Lisboa (Lisbon) 8th and 9th July
Saturday is washing day. How do I know that? Many of the apartments (and there are many, I think all Portuguese live in apartments), have their washing hanging from racks outside their windows, some 12 or more storeys high. Outerwear, underwear and linen, billow like flags in the wind. Imagine if your undies dropped 12 storeys to the street below. What a hassle to go all that way to collect them.
Yesterday we walked to Alfama, the historic quarter. Alfama is the oldest city in Europe according to our Tuk Tuk driver and guide. We started our day with a mild 32 degrees. And like everything else in Lisbon, we had to climb a hill. It was worth it for the view of the city, the Rio Tejo (river) and the bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate. It was a gift from America and designed and built by the same man who designed and built the Golden Gate, hence the similarity.
The streets are steep, narrow – in some cases less than a car width – and cobblestoned with small stones which have become quite shiny and slippery with wear. They ar a quartz-like rock and not suitable for high heels. Rui (pronounced Cooey), our Tuk Tuk driver, said it was good if you were on a date because the lady would stumble into your arms — equivalent of the yawn and stretch move in the movies…
The tuk tuk was a great way to zoom around the narrow, steep streets. It was quite loud though and vibrated such a lot that when we were idling at the intersection the parked car appeared to be vibrating vertically. It wasn’t the car but my eyes rattling around in my head.
Here the buildings are old and care warn but have a special charm. I am sure the walls have many interesting stories to tell. Some apartments are as small as 25 and 30 square metres. In one area there was an old fashioned laundry where washing could be done by hand. Large concrete tubs the size of baths filled the centre of the room. This laundry was for the resident’s use. The reality is that often an older lady would collect washing and do it for a fee. Hand washing is too time-consuming for most people. The apartments had no space for laundry facilities.
We visited a number of monuments and buildings including the Castelo De St Jorge. A huge castle-like fortification on the top of the hill built during the Moorish period. What fascinated me the most was Santa Casa, the Church of Sao Roque. Inside, the intricate panels and fixtures are made of gold. More interesting is that the church was built in Rome and transported and erected in Portugal. The original prefabricated building.
Lisbon only has one Mosque, one Jewish temple, the rest of the places of worship are all Catholic churches.
Sintra a beautiful town full of castles and historic buildings and just a metro and a train ride from where we are staying. (Yes they are different. The metro is underground and the train is above ground.)
Luckily, the Portuguese people are very friendly and helpful, despite the language barrier. We were standing staring blankly at the ticket machine in the metro wondering what to do since there didn’t appear to be any English options. A kind lady who we let in front of us took charge. We told her our destination, she pushed the appropriate buttons, we handed over the money, the machine spat out our tickets and change, which she handed over and we were on our way!
I have decided the quickest way to find things out is to ask a local. Sometimes they can be hard to spot amongst the throng of tourists but a shoe shine man and several middle aged-women (a bit like myself) were good picks.
Arriving at Sintra we were a bit bewildered where to start so the hop on hop off bus was a good option. We saw two magnificent palaces and went out to Cabo da Roca, the most western beach in Europe. Which added to the fact that Portugal is the furthest away you can get from New Zealand.
Sintra is where the royalty, nobility and rich settled in the 18th and 19th centuries and built their castles or renovated old monasteries into castles. The artists, intellectuals and philosophers made it their home. Lord Byron immortalised Sintra in his writings and many modern day aristocrats and famous people visit this unique hilltop town.
Once again we have climbed thousands of steps and walked numerous hills and I have still resisted the gorgeous mouth watering pastries that are appearing in every cafe! I have promised myself at least one before I leave, but I think it could be a slippery slope.