Lisbon, Portugal is like San Francisco with it's own version of the Golden Gate bridge and hilly streets that have cable cars running up and down. The food is tasty, the people are tourist friendly and fun, and the weather is sunny. What a relief!
The history of Portugal is fascinating, dating back 500,000 years, with cultural influences (through battles and immigration) from the Celts, Romans, Moors, Visigoths, Jews, English, French, Spanish and more. At one point Portugal was a prosperous sea faring country with several colonies including Goa, Brasil, and Tangier. But as wars, corruption, and earthquakes took it's toll on the country their wealth dissappeared.
It was only thirty years ago that they were under the oppressive dictatorship of Salazar who controlled all aspects of life from the arts to the media and even the religion. Today Portugal is a democracy and you would never guess that it has weathered such a waring past. The arts are vibrant here. Theater, dance, and music thrive in the abundant teatros. The traditional fado (meloncholy laments about fate and better times) can still be heard in the streets and sometimes in bars, especially in the Bairro Alto.
There are plenty of cafe's to sit and watch the world go by with a coffee and one of their traditional cream custard tarts, Pateis de nata– which are very addicting. I also have an enormous affinity for the simple, but incredibly tasty, ham and cheese sandwhiches on milk bread. I could munch them all day long. They do delicious pork dishes here (and sausages) as well as fresh fish. I'm also discovering that their wine is really tasty– who knew?
This is an exciting week for Portugal with the inaguration of their new President. We got an awesome deal at a five star hotel on expedia ($130) and the South African President is staying here too, so the hotel is crawling with security. I wonder if they got the same rate? Lot's of presidents from all over the world are here to celebrate and support Portugal, including Bush Sr.
After a day of being hotel bums and catching up on much needed rest, we hit the town taking Lonely Planet's suggested itinerary for a site seeing walk. We went to all of the big churches, castles, and vista points climbing cobblestone roads and following LP's confusing directions. Great adventure! Definately got lost a few times but made it back to our hotel eventually.
It was kind of fun trying to understand directions in Portaguese after living in Paris for the last six months. I kept trying to speak in a mixture of Spanish and French which received beaucoup de bewildered looks. The book said 2-3 hours for the tour, but somehow it took us 5-6 hours. Maybe it was all those coffee breaks along the way or maybe LP's roadmap was useless. Nonetheless it was fun to get lost.
In the evening we sampled ports at the Porto Institute and then meandered through the hipster bars in Bairro Alto until we arrived at a restaurant called Snob for dinner around 1AM. There's no sign out front and no windows, just a door bell. After some deep breaths we rang the bell and were ushered into what looked like an old speak easy. My husband and I both ordered steak tenderloin and were totally amazed at it's butter like texture. Nevermind it was drowned in a cream/powdered cheese sauce (that really was totally delicious) and served with the greasiest handcut fries ever. Great family owned quirky restaurant with a mysterious past.
Tomorrow we head for hedonistic Lagos to hit the waves! Can't wait for a little surf action and beach barbecue!!!