We have now entered the traveling part of the adventure, and it has reminded me of why I craved the stillness and routine of staying in one place when we made the plans to do this. Moving from place to place every day or two is exhausting!
We took a train along the coast from Porto and arrived in Lisbon in the afternoon. Our gracious AirBnB host, Sylvia, met us at the train station and walked with us to her apartment, which was located straight up several hills from the station, in the Graca neighborhood. Our initial impression of Lisbon was that it is much more run-down than Porto, in addition to being much bigger.
We spent some time exploring the city that afternoon and evening, and headed toward St. George's Castle, located near the apartment. As we wandered through the maze of hilly streets, we saw a partially collapsed old building covered in graffiti. Thin pink neon declared the site the "Disoriented Pavilion" and it did, indeed, feel like I had stepped into a parallel universe. Bright colored flowers covered walls and doors that had decayed in the shadow of the castle.
Graffiti inside the walls
As we turned another corner, we came into a courtyard with large sculptures and a new building that housed a lounge. Haunting live piano music drifted out of the open doors and into the courtyard - a perfect soundtrack to the otherworldly feelings we experienced walking through the pavilion area. Another corner passed, and we were in the tourist area of the castle itself, where we chose not to spend 19 euros to enter the castle grounds only one hour before it closed. Instead, we opted to wander through the narrow streets that had once been part of the area protected within the castle walls.
We had a negative experience with our dinner (the restaurant charged us for expensive liquor drinks instead of the small draft beers we ordered, and the waiters were generally rude) and decided to call it an early night. We missed Porto already.
The next day, we decided to shell out the cash for a tuk-tuk tour of the city. Our guide, Joaquim, was a ton of fun, and drove like a madman through the rocky stone streets of the city. We told him we only had two hours before we had to catch a train, and he certainly made the most of it.
He showed us panoramic views from the top of the two main hills, and took us through the old narrow streets of neighborhoods built by the Moors many centuries ago. He told us about the earthquakes, tsunami, and fires that cleared out so much of the city, and where it had been rebuilt. Life quickly re-established itself in those destroyed spaces. He showed us a recently revitalized square that he said, until just a few months ago, had been populated by junkies and prostitutes, but has now been cleaned up and was really quite beautiful.
The dense pockets of crime, though, were still apparent, and there was a darker feeling to the city overall when compared to the warmth and hospitality we experienced in Porto.
We ended the tour with a trip to Belem, where Portugal's presidential palace sits adjacent to the Tagus River. We were also able to see the tower that had once protected the ancient city from invaders.
The stories of Lisboa floated through the tour, and as I reflect on the place itself, its skylines and cityscapes are overlaid with visions of waves of water, fire, and earth, Arabs, Christians, and Jews, all advancing and receding over the same spaces between the hills, in turn, through the centuries. They each left their marks in the space, and no amount of rebuilding can erase their presence.
Note: As you can see from the picture of us below with the tuk-tuk, I chopped off all of my hair while we were in Porto. Traveling with super short, super low-maintenance hair has been such a treat! I wish I had done it sooner.
words + pictures by Kara