Monday, 30 December 2013

Grand finale Lisbon: cherry liqueur, coconut bread, port wine, people watching

Wow it feels like the past two weeks flew by in the blink of an eye!  I'm already in Madrid, preparing for the second of three flights home.  Goncalo #2 met me in downtown yesterday after lunch to make the most of my last day in Europe.  Goncalo is my age, trained in advertising/marketing and has done a bunch of traveling through Europe, sometimes euro-exchange programs, (for example, helping scouts in Poland for a month)  opportunities that made me jealous.  It's so easy and cheap to move between these countries and the geographically disadvantaged US has along way to go before it can successfully promote this degree of cultural interchange.  Goncalo also has volunteered at the Lisbon zoo for the past 6 years and his eyes would lit up when he talks about the tricks the vultures and macaus can do at the presentations he used to make.  As a born and raised Lisbonite, Goncalo didn't waste any time immersing me in veggie-friendly experiences of his stomping ground.  We started at a teensy booth behind the hustling bustling street of shops.  I would have never thought to hide the original location of Lisbon's famous cherry liqueur here!  But this is where you can get the beverage fresh from the tap, poured over a vase of cherries then poured in a shot glass to be enjoyed with a smile and "salud"!
Lisbon's famous cherry liquor
From there, he navigated me to the entrance of the Castillo de st. Jorge.  After getting lost in the snaking streets yesterday, Aga and I gave up when we appeared at the backside of the massive complex and heard entry would require circumventing 3/4 of the building with a slightly challenging route.  I was glad to return with an expert, especially since Goncalo loved to share the history and wander the town built within the city walls.  Speaking of history, one of the places he took me to was the church of Carmelo, which was one of the few buildings to survive a 9 scale hurricane in the 1700s. Next door was where the dictator was taken during the peaceful overthrow of the dictator in 1970s.  We tried to find a postcard depicting the famous scene with children stuffing carnations into soldiers guns because the transition was so peaceful that only two people were killed, mostly because of a silly skirmish.  We stopped for roasted chestnuts as we walked to a paneria portuguesa to try this fluffy, slightly sweet, sunrise-colored coconut bread (which they like to serve with ham and cheese).  He took me to several overlooks, around 5, we went to a place filled with teens and young adults gathered with beers, musical instruments and their friends to watch the sun sink behind the "San Francisco bridge", with light reflecting off the Tagus river.
Goncalo #2 and I at an overview of the city
We went to an old-school shop that featured vintage products from regions all around Spain- port wine, special biscuits, toys that his parents grew up with, soaps and an extensive selection of sardines, which the area is famous for.  He took me to this super-retro, hipster street of revived warehouses filled with art galleries, unique shops, bars, an awesome library and large graffiti paintings outdoors.  Only a couple places were open when we went but it would be a really neat place to see on a Saturday, especially during the weekly flea markets.
Pavilhão chinês Club... best bar ever!
For the purpose of people watching and an authentic-ish experience of Lisbon nightlife (as much is possible for a Sunday night during the holidays), we started a leisurely bar hops designed to drink in the sights, more than maximize alcohol consumption.  We began at a fancy place that was covered, floor to ceiling in collectibles.  There was a room filled with dolls and old toys, war paraphanela (from war helmets, to fighter planes to GI joe), paintings on the ceiling and statues.  We sat in velvet chairs to pursue the menu, which was more like a colorful storybook of hand-drawn, bare-chested flappers getting in all sorts of shenanigans as they danced around descriptions of their artisan cocktails.  He drank hot chocolate and I tried the famous Port Wine (too sweet for me) as we keep finding new objects to look at, feeling like guests in a royal cocktail room/tea parlor. To experience his more typical weekend night, we sauntered through Barrio Alto (nightlife hub of Lisbon), squeeze into a dim indie rock bar, only large enough to fit four small tables, sipping cheap beers in a swirl of smoke and Portuguese banter, accented by the clink of a piercing on the glass.  With closing time at 2:00, we took the scenic route through the crowded street, where "everyone gathers together but stays apart", slightly separated by the hip hoppers, metal heads, foreigners here on Erasmus, hipsters and "the normal people".  We weave by two guys trying to swing dancing in the street, a girl braiding her boyfriend's Afro hair, a group trying to guess which country a blonde guy is from (it looked like he was having a hard time remembering the answer himself) and the ever present puker.  After that, he wanted to show me "pink street" (so-called because it was decorated for breast cancer awareness for awhile) which used to be filled with shady strip clubs and hookers but has undergone a more recent revival.  We enjoyed our last drink at this bar that looked like (and may serve a secondary purpose as a tackle shop).  Fishing poles lined the wall, hooks and sinkers were on display, sardines and bait were available for purchase- it literally just looked like someone stuck a keg behind the counter.  At this point, we returned to the car for a 45 minute power nap then it was time for my 5 AM arrival at the airport.
Bye Lisbon!  Photo taken at sunset overlook.
I definitely feel a little closer to understanding Portuguese food/culture after that little adventure but its still much more elusive than Spain.  Portugal has a very diverse population and seems to be influenced by the culture of its colonies, especially with many people from Mozambique, Brazil, etc. migrating back to Portugal.  I'm really glad I chose Lisbon as my last stop but the country as a whole needs more exploring.  Retrospectively, it would have been nice to cut a day from Barcelona and Granada to go to Porto for a couple days but I'm happy how it turned out.  Link to Portugal photos is here.
Now, I need to concentrate on keeping my eyes open until I can zonk out on my 7.5 hour flight back to the US.  I may try to do one more post reflecting on my trip as a whole (my brain is not capable of that now)... If not, happy new year!
"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." -Jack Kerouac