Saturday, October 29, 2011


Ah! Lisbon! What a treasure! I did not have big expectations for this port of call and I was stunned. What a pretty little city. We had beautiful weather too, and that always enhances a situation. (maybe if we had a warm sunny day in Firenze my opinion would be different of the city??)

The name Lisbon means pretty harbor in some ancient language (a descriptive name much like Hong Kong for "fragrant harbor" or Buenos Aires for "good air"). When said in Portuguese there is a slight lisp to the /s/ so it comes out as "Lish-boa" which is the city name on Google maps.

Lisbon sits at the Tajes River and the Atlantic ocean at Greenwich Mean Time, so it'd directly south of Jolly Ol' England. Like many port cities, it is cradled in hills, 7 to be exact (each with the name of a saint) so there is a grand view from the "top" of the city to the port below.

To get from one place to another in the old town you either walk a bunch of steps or ride the tiny electric tram. We road the tram for about an hour winding through ancient streets that were just as wide as the narrow trams. The cars for the tram system were all made in 1922 and they are lovingly maintained and used by everyone.

The narrow streets are lined with houses, San Francisco style, that are decorated with tiles. Lisbon can get quite hot and we were told the tile reflects heat. So instead of painted houses there are row after row of houses covered with 3x3 tiles on their facades. Sadly I was not able to take any pictures of these tiled houses as the little tram did not linger when it moved.

We learned more about Prince Henry the Navigator (the fifth son of the King--never destined to be king--so he studied the sea and made all sorts of wonderful discoveries). We stopped at the exact place where Vasco daGama set sail in 1488. There's a church there now to commemorate the event. As I walked along the promenade I thought of the excitement and fear of those early day adventurers as they headed out into the great unknown in their tiny caravelles. This was THE place from where "it" all started. How history would be different if deGama did not set sail?

We looked at the famous Belem Tower which was the fort for the city. We visited the Monument to the Portuguese Navigator. We saw the "Christ the King" statue (sister to Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero) and a Golden Gate Bridge (made by the same CA firm that made the one in SF). Maybe the city was wonderful because it was filled with familiar stuff? Whatever, it was an interesting and wonderful visit.

Then as we drove from Old town to New town was see a marvelous aqueduct that was built in the 1700s to bring water across all the mountains. It took our breath away!

As we wandered the streets I felt we were in San Francisco of another era. The trams are similar to cable cars; the narrow windy streets sometimes with stairways on the side; the beautiful vistas on a clear day; yet we are half a world away.

We had a short time here but I'd like to return to explore more.

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