Lisbon April 20
I’d booked a day tour with Mafalda Corregedor, a guide highly regarded on TripAdvisor. She was all that and a bag of chips. Smart, friendly, informed, and feisty. She drove for a part of it and we walked the rest. According to Fitbit I did eight miles, and I swear all of it uphill. I am beat, but is was well worth it.
It was the best introduction I’ve ever had to a city, thanks to upbeat and resourceful Mafalda. (firstname.lastname@example.org) She has several jobs because of the threadbare Lisbon economy – tour guide, school teacher, tango performance.
She picked me up and we drove to Belém and saw the Jerónimos Monastery, where Vasco da Gama is buried.
Took a gander at the monument to explorers, which oddly enough reminded me of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving. A monument that honors men who died in the service of a cause I don’t believe in. It’s not exploring I object to so much as subjugation and extinction.
There’s a map of the worlds that they conquered by sea, back in the day.
Moving right along, we ducked into the famous Pastéis de Belém with the delectable Pastéis de Nata, an addictive egg custard tart. Outside Belém tower a young black violinist played a medley of the theme from Star Wars, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Shake it Off. It was weirdly great.
Back we went to Lisbon and drove around in the steep hills, the twisty winding narrow streets. I saw the famous elevator and tram, and stopped at three overlooks.
Had lunch at the place she takes her father. A family joint, with an old school menu. We had cod mixed with potato and battered and fried, (but not greasy, a Lisboa miracle) a heap of lettuce, onion, tomato, and olive salad, and red beans and rice in a casserole. She instructed me on the way to order cod (only salted!). I had a shot of espresso that made my eyes pop open.
We walked up to the Moorish Castle of São Jorge, to the top of the castle ramparts, on the tip top of the city. We dodged school kids and seven screaming peacocks and the views helped me make sense of the layout of the city. The guide that led the school kids around dressed for the part.
We walked down back through the town and into various churches and the cathedral, and in and out of neighborhoods, and short cuts through building with escalators, and back onto the streets, for miles and miles.
Mafalda told me about the natural calamities of earthquake, Tsunami and fire; what withstood them and what was swept away. We talked about the man-made disasters of war and dictators, the current economic woes and the resilience of the people. She approved of the assassination of the former king – she has no use for royalty. If she were French she would’ve stormed the Bastille. As the citizen of a country that was founded on the rejection of the concept of divine right of kings, I could only agree.
I popped my head into a few shops and bought a tea towel embroidered with misspelled love letters. Mafalda translated the Portuguese for me. At some point I had a coconut gelato at Santini’s – I can remember the name because of the movie and you know, yum, gelato. There was a curtain made of buttons I liked. This is the only photo I have of her. The smile is right, but her eyes are closed. Drat.
Graffiti covered the city like a crocheted paint blanket of loops and slashes. Sometimes it was just an ubiquitous signature of urban life. Sometimes it pissed me off.We walked and walked and walked some more through the center of town. She advised on where to eat and not eat, and where I might like to shop, wisely steering me away from the fashionista district and to the street for trims and buttons and yarn. Clearly, she was on to me. We stopped for pastry and bread for me to take back to the B&B, then back to her car. I am leaving out a lot. We talked the entire time. She dropped me off at 6pm.
Best money I spent the entire trip. I have never had so much fun and felt so at ease. I tipped generously.
Tomorrow I am dining at a fou fou joint the B&B guys suggested. I just hope they are as welcoming as they are inventive.