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Bit By Bit Spending some months in Europe. Let's see how it goes... Check ya later, Barry.

Lisbon, Portugal Days 2 and 3

USA | Thursday, 4 February 2010 | Views [303] | Comments [8]

Day Two

We started our first official day in Portugal with a simple but doable breakfast compliments of Turim Suisso Atlantico.  As soon as we were done eating we re-packed and high-tailed it out of there. 

"Lisbon's historic core has four main neighborhoods".  Our goal was to make it to Alfama, the oldest section, surviving from before 1755 when an earthquake apparently leveled the other three.  Not only is it medieval, but profoundly Moorish, hilly and labryinthian. All guide books encourage getting lost in its quaint but delightfully original mazed streets, and all guide books point out you actually will get lost but be sure to enjoy it as you try to find your way out.  Naturally, we felt that to get the most out of our time in Lisbon we needed to experience this.

It turns out we got lost looking for the right bus to take us there, and after a couple hours we found ourselves barely getting up a cobbled road.  It was then that we realized we were in Alfama.  But not only IN Alfama, lost in its quaint labryinthian soul with our packs.  It was sixty degrees out, bright and sunny, and to us with our bags and up and down the roads it might have been ninety.

We had started out asking a disgruntled and patronizing clerk at the tourist office which bus to take to Alfama. And how long it would take us to get there. Now, Lisbon has no shortage of bus stops, or routes. They are practically every hundred feet. Lisbon is FULL of people.  So full that the cars park on the sidewalks, and even in the middle of the road. So full that there are always people at the bus stops, trying to get to all corners of the city.  The maps of the routes are not that hard to read.  It doesn't matter if we understand the street names, we just need to know which ones we have to get off at. So this delightful clerk tells us the bus numbers, by-passing the fact that they are the small busses, that don't actually have numbered stops like the other public transport.  She also claimed that it would take fifteen to twenty minutes to get to Alfama, and failed to clarify that it was all due to traffic and bus stops.  It is, in reality, within walking distance.  And quite doable, when not lugging along your very existence.  We also pointed out a hotel in the travel guide, asked if she had ever heard of it, and when she responded like we were stupid we didn't pursue the issue.  We would find it ourselves.  Except that about ninety percent of all buildings are labeled with Restaurante, five percent with some kind of obvious bank affiliation, and the other five are left up to travellers' discretion.   

We had every intention of getting to Alfama, dropping off our stuff, getting hooked up with some wi-fi so we could tell everyone back home we were safe, enjoying the rest of the day, and heading out at the start of the next.  But as we trekked along, passing bus stop after bus stop, men in trench coats trying to selling us drugs ( "from Pakistan!"), women with beards trying to sell us kleenex, and corners filled with human refuse, the physical pain really began to set in and so did the frustration.  We were actually trying to get to a castle, where supposedly you can stay in the castle wall.  I kid you not, the castle literally disappears as you start to climb.  We actually began to think it was all an illusion, a scam. 

It didn't matter that we were experiencing Alfama in all its glory.  An enormous swap meet crowded a town square, where it looked like the locals were selling all the goods they had taken from all the other unlucky tourist corpses who had been hopeful enough to explore its quaint and tantalizing promise.  Honestly, since when is it appealing to get lost in a maze?  We turned corner after corner, buildings stretched on top of each other, some looking about ready to fall down.  The apartments opened right onto the cobbled roads, laundry hanging from all windows.  Cars cruised up angles of 80 degrees, barely missing each other in lanes that didn't seem much wider than paths, or the people that walked on sidewalks six inches wide, if there were any at all.  At one point we were headed down such a sidewalk, two buses coming at each other, both about to pass us, with a little old lady headed in our direction. We stopped, our backpacks keeping us from hugging the wall behind us, waiting for the busses to pass so we could get in the street out of the old lady's way. I swear we could have stuck out our tongues and brushed the bus as it whizzed by, and before I knew it, the little old lady, cane and all, was passing us. We all lived to tell about it, and I am happy for the good ending. 

