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February 09, 2005

I Love Lisbon

I had an exciting-as-hell January. I can't deny it. So it's taken me a week to come down from all the activity, and finally I'm willing to update this blog.

But first off: CONGRATULATIONS to John & Jeremy Gransky for the arrival of Natalie, during the blizzard, all 9 pounds 7 ounces of her.

Last week I returned from the Sundance Film Festival. That trip requires an entry all its own, so I'll deal with that later this week. For now, I'll primarily focus on the trip that Michael and I took to Portugal.

(First off, thank you, Virgin Vacations. You've made us happy twice now.)

What a gorgeous country. We spent the majority of our time in Lisbon, and followed our guidebooks pretty faithfully, but as is typical of our vacationing selves, we also just spent a lot of time walking around, seeing what weird un-guidebook things we could find. Michael, having been to Brazil before and having studied Spanish, found it relatively easy to pick up a little Portuguese, so I was a little more the follower than leader. We spent the first few days seeing typical and not-so-typical Lisbon sites, all, since it was long past tourist season, without the problems of crowds. The lovely Castelo de Sao Jorge, a castle that overlooks the entire city. A Romanesque cathedral (Se') with a pretty amazing excavation going on behind it. A strange 19th-century underground reservoir called the Museu da Agua Principe Real (under one of the city parks). Towers. More cathedrals. Tiny winding city streets where families' laundry lines intertwined above us and salt-cod smells floated around. A monastery, the Monsteiro dos Jeronimos, which houses the tomb of that sexy discoverer of exotic lands, Vasco da Gama.

We rode Bus #28 quite a bit. I'd recommend this to anyone who might visit Lisbon. It meanders around the city, up and down the neverending hills, around the castle, crackling along, revealing new things.

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I developed a new love for fado. So much for my supposed expansive musical knowledge; Portugal has a totally gorgeous style of music that stretches back years and years and is still going strong (as evidenced by a lot of the fado singers we heard warbling from the open doors of late-night bars).

And the food! THE FOOD! Michael and I love fish, so we were ecstatic. Most of the restaurants are really inexpensive, and many have "the day's catch" on display in the windows, so you actually see what you might eat. We went to a famous cafe called the Antiga Confeitaria, where they make these stellar flaky seared-top custard tarts. There are very few fast-food places; we only saw a scattering of the satanic McDonald's. One night we went to "The Institute of Port," where we were served 20-year-old and 10-year-old samples (there really IS a difference, we decided-- but we decided the 40-year-old varieties were out of our price range) by surly waiters. Wine, in general, was super cheap-- some places, the equivalent of 3 bucks a bottle at dinner. Cheese was fantastic. We discovered a great Portuguese soft drink called Sumol Ice--mango and mint flavored (I'll never find this in the US). Oh, and the coffee in Lisbon is absolutely sublime. And I don't really even like coffee all that much. Even the children guzzle it:

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On our final day there, we took the train out of Lisbon to visit Sintra and Cascais. Sintra turned out to be one of our favorite parts: more ancient palaces and castle ruins (to which we uphill-hiked); more cheap wine and good food.

Lisbon nightlife is odd. The little streets seem basically deserted, and then at 2-3 AM, sudden trampling crowds flow around from bar to bar. And this was on the non-touristy season. I have no idea how these people function at work the next day, but a good lot of them are still throwin' 'em back until daylight.

Lisbon sure has a lot of cool graffiti:

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We saw FINDING NEVERLAND at a Lisbon shopping center theater. It was a lot better than I guessed, and I even let it tug at my black heartstrings. Man, that Freddie Highmore sure can make me sob like a baby.

(That reminds me: I've made my "best of 2004" lists, so I'll post those here soon.)

So, yeah. It was a great week in Portugal. Unfortunately the heel on my right sneaker wore thin from the ragged stone streets; unfortunately nearly 9/10th of the population, it seemed, chain-smoked. Other than those bitches, most everything else was A-1.

Traveling with your one-and-only makes you realize just how much you love him.

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Lots more happened, obviously, but my fingers are hurting a little. We flew home, stopping over briefly at Heathrow. I read Alice Munro and watched The Amazing Race. I went to the gym. I had a few days of rest. And then, it was time for Sundance, which I will talk about in the next installment.

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