Reflections on Lisbon circa 2007 and 2008

© Moira G. Gallaga

Saudade: a Portuguese word. “A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.” – Manuel de Melo

Truth be told, Lisbon was never a city I had given any thought. In fact, in 2007 when my mentor/boss asked me to do an ocular inspection of Portugal for the President’s visit and he said “what’s your usual points of interest to recommend,” I could only come up with – Luis Figo, Fatima and Fado. Give me a list of other European cities and there were usually at least four things or more that came to mind.

France: The Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Musee d’Orsay, Bayeux Centre, Zidane, the Eiffel Tower, croissants, cheese and language.

Spain: Football, Raul, Iker Casillas, Prado Museum, Mezquita de Cordoba, ❤ Alhambra, cured meats, cheese, Bullfighting, Flamenco, Bernabeu Stadium, Paella Negra …

Russia: Lilacs in bloom, Kremlin Palace, Red Square, vodka, ;) communism, ;) Russian roulette, ;) Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gogol, Dostoevsky, KGB, Lubyanka square, tricked USA and stole A and H bomb, ;)

London: Big Ben, London Eye, Tower of London, Buckingham and crappy football. ;) Oh wait, isn’t Prince Harry included in what UK is known for? ♥♥

Venice: Canals, Sestiere, Fenice theatre, Vivaldi, Marco Polo, Grand Caffès in Piazza San Marco, Palazzo Dario, St. Mark’s basilica, gelato, murano.

When I think about it, my inability to come up with something interesting regarding Lisbon is downright odd. For centuries, Portugal was a powerhouse discovering/conquering remote parts of the world from Brazil, Angola, Macau to East Timor (even today, seven of Portugal’s former colonies have Portuguese as their official language), bringing back exotic goods and luxuries that would later become European staples – chocolate and coffee come to mind. I did need to improve my outlook. :)

Enter the ocular trip – like a quick dip into the sea, the kind of thing that sort of gets you acquainted but really just leaves you wanting more.

Although it’s the capital of Portugal, it only has around half a million inhabitants. This makes it the kind of city that feels like a city, but still small enough to house plenty of animated neighbourhoods that are manageable to explore.

We stayed at the Ritz Four Seasons hotel. From my room I can hear the music from outside and the birds chirping. Lisbon seems like a typical major city, but with all the insanity sucked out of it.

Thank you Ritz for all the lovely pampering.

My first taste of Lisbon made me sigh ‘Ah, the San Francisco of Europe.’ Mountains rise up on both sides of the mouth of the harbor and then there is the bridge. You could become disoriented as you try to remember if you are in Portugal or San Francisco. Actually, this bridge was constructed by the same American company that built the Golden Gate Bridge.

During the entirety of our ocular, we were immersed in spectacular views while visiting possible places of engagement. If the bridge is still not enough in terms of sites that take your breath away, when you see the Christ the Redeemer replica, you will almost feel the very breath of life. This staggering statue of Christ towers into the sky as gratitude for sparing Portugal from the ravages of WW2.

Our last stop before proceeding to Fatima was Tagide restaurant. This establishment boasts one of the most amazing views of the old quarter of the city and the Tagus river. Make sure to ask for a table on the second floor. This will afford you a stunning view of the city. Start your evening with a 20-year-old port wine, and after your meal, try some cake balls with ice cream. Linger over a perfect evening with a cup of exquisite coffee and count your blessings. I’m already counting the days until we return to Portugal for the actual visit. Compliments to Chef Luis Santos and his team.

Whenever I travel, I always make it a point to savor the local cuisine. It’s a pretty good and delicious way of immersing and experiencing the local culture.

Lisbon has an organic feel. It certainly isn’t rural, but it’s one of those amazing places that manages to seamlessly combine nature with urbanity. Maybe it’s the lack of overly tall buildings in the centre of town, or the fact that it has a more Mediterranean climate than other cities, but this is a place where there are trees and foliage everywhere. Restaurants have gardens with trees growing in the middle, and if you leave your window open, you’ll be woken up by chirping birds.

Forget public transportation cards and days inside museums… just for this visit. ;) With only 36 hours before proceeding to Fatima, Lisbon was beckoning me to explore it on foot in my usual 3-inch boots, for as long as my body can put up with it.

We kicked things off as soon as we landed in Fatima with a luncheon meeting followed by the ocular of the usual offices, and at the evening, the hotel’s Fado bar. Living in Greenhills, Los Angeles, and WDC you think you would know what hipsters look like. But then again, the European hipster crowd is a sight to behold.

Twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings scattered all over the small function room. Drinking beer out of bottles and smoking the obligatory cigarette. The combination of Fado music, women in casual but chic outfits were proof that we were in a city that likes to be hip. It was the beginning of the summer season. There was a noticeable buzz in the air.

That’s what I found in Lisbon: a city that feels very much alive and vibrant. A city that despite its old roots is moving. A city that mixes together old and new – classic yet cutting edge at the same time.

We wrapped up the ocular visit with a trip to Fatima– certainly worth another post given its importance.

When it was time to head to the airport there was a quick dash to the clean and efficient metro (coffee at the corner kiosk of course) and soon enough we were on a plane out of Lisbon. That’s how a less than 96 hours trip goes; they offer mere doses of cities that get you immediately planning your next trip back. As we pulled away from the city I couldn’t help but think about how it’s the places that you don’t know anything about that are often the best to discover.

The actual visit of that ocular happened a few weeks later. I made several friends which I’m still in touch with up to now. The closest ones as usual were those I met at the football stadium after watching a live football game.

Our honorary Consul in Lisbon was so gracious to bring me to the town where Luis Figo was born and his house.

Lisbon is a beautiful and cosmopolitan city that implanted the roots of her past into the reconstruction of her future.

Here’s to the beauty of the unknown, and the continuing desire to learn more.

On 25 May 2013, I was back again in Lisbon. This time with my family and not just for a quick one week trip, further discoveries awaits….

28 June 2013