Only, for the two of us fresh from Michigan, the ending was not so happy.  We wound up doing a complete circle, a total of five hours of a death march, that landed us back at the tourist office. At one point we had considered getting on a bus and just going. Just away.  Forget Lisbon, forget Alfama and its smelly streets and shady characters who look like they will infect us.  At first we were afraid of returning to the tourist office- mostly we were afraid of seeing the woman who had damned us to a hades that was really at an ascent.  We decided to puff each other up with invigorating speeches such as "who cares about her?" and, praised be the God Who lives (Whom we had repeatedly called out to that glorious morning), we were assisted by a lively woman wearing silver eyeshadow.  We told her we wanted a place by the airport.  A place not only by the airport, but by a train station too, and with wi-fi. 

An hour later we were riding an elevator up to the sixth floor of the Tryp Oriente.  We had to pay five pounds for twenty-four hours of internet, but that was okay with us. We logged in and sent out some emails.  We crossed the street to the mall, and laughed at ourselves for eating Pizza Hut. But we felt better, and suddenly we didn't want to leave and skip Spain too.  We spent the rest of the evening taking long showers, re-organizing our next couple of days, and skyping with Rebecca's little sister. As an aside: skype is a wonderful invention! We watched Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on our computer, because it turns out Netflix is no good outside of the US or District of Columbia, and fell asleep in a clean bed, warm, with the bathroom fan going. 

Day Three

After deciding that we loved Tryp Oriente, and downtown Lisbon, we decided to give Alfama another try. We were really regretting the grudge of agony that had kept us from taking pictures the day before.  We had plugged in our memory card with high hopes, only to discover the four lame pictures that had summed up the previous afternoon.

"Let's stay," Michael said, and there was no reason why we shouldn't.  Sure, it was pricier than we imagined spending off the get go, but it is also extremely important to remember that there will be culture shock and it needs to be attended to before one can successfully continue. Not to mention, we will be spending most of our journey in conditions much less comfortable, and the thought of letting go so soon was hard.  This is why we are here, we thought, so we can make it up as we go along.  It felt good to decide to stay. Better than deciding to leave, as we will probably never return to Portugal, even with it's quaint and labryinthian appeal.  The freedom was overwhelming.

We caught a different bus back to Alfama.  This time we knew how far to go.  The ride took nearly an hour, but we rode through some very different environments.  Some could be seen as ghettos; we even passed some residences (of which we thought there were none.  Apartments of all colors stretch out across the horizon, one on top of the other, no end in sight).  Michael slept most of the way, instantly lulled by the comfort of the rocking bus.  The most interesting part, Rebecca found, was some land that was being used for gardens, sectioned off with large, square pieces of aluminum roof, full of barrels (even reading Motril), some even having shacks.  It is a wonder how anyone knew which spot was theirs, and how they even called dibs to begin with.  Lisbon is a glorious city, home of ancient buildings accented by metal casings around the windows, decked out with spacious patios half-way up, full of fruit trees and flowers.  It is dusted with graffiti, everywhere bears the mark of the spray paint. Across industrial garage doors, outside of every Restaurante and accenting the Dolce of Dolce and Gabanna.   

To be without the bags opened up a whole new world.  The colors, the smells, the characters. We remembered with fondness the couple we sat across from the previous day, drinking wine and coffee out of glasses, who were still there on our dogged trek back.  We felt sorry for the woman with the beard, wishing we could save them all, even the man with no feet who posted outside the same building.  We started our ascent into Alfama right away, climbing higher and higher, taking pictures, videoing our crazy journey, hoping to capture the very reality for everyone back home.

Not only was the place real, it was every day life for thousands upon thousands of people.  They called across to each other, hanging out of their open windows, voices moving around and through us as if we were ghosts.  We marveled at their own Pantheon, which was under-going construction. Across from it, through an open door, children screamed and laughed, apparently at school alhough you would never know it as there was no obvious structure.  Lifts picked people up and dropped them off, skimming by us, marrying our shoulders with the brick walls behind us.  Unmarked markets popped up surprisingly, just dropped in between all of the other doors.  We wondered how they had their produce delivered, or if they had to bring it up themselves.  Bakeries no smaller than closets, completely unadvertised, seemed like hallucinations as we passed. There was even a trinket shop, gaudy with its window displays, selling comforters you would find at Wal Mart.

