Onto Lisbon 5.7.11

Onto Lisbon  … Spring 2011

We arrive at the Mallorca airport to wait for a postponed flight to Madrid and  Lisbon. Iberia Airlines is short on explanation and long on delays. This pattern continues in Madrid where our 2 PM flight finally departs at midnight. We are convinced that when Dante entered the inner circle of hell, he flew Iberia airlines.

Lisbon is an ancient European city and has known a passel of rulers: Romans, Goths, Moors, and in the 12th century Crusaders. Today’s population exceeds 3 million and Lisbon is a commercial hub and a tourist mecca. Unfortunately, Portugal like Greece, has major economic problems that need attention and intervention.

Our hotel neighborhood has a wide boulevard and numerous statues honoring Lisbon’s past diplomats and progressive royalty. Sidewalks contain white mosaic tiles often imbedded with black designs. The center of the busy boulevard has a wide swath of park with enormous chesnut trees. Strolling back along the river, we are again struck by Lisbon’s juxtaposition of old world charm and new architectural style although sometimes the city seems stuck in a 1960s glass façade phase.

One of the oldest sections of town is the Moorish influenced Alfama. Here are incredible overlooks known as “miradors.” High up the town’s red tile roofs dominate the land below while a castle-fort guards the river. We walk and also ride the old wooden 28 Tram. Our cobblestone descent takes us through many tourist-free, working-class neighborhoods.

Our next mission is to find the old Lisbon synagogue.  On a small wall near a train station are Hebrew letters – Shaare Tikvah, “Gates of Hope.” A caretaker responds to our knock as we enter a small courtyard. Through the doors there’s an old orthodox synagogue built in 1904. This was the first synagogue in Portugal since the 16th century. Today there are 300 members and we even meet the Rabbi.

Next is a tram ride to Belem, an old but upscale water-front neighborhood. Portugal’s super-hero Vasco da Gamma departed from here and discovered the passage to India. A beautiful inlaid map details all the explorers while an enormous monument commemorates the history of Portugese exploration.  A bakery here claims the title of oldest bakery in Lisbon and features the classic pastel, a small but scrumptous custard-filled tart.  Dinner is near our hotel where we stumble upon a family-run fish restaurant ─ Santa Marta has a 20 year history without closing for a single day. The delicious dinner includes sardine appetizers and a variety of delicious grilled fish.

After exploring the past, we tackled the future at Parque des Naoes. In 1998, Lisbon held an ultra-modern World Exhibition on a site that involved slum clearance and closure of a polluting oil refinery. Even the metro station has been enhanced by world-famous artists. One city mural is painted on tiles by the Austrian Fredick Hundertwasser who did not believe in straight lines. Emerging from the train station is akint to entering the Starship Enterprise. The river view displays the ten mile Vasco de Gama Bridge with its Madonna bra structure. Our walk includes: water gardens, green spaces, a science museum, the famed white and black mosaic streets and a glorious aquarium aka “Oceanarium.”  This remarkable place has wrap-around windows that extend over two floors, a great turtle exhibit, sea otters, penguins, and the perfect climate zone for each species. Exhibits emphasized: conservation, climate change, and other aspects of the eco world.

The day ends with the Lisbon Indie Film Festival. We are the oldest people in the audience and we see “Attenberg.” Will it cross the pond?  Quien Sabe?

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