Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lovely, Lovely Lisbon

It is rare to arrive in a new city and within 10 minutes, be swept off your feet. Yet that is exactly what happened to us in Lisbon.  After a 4 hour train trip (note: do not advise with almost-one year old.  Baby Oil wriggled around most of the time, and really tried to get his hands on the laptop and cell phone of the guy sitting across from us) and a brief taxi ride to our rented apartment in the Graca neighborhood, we headed out to walk to the Castelo.  One block from our apartment, we stopped in the neighborhood pastelaria for our first Pasteis de Nata, the classic Portuguese sweet custard tart.  That first taste - especially given that it was about 2pm and we hadn't had lunch - was one of the best tastes ever.  Mmmm.  One block further and we found ourselves at our first miradouro, or overlook of the city.
Pasteis de Nata

Lisbon, if you haven't been there, consists of many connecting neighborhoods on hills that surround the small valley of the downtown.  All of it sits on a huge and beautiful river with a lovely bridge that is reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge. The city has a large tram network, as well as an underground metro and funiculars to get up the really big hills.  So there are numerous overlooks throughout the upper neighborhoods providing glorious views onto the red rooftops, beautifully planned downtown, winding streets of the old Moorish sections, or the river.

If delicious pastries and fantastic views aren't enough, then there are the tiles. Many buildings throughout Lisbon are decorated with various tile patterns and colors. This makes any given street even more interesting because you are looking at storefronts, at the buildings themselves, at the whole scene, and at the tiles.  For Mr. Oil, it was a "photographer's dream."  Seriously. In 48 hours, he took over 400 photos.
One of his first shots


More tiles

Even more tiles
Considering we had a baby in tow, we did good with our two and a half days there.  We hit the castle, the Alfama neighborhood (the original Moorish neighborhood, and the only neighborhood to survive the 1755 earthquake), Baixa (the downtown), Chiado (the ritzy part), the Gulbenkian Museum (Armenian oil magnate who settled in Portugal, created what has to be the most amazing private art collection, now a museum - everything from Greek pottery to Persian rugs to Chinese vases to English portraiture to Monet to Lalique crystal), Mosterio de Jeronimos (15th century monastery), and back to Alfama, which was the part of the city we really, truly loved.
Praca do Comercio, downtown

Alfama, being Moorish in origin, has the winding feel of eastern cities (I would imagine Marrakesh, though I haven't been there, but I can say not unlike Jerusalem's Old City or Acco).  Many of the streets are simply too narrow for cars.  There are stairways and alleyways and dead ends.  There are kids playing soccer and elderly women doing marketing.  It feels real.  Though it is certainly on the tourist map, and we were not the only visitors clicking away on over-sized digital cameras.  Alfama has an authenticity to it because you also see actual people living actual lives in this fascinating labyrinth. 

Don't worry, we weren't without our parenting foibles. The most memorable is the Giant Poop of Lisbon.  We had decided to take a tram from downtown up to Bairro Alto, the neighborhood across the valley from where we stayed.  Baby Oil was grinning away on that tram ride, and we smelled a suspicious yet unfortunately familiar smell. No worries - we are pros at this diaper changing business.  Except that my packing strategy had not accounted for Baby Oil's excessive diaper requirements earlier in the week so we had been forced to purchase Portuguese diapers.  And when we went to the store, naturally they did not have the correct size.  Given the options of too big or too small, we opted for too big.
See that smile? It says, "I have a present for you!"

Well, we got to the top of the tram, and thought we'd pull a quick change-a-roo right at the top of the steps.  I reached in to unsnap his onesie, and quickly withdrew my hand - covered in poop.  Disgusting. How did that happen?  Oh, easily enough when the too big diaper got pulled in a funny way and the entire poop MISSED the diaper.  Yes, that's right. No poop in the diaper.  Only poop on the clothes.  And now on my hand.

Our quick change plan disintegrated on the spot as we were forced to strip our baby naked in not-the-warmest-weather, figure out what articles of clothing had little or no poop on them, and then re-dress him with de-pooped clothing.  Not our finest hour.  At least there were pasteis de nata to eat later (did I mention that our neighborhood pastelaria also had them with a layer of chocolate cream on top?).

We also made time to stop at a playground and a park for Baby Oil.  Who, I have to say, is pretty cute in Lisbon.
Gratuitous cute baby shot

Gratuitous cute baby shot #2

We never could quite put our finger on what it was about Lisbon.  The diverse neighborhoods, the feel of the city that was both European and not, the fact that it is WAY cheaper than Paris (10 minute cab ride in Lisbon costs 3 euros!), that we had almost no expectations for the city to begin with. We very much hope to get back to Lisbon one day - we know there is much more to see.  And there are other parts of Portugal we'd love to see - Porto and the north, for instance.   All in all, we consider our first journey out of France to be a huge success and it is an incredible perk of our time in Paris to have our child be so freaking well-traveled.   Later in life, he'll beg for a trip to Europe, and then we can say, "Nah, you've already been to all those places!"