We took the same way we had the day before.  Michael snapped photos of the graffiti.  Rebecca was able to point out everything she had noticed the day before. At the very end of it all, we stopped in the only advertised restaurante, and that was with only one small sign set up out front reading Fado.  Supposedly, Fado is The Thing in Lisbon.  It is said to be a majestic mixture of singing and poetry, and the place we stopped at had music wafting out the door.  Two old men stood outside.  As we lingered, one of them ushered in, calling after "Nadia!  Nadia!"  We descended in a dimly lit little cubby, the most charming atmosphere of all time, tucked away and bursting with life.  We were the only ones there, and were immediately set up with some decadent appetizers composed of foreign sea foods, olive oil, and spices.  The old man laid us out some bread and olives and cheese.  We immediately declined on the food, as it was extremely expensive, and ordered Porto instead- which is the Portuguese wine that all must sample.  It turned out to be insanely sweet and nutty, and we gulped it when the old man wasn't looking.  

We emerged from the Fado restaurant with music ushering us back onto the streets, which opened back onto the main roads.  We took our time to the bus stop, and returned to our hotel ready for a little more R&R.  Note: there are absolutely NO public bathrooms ANYWHERE.  Seriously. We went in our hotel rooms upon departure, and went upon our return.  Other than that, we have no idea what the people do.

We were able to go to a grocery store that is actually in the mall across from our hotel.  Complete with toys and a meat section that puts any American one to shame.  Rows of raw fish laid out on crushed ice, smelling up the produce section. Posts with entire dried/salted pig legs dangling from them, unwrapped and ready to be eaten.  We purchased some simple things for a make-shift supper, and returned to our room to wash our laundry in the shower and Skype with Rebecca's mom. 

Thank goodnes for American Idol on-line.

We head out of Lisbon tomorrow, unsure of the internet hook-up from here on out.



WOW;thanks for taking me along on a very fun adventure!
I loved laughing through the events and marveling at it all! Still praying...

  MOM Feb 4, 2010 12:26 PM


Hi Rebecca & Micheal....your mom sent your blog. Curious about your whole itinery. Does it include Paris? I have some tips. We also want to know if you will be going to italy. If so, where? Danielle wants to go there maybe next year. Also, We have skype so if you are aching to hear loud American voices try us sometime.

  Anne Mendheim Feb 4, 2010 4:53 PM


Just started reading the blog. To cool. Your gonna have a blast. Maybe I'll get a ticket and see you soon. Just remember, STAY OUTTTA DAIRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  Dave and flem Feb 4, 2010 7:29 PM


How fun to travel along with you vicariously! I'll be very interested in following your adventures. The pictures are great - the sky looked so very blue!
Love you guys!

  Aunty Feb 5, 2010 12:22 PM


Wow guys...how fun. I'm enjoying the virtual journey too & am praying for you. Have an amazing time!!

Looking forward to your next installation!

Lots of Love!!

  other Aunty Feb 6, 2010 11:45 AM


Wow I feel like I'm reading an adventure story. Make sure that you have time to enjoy the sights and not just write an incredible novel. But thanks anyways. Last night was my first Thursday without you guys, I was a sad man. Take lots of pictures!

  Wadynhadyn Feb 6, 2010 2:50 PM


Mrs. Mendheim:
great to hear from you! We do plan on going to Paris, and should probably be there by the end of the week. Would love some tips, as we are growing more excited about France but maybe a little nervous too :-). And Italy is the last stop where we hope to linger in June before meeting my mom and sister in Greece to celebrate Victoria's graduation. Not sure yet on where we are starting, or going, but we plan on combing the country! I will be sure to take notes for Danielle.
Skype has been awesome, and thanks for the offer, it's always great to talk to people from back home.
~Becca and Michael

  00bitbybit00 Feb 10, 2010 8:51 PM


Been trying to catch up on your blogs my favorite world travlers. Keep up the good blogs and just think how wonderful it will be to look back on all your messages and comments from others. Thumbs up to you both !!!

  Oldjerry Feb 18, 2010 12:46 PM

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