I have to say that I love the streets in Lisbon, the sidewalks paved as they are in little cubes of blank and white stone in beautiful patterns – but unless you were born here – not a place that looks friendly for high heels as there is no mortar between the stones. Today was reserved for the exploration of the Botanical Gardens, and the Barrio Alto, on the other side of the city.
Our hotel was a mere three blocks from the Elevador da Gloria, which is a tram that just goes from the Baixa at the Avenida da Liberdad to the Barrio Alto. Right above, where the tram let off, is a lookout over the lower part of the city, from which you can see the Castelo Sao Jorge and the expanse of red tile rooftops. Unlike the Elevador da Santa Justa, you can also walk up beside it. The Santa Justa is an actual elevator, perhaps the first ever in Lisbon, having been build by a student of Eiffel. Last time we were here, we went up in the Santa Justa, but the stairs to the lookout there were very narrow and very twisty – an today the line is also extremely long. So we walked up near the Gloria. We didn’t ride it, because it seemed silly for how short the ride was – especially with so many people waiting to get on.
Our goal in finding the Botanical Gardens was to see the Castelo from the high point we could see from the Castelo the day before. And to see the gardens, of course. Apparently it was a thing for wealthy people to have these gardens that contained specimens of plants from all of the places they had been to. (There are laws against this sort of thing now, of course because of how some plants can overtake native ones and create all sorts of havoc.) I could post a zillion pictures of the botanical gardens, but I won’t bore you – we had such beautiful weather that it was easy to get carried away with the photo-taking, so here it one – it shows the exotic nature of the collection – just a little:
We found some strange fruit and funny little nuts and seed pods that we took too many photos of – and there were ducks and fish in a pond as well. n one section there was even a little greenhouse filled with ‘prehistoric’ throwbacks – an assortment of ferns – and a little area devoted to carnivorous plants. I had never seen a pitcher plant before, so that was very cool. I didn’t realize they were that big. One of the things that I liked most about this garden – which we were visiting in an off season – was that the plants were largely left to their own devices and not manicured and arranged artfully. Each plant was labelled with its Latin name and place of origin. The other thing I liked about this garden was that it was smack right in the middle of one of the most urban and knotty places inside Lisbon. I say knotty because the roads – unlike those in the Baixa, were not straight in any sense of the word. No grid planned city here, oh no. We headed down one street thinking we would loop down the hill, only to have the street loop back on itself!
Even though mom and I stopped for an ice cold cola just outside the Gardens in the Praca do Principe Real, we decided not to eat in the Alto – it seemed just a little too upper class for us. We sensed – and were probably correct, that a meal in a restaurant in that area would be twice as much as one in the Baixa.
We followed signs that proclaimed the Baixa to be this way! This way! until we found our lookout and took pictures of the city again.
We walked down through the Baixa and back over to the Alfama district to visit the Fado Museum. It was unfinished, but just as fascinating as I had hoped. Fado is a musical art form that seems to have enjoyed a surge in popularity during some trouble times in Portuguese history having it’s modern roots in 1820’s Portugal. It was banned in the 80’s, if you can believe it, because it was thought to incite anti-government sentiment. Now, of course, it’s enjoying some popularity fueled by tourism – but I cannot complain. (Mom is in love with the guitars!) Here is a sample of one of the modern Fado Singers: Mariza
So pretty. Since we were still feeling a tad jet lagged – and knew we were about to be fed pretty well on the tour, we took it easy again and had ourselves another Pingo Doce fuelled meal.
Oh my god I love Azam Ali’s voice
Song Lyrics & translation:
Mara na sar na saaman aafaridand
Parishaanom parishaan aafaridand
Parishaan khaateran raftaando dar khaak
Mara az khaak-e eeshaan aafaridand
Aazizom key miyayi key miyayi
Nadarom taaghat-e yek dam jodaayi
Khoshaa aanan ke sodaay-e to daaran
Ke sar peyvast-e dar paay-e to daaran
Be del daaram tamanaay-e kesaani
Ke an dar del tamanaay-e to daaran
Agar zareen kolaahi aaghebat heech
Be takht-e paadeshahi aaghebat heech
Garat molk-e soleymaan dar negin ast
Dar aakhar khaak-e raahi aaghebat heech
I came into this world with no possessions
Awarded only a yearning heart
All those who came before me have returned to the dust
And it is from this dust which I have been created
O beloved, when will you arrive
I cannot bear one moment of this separation
Lucky are those who are on your path
Lucky are those who place their head at your feet
I am even willing to surrender my heart
To those whose hearts hold your love
Even if you have a crown and sit at a throne
In the end you will have nothing
Even if you are destined for great riches
In the end you will return to the dust
So apparently many of the buildings in the lower city only date from the 18thC because nearly everything was destroyed in 1755. And this would also be why there is an enormous statue in the centre of the lower city to the Marquis de Pombal, since he was the one who got things going restoring the city while the king hid out in a tent up a mountain.
So we had more history as Sebastião drove us around the city, about Vasco da Gama, and King Manuel who was responsible for a certain kind of architecture characterised by nautical themes: ropes and anchors, artichokes (because they staved off scurvy) compasses, maps and other tools of navigation. We saw many examples of this, one of which was this little tower on the edge of the river Tagus, which used to be in the center and controlled the traffic coming up and down: the Tower of Belem. There are braided stone ropes all over this place. Next to this was a monument to Henry the Navigator; a younger son who became king and was responisble for a large portion of the expansion of the Portuguese Empire. Mom and I were naughty and picked up a few shells from this pretty little beach. We also went to see Henry’s tomb.
After lunch there was an optional trip to Sintra, which we took because why not? We’ve come all this way, why should we skip anything? So we went and omg, so pretty. We took a tour of the National Palace which was full of tiles and mosaics and old furniture. Each room had a theme and a story. I remember one where the ceiling had been done entirely in magpies because the king had been caught kissing a lady in waiting by the Queen. He had one magpie painted on the ceiling for every woman of the court to stop the gossip. We did not have time to go up to the Moorish castle at the top of Sintra, but we could see the battlements from the high windows of the palace. I saw an adorable little olive dish here in Sintra with demented fish painted on it and I should have picked it up, because I am still thinking about it. Oh well! This evening we are to go out for a night of Fado music, wine and food.
Update: omg so full of food. Such delicious food. A lovely fish dish and lots of wine and such amazing music. Fado is characterised by 12-string guitars – either solo or accompanied by other guitars and a single singer. The singing is noted for it’s passion and not one of these singers opened thier eyes while they sang. They literally looked transported by their music. A treat. Here’s a sample I found on youtube: Amalia Rodrigues – Fado but it’s better live!