Portugal has long been a place to visit since I drew up the post-college list of “50 Things I Want to Do Before I Die.” Almost fifteen years later, I finally got to see the land of my namesake. I’d always thought our family name was Spanish–that was until I was introduced by my in-laws to the Brazilian legend Jorge Ben, who’s real name is Jorge Duilio Menezes.
My interest in our Portuguese background only grew after reading Stegan Zweig’s biography Magellan. In all seriousness, anyone who is a fan of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit should really pick up this adventure tale. Its just as breathtaking and riveting–only thing is this story is brutally true. Not only is my paternal family name Portuguese in origin, but Fernão de Magalhães AKA Magellan, the great Portuguese pilot purportedly the first person to circumnavigate the globe, landed on my maternal grandfather’s island Limasawa near Leyte and died on Mactan killed by Philippine chief LapuLapu. Portugal is in the blood. This was proved soon as we touched down in Lisbon, and I had to show my passport to customs. The officer asked without hesitation, “where did you get that name?” I told l him I was part Filipina, and he answered, “That name is Portuguese, you know.” I got the same response when I departed the country and every other time I had to show my I.D. Apparently our handle draws attention.
Thanks to the Youth and/in Literature Conference hosted and organized by CETAPS of the New University of Lisbon I was able to visit this land of my European heritage. To learn more about the conference, click here.
Outside of academia, our time in Lisboa was nothing but captivating. She is a city of heart-breaking beauty. So many gorgeous buildings, such striking architecture and art from so many different historic epochs all in various stages of decay–a striking difference between the U.K., which has endless reserves of money to restore and preserve their architectural and cultural heritage. Not that Portugal is to blame for the decay and neglect.
The conference in Lisbon spent a good deal of time discussing Portugal’s inequality both among its own population and in contrast to other E.U. and U.K. states. The conference organizer took good time to criticize and analyze how the rest of the world wrongly classifies them as part of the self-destructive misnomer “PIGS,” and I’m looking forward to enhancing materials and topics for my Modern Global Issues course as well as explore this country’s history and future for later writing projekts based on ideas learned and experiences had in this diverse and complicated country.
If you like fresh seafood, custardy pastries, the hot sun burning down in the daytime, and balmy nights wandering crowded avenues and alleys then you’ll love Lisboa. So much of Portugal’s capital reminded me of my other favorite and complicated metropolis, the City of Angels. When we hailed a cab at the airport, our driver greeted us with one simple word “Diga.” Our ride to the hotel could have easily been mistaken for a trek across the 405 or the 10 freeway. The shining slant of the sun was just as blinding as it is in Los Angeles. Oleanders, yucca, bougainvillea, and penstemon all competed in showy force along freeway embankments and bordering sidewalks. The air was hot and dusty. Street art covered every blank surface, grabbing the eye’s attention.
We stayed at the Continental Holiday Inn Hotel at Rua Laura Alves 9, only a five minute walk from the university where the conference was held, and at the other corner of our hotel complex was a cafe and patissiere where we enjoyed all sorts of sweet and puffy delectables during our stay. Soon as the conference let out, we were free to explore the city, so we spent the money and hopped on board the Lisbon sight-seeing double decker bus to get a good lay of the land. Sweltering hot, we took in both sun and city, traveling first to Belém.
Our first day of exploring this country of explorers led us to the historical monument Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). Built to commemorate the fifth centennial of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, this edifice sits at the edge of a pier overlooking the River Tagus, the point of departure for all the great Portuguese sailors, including Vasco de Gama.
We continued the maritime theme by visiting Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) where de Gama is buried and where the cathedral’s ornate architecture features nautical symbols, ship’s knotting and ropes. The colorful statues of the Virgin Mary and Child are most exquisite and looking upon them its no wonder how the Catholic faith can take hold of hope and the imagination. It is this Monastery where most every famous sailor last prayed before pushing off to foreign waters.
Just across the way from the Monastery is the Museu de Marinha, where yours truly spent a good few hours scribbling notes and clicking the camera, gathering as much research as possible, which may find its way on this site, so stay tuned. Not only did this museum hold impressive replicas of the caravels that the likes of Columbus set off on to discover a passage to the Indies, but there is also a comprehensive collection of all the tools and gadgets that made precise navigation and cartography possible such as the pocket globe and compass. I dream of owning a replica pocket globe someday. This technology, invented by the Arabs, adopted by the Portuguese, and advanced by the British, made each culture ruler of the sea at some point in history.
They say Venice is one of the few places to truly meet expectations. Well, Lisbon shatters expectations altogether. She is full of surprises. Music is everywhere, pumped into the Metro station and in cafes and fado bars. Music is on street corners and in the rhythm of the daily life. On two separate evenings, we stumbled upon two open air concerts right next to the city centre Metro. The first concert was performed by a youth orchestra playing contemporary “classic,” and the second was an adult orchestra playing a more traditional composition. A night can’t get more magical, under the stars, a cool breeze blowing through and a full orchestra performing with skill. Lisbon is a constant state of amazement.
Another evening we dined at the Casa de Alentejo, a 17th century Moorish palace turned into a club meeting ground and now a restaurant to enjoy a real Portuguese meal. The entrance is a nondescript facade that we would have otherwise missed if it wasn’t for the large party standing and chatting outside. Once inside, a long stairwell leads you to a jaw-dropping atrium elaborately tiled with lavish wooden arches. The second story holds a ballroom and dining rooms, where walls are covered with pastoral paintings. Not a place to be missed.
No trip abroad would be complete without a day of shopping, and we got our fill at Baixa and a seven-story El Corte Ingles. A city as artful as Lisbon carries its own laid-back and sophisticated sense of style. Not a hipster to be seen, the clothes match the weather, bright, eye-catching, and celebrating sun and flesh. After the hard work of bargain hunting, we topped off the evening with a ride on one of the funiculars to see the panoramic views offered by the Bairro Alto. Like the Casa de Alentejo, the Gloria Funicular would otherwise be missed if one didn’t know what to look for. Tucked in an alleyway, the tram chugs slowly up a steep hill, where we passed ladies making the same trek on foot wearing five or six inch heels. Blink, and you’ll miss one of the many street art murals that makes Lisbon distinct.
Our last night in Lisbon had us living life like we’re golden. Our guidebook, The Lonely Planet’s Pocket Guide to Lisbon insisted no other bar offered a better view and snazzier place to enjoy a cocktail than the Terrace at Bairro Alto Hotel. Its a tiny space where you have to wait in the downstairs bar before you can get called up for seating to enjoy a 180 degree view of the city with the River Tagus in the distance and the Golden Gate. We sipped martinis and watched the moonrise. Life is a blessing!
Some of the links we researched before visiting included a NY Times article about Lisbon fashion, Rick Steves’ episode on Lisbon and the Algarve, an incredibly helpful article my mamí sent me Destination Portugal from Travel Smith and one from my papí from HuffPost on Lisbon Street Art.
But Lisbon wasn’t the final stop on our summer travels. There is still Sintra, a romantic hillside city just thirty minutes away from Lisbon. Check back here for more on the city of poets.
To read the first leg of our trip, check out the post Oxford Called. We Answered.
Until then, why not treat yourself to an absolute favorite musical artist, part of the Afro Portuguese diaspora, Ruy Mingas.