Day Ten/Eleven: Birthday Trip in Post (or Still?) Pandemic Time

Ok. I cheat: I will “blend” two days in Lisbon into one blog post. But first, an update on further travel plans. I was supposed to fly back to US tomorrow, but United Airlines have canceled my flight. It was impossible to find reasonably priced flight on the same day: the first good option is on June 7, a week from now. Great: I have more time to explore the country. After Lisbon, I decided to go South: to Algarve region.

Anyway, I arrived to Lisbon early in the morning and settled into my apartment situated in historic Alfama. Alfama (Portuguese pronunciation: [aɫˈfɐmɐ]) is the oldest neighborhood of Lisbon spreading on the slope between the São Jorge Castle and the Tagus river. Besides many historical attractions, Alfama is famous for abundance of Fado music bars. Look where I stay. It is a tiny room, but it has a huge roof top terrace with amazing 360 degree view of the city

I enjoyed a cup of coffee sitting on the terrace and absorbing the view and headed for Dom Pedro the IVth Plaza – one of the most majestic “Praca” (Plaza). Wow! The explosion of these dark blue “flowers” combined with shining white colors of surrounding buildings was amazing

There was a reason for being here: I was supposed to meet my very personal guide (found her via AirBnB experiences), Darya. Darya came to Lisbon as a tourist from Russia a few years ago, felt in love with the city and….simply stayed. Thanks to her being my guide, I am sort of tempted to repeat her experience….May be…

And then we walked and talked for hours. Just to let you know: Lisbon is built on seven hills (literally) and walking this town is fairly close to climbing. To help folks to manage most steep inclines, Lisbon has very “cheerful” yellow trams

Darya took me to a lot of places and told a lot of fascinating stories about Lisbon’s past and present. But…even if you do not have such a great guide, the Lisbon is really easy to enjoy by simply wandering around: the houses covered with azulejos (tin glazed ceramic tiles), impressive graffiti art work, medieval churches, stunning views from city’s many miradouros (view points), street musicians, small bars/restaurants offering great food and wine for a fraction of price you would pay in US and…simply very good vibes.

When we walked, I had a feeling that Darya knows half of the Lisbon’s local residents. She stopped and exchanged a few words with dozens of people we met. Like this old lady…

A lot of things which we discussed were related to Fado music for which Portugal and, especially, Lisbon are famous. There are many historical speculations as to where really the “roots” of Fado are.

What is known for sure is that Fado can be traced to the 1820s in Lisbon. Although the origins are difficult to trace, today fado is commonly regarded as simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fate and melancholia. Fado has been described as the Portuguese expression of ‘the blues,’ and fado roughly means fate.One of the hypothesis suggests that the “mother” of fado was Maria Onofriana. She lived only 26 years, but attained a near-mythical status after her death. Her mother was the owner of a tavern and had the nickname A Barbuda (“the bearded woman”). Maria is said to have been a tall and gracious courtesan, and would sing the fado in taverns where she would also play the Portuguese guitar. She is known to have had several lovers…Anyway, you can find in Lisbon quite a few graffiti depicting Maria Onofriana.

We visited and stayed for mass at Santo Domingo Church which has a very special history. Apparently, in medieval times, about 2000 Jews were executed in front of this church by inquisition. In 1959, the fire broke and the church was devastated. But somehow the ceilings not only survived but became much brighter colored in pinkish colors. Some saw this as a sign to remember medieval mass execution of Jews. A decision was made to only partially restore the inside of the church leaving many columns covered with ashes and soot. I don’t know, but…I definitely felt some sort of special energy inside this church.

The day was veeeeeery long, but then the evening came with its highlight: an unbelievably good dinner and Fado performance in the restaurant called Senior Fado. I tried to book a table there on the previous visit in December. No way: everything was reserved for many days and even weeks ahead. But when I called this morning, Duarte, the owner of restaurant, answered personally the phone and said that tonight is first night when they are open again after COVID and welcomed me to come. I came anticipating many other anxious visitors. But the only other patrons was a family from Michigan. It was an incredible experience. Essentially, we spent the evening chatting with Duarte and his wife (the chef) as we were part of their family.

And the food…The main course was “cataplana de marisco” which is essentially a seafood stew, but prepared in this very particular cookware The “cataplana” is traditionally made of copper and shaped like two clamshells hinged at one end and able to be sealed using a clamp on either side of the assembly. It was so flavorful…

And then selection of cheeses….

And then, of course, two hours of outstanding fado performance. Yet, when I went home, on my way to apartment, I stopped at another restaurant, and listened to some more fado music…

Good night Lisbon: I am leaving tomorrow, but I will be back.

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