In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lisbon week 1

We are in the ground floor
left apartment
We have been in Lisbon for a week now.  We have a tiny apartment on the ground floor of a small 4 story building in an area called Alcantara.  We have a view of the big bridge across the Tagus River, and there are lots of buses and trams nearby to take us anywhere we want to go.  Downtown there is also a subway system.  We can buy our groceries at various fruterias and mini-mercados, and there is a Nepalese and a Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood.  We have also discovered that there are a number of vegetarian restaurants scattered around the city, and one Irish pub that we like.  It is still the rainy season here, which means that it has usually been cloudy, and often drizzles or rains.  However, it is warmer than Maryland and it hasn't rained so hard as to keep us indoors when we want to go out. 

Our view from a nearby park
 Lisbon’s most distinctive features are cobblestoned streets and sidewalks.  The sidewalks are made of whitish stones about 2 inches square and the darkish street stones are about 4 inches.  In many of the main plazas, the stones are set in wavy designs of white and black.  Unfortunately, in the outlying districts many sidewalks are in bad repair.  Another distinct feature is that many building facades are made of tile, which makes a pretty effect.  The other buildings are often painted pink, orange, yellow, or blue, and most have red tile roofs.  There are lots of hills, and the river is a dominating presence.  The people are friendly and a surprising number know English, or else Spanish or French.  Much of the town was destroyed by a combination of earthquake, tsunami, and fire in 1755, and then rebuilt in an 18th century style.  A lot of what we have done so far seems like getting oriented and learning our way around by foot and public transport.  It is always fun to just wander around a new city.
Carmo Museum

The Archaeological Carmo Museum is a Carmelite Church which was destroyed in the earthquake.  The nave, transept and aisles have been left roofless, and it is quite impressive and beautiful in its way.  The museum part is in the back, where the altar and sacristy were not destroyed.  It is small and not very memorable.  Although occupation goes back to the Phoenicians and even early stone age tools, they have not actually come up with a lot of archeological remains. 

We have visited two art museums so far: the Museu de Arte Antiga, which is within walking distance (about a kilometer from home) and the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian.   The Ancient Art Museum is housed in a former palace and actually contains art through the 19th century.  
Bosch - Temptations of St. Anthony
The highlight for us was a Bosch painting of the Temptations of St. Anthony, who is one of Lisbon's patron saints.  There were also two Japanese screens depicting the landing of the Portuguese in Japan that were very interesting.  There were lots of ceramics and church silver.  The Gulbenkian Museum houses the collection of a wealthy European oil magnate who settled in Lisbon after Paris fell to the Nazis.  It has a nicely laid out display which goes from ancient Egypt through the Middle East, with rugs, mosque lamps and ceramics, to the Far East with lacquer boxes, screens and more ceramics.  The European collection included a Rembrandt, Turner, Cassatt, a number of Impressionists, and a lot of interesting tapestries, furniture, and ivory miniatures.  It ends with a room for the Art Nouveau jewelry and glass of Rene Lalique.  It was all varied enough that I did not get burned out looking at one type of thing too much.  It was, however, another place where I was really fascinated by the picture frames, even though you get NO information about them.  Even the rooms of furniture, where they are telling you about the clocks and stuff, they ignore the frames, which are really splendid pieces of workmanship.

Almost like a museum is a place called The Story of Lisbon.  It is down on a major square of the city called the Pra├ža do Commercio which is right on the riverfront.  This is where the king and his son were assasinated in 1908, which led to the founding of the Republic in 1910, and also where the 1974 Carnation Revolution started that turned Portugal back to a democracy after the death of Salazar.  The Story of Lisbon is one of those places where you move around with an audio tape through rooms with video or other displays.  So we saw and heard about the Phoenicians and the Romans, the Age of Discovery, the earthquake, and the rebuilding of the city.
View of Castle and Lisbon from Church of Santa Gracia
 On one of the hills overlooking the city there is the medieval Castle of Sao Jorge.  (St. George because the queen was English.)  There have been fortifications there since the Iron Age, and the Moors built the first castle.  When they were driven out, the new Portuguese kings expanded the castle, but it was mostly abandoned after the earthquake.  However, the area around the castle was not much damaged then, so it is a maze of narrow picturesque streets and old churches.  We had great views of the city from the castle walls.  We have been into 2 churches so far.  They are less massive and fortress like than those in Spain, but still fairly dark with few windows but usually ornate chapels and altars.
Discoverers Monument

Detail of Discoverers
We took one day so far to go west a few kilometers to the area of Belem, which has many monuments.  We walked along the riverfront to the Discoverers Monument, which is a large ship like sculpture with 33 figures led by Henry the Navigator and including Vasco da Gama.  The monument was built in 1960 in honor of the 500th anniversary of Henry’s death.  The only woman in the group is Henry’s mother Philippa of Lancaster.  A little further down the river walk is the Tower of Belem, built in the early part of the 16th century to guard the approach to Lisbon’s harbor.  It is built in the Manueline style (named after the king), which is very ornate.  King Manuel was able to take all the wealth coming in from Portugual’s new empire to start a big building campaign.  There is a 2 story bastion for the cannons, dungeons and storage underneath, and a smaller 4 story tower rising above, which provides good views of the river mouth.  There is also a large monastery in Belem, but we will visit it another day.
Tower of Belem

Detail of Tower
For Ron’s birthday, we went to see the movie Night Train to Lisbon, in English with Portuguese subtitles, which I think has not been released in the States yet.  It stars Jeremy Irons as a Swiss professor who comes to Lisbon in search of information about an obscure Portuguese author whose one book he has gotten immersed in.  Most of the movie is about the author and his activities during his youth in the Salazar era of the early Seventies.  The professor looks up many of the author’s friends who have survived to the present, and gets them talking about the past, which has been wrapped up in a code of silence.  We enjoyed the movie for this glimpse of Lisbon’s recent history, and for the Lisbon landscape.  Ron has started reading the book, which he finds is very different from the movie!