticket system but you can buy a day pass in Lisbon that  includes the train and the bus.  At the train station in Cascais, (the Portuguese pronounce it "Kush-kai" there was no clear indication as to where to catch the bus, and the guy in the station did not speak English. We found a stop on which our bus number was printed, and were a tad disconcerted when, a few minutes later, it roared past us without stopping.  The bus to the cape runs just once an hour, so we really didn't want to miss it.  Fast forward over some panic and fruitless questioning of shopping mall clerk who did not speak English, we eventually blundered into the bus station, where our bus was still waiting.

Once out of the town, the bus ride is extremely beautiful, although eventually you end up on one of those scary, switchbacking mountain roads with toy-sized guardrails and not quite enough room for two vehicles, especially when one of them is an enormous bus.  Our driver, at least, took the precaution of slowing down and blowing his horn on the curves. 

Cabo da Roca is another place that is usually mobbed with tourists--but not when you visit in January! On this day, it was mostly occupied by a friendly dog.

There's a small, pleasant vistors' center with cleanish bathrooms, and a cafe that we did not investigate, as we'd packed a picnic.  Other than that, you are on a bare cliff overlooking the Atlantic.  What does the westernmost point of Europe look like?

It looks like this.

It was cold and very windy.  We ate our picnic standing on the cliff top, taking care not to let our litter blow away.  Suddenly there was an explosion of dogs, as some local people arrived with theirs who joined the resident dog in an energetic romp along the cliff.  One of them was an old English Sheepdog, which is my favorite breed, but I couldn't get a picture because he was moving so fast.  After about fifteen minutes, the torrent of dogs rushed past us to the parking lot and were driven away, to the great disappointment of the dog left behind.

Ian, Grace, Brigid, Seamus

Latitude 38, due east of Charlottesville

Shoot, I can't remember what these flowers are called. Sea gorse?

Back in Cascais, I wanted to walk along the beach to the next town, Estoril, and catch the train back to Lisbon from there.  The tide was high and the waves were splashing over the boardwalk, and it's nice to be in a place with such an excellent public transportation infrastructure that you can do something like that.  The rest of the family was a little tired, and we were all windburned, so we ended up taking the train from Cascais after all.  I resolved to come back later and do the walk myself, but never found the time.