Ah, Fado, I love you…how can I leave now that we’ve just met?

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After Jordan’s and my own less than graceful exit from the cable car (see previous post “Mists of Sintra”), we found the flea market on the backside of a very large church. In hindsight, I was pretty burnt out on churches by the time we reached Lisbon, so I ignored the open doors of this cathedral (it was the “National Pantheon” no less). Nor did I visit the cathedral just down the road from our apartment.

The Lisbon cathedral survived the Great Earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 which was a massive earthquake and tsunami destroying most of Lisbon and leaving 30,000-40,000 dead. Seismologists of today estimate the earthquake was probably an 8.5-9.0 magnitude. Even thousands of people across the sea in Morocco died. (It was this same quake and tsunami which killed the children memorialized in the Chapel of Bones photo, I took in Faro, in a previous posting.)

King Joseph-of-Sintra-fame was in power at the time and unfortunately had quite a catastrophe to manage as he was constructing his castle. However, he was an efficient manager as the City was able to clean up and start rebuilding within a year. (Having grown up in San Francisco and privy to many a quake, earthquakes scare the bejeezus out of me.) The Lisbon earthquake, tsunami, and ultimately horrendous fire, left a most tragic mark on Portugal’s history.

The Feira da Ladra “The Thieve’s Market” (named after a woman (who liked to shop?)) has been dutifully held twice a week since the 12th century. These time-honored events in Europe are remarkable for their stamina as generations carry on the traditions while still respecting their architecture and historical values. This is so unlike the build-them-up-and-tear-them-down-only-to-rebuild-them-up tradition in the United States.

Soon after entering the maze of the market, I bought a necklace chain to hold the little medallions I’ve collected on my travels since I broke the one I had in Granada. The chain was for a significantly lower price than what the merchant in Tangier was trying to sell me a few days prior. Here I paid €2 instead of €60 although I’m sure it’s not sterling. I bought it from an old Portuguese couple who did not speak English and who appeared sadly resigned selling their belongings in the market.

As Jordan and I wandered around looking at mostly local and non-commercial personal items of Lisbon’s residents, I thought how my experience would have been totally different if I lived here. Then I could have just bought and taken that awesome mirror I saw home.

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Eventually Jordan uttered those dreaded and all too familiar words, “I’m hungry” as we just so happened to round a corner leading us right up to the door of a small cafe. We went inside to order juice, a cappuccino, and luscious custard tarts. We managed to get a couple of barstools at a counter when I noticed the lovely handmade chocolates in the glass case nearby.

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After the cafe cleared out I started speaking with the woman behind the counter, who was the owner. She spoke great English and told me she made the chocolates and had graduated from a culinary school. From what I saw, her cafe was in a great location and a success. Most Importantly, she loved what she did.

Jordan and I went back outside where I stopped at a table to ask a colorful hippie chick if she knew where I could hear some fado. She was very helpful writing down (in my mol-skin booklet) the names and locations of both a restaurant she loved for their octopus, and a local bar with great fado if I came later in the evening. It would have been fun to sit with her and ask what it was like being a hippie in Lisbon and then I could tell her about my experience as a flower child in the 60’s living in San Francisco.

Jordan and I continued on to look for a gift to bring home for Gabriel, my 6 year old grandson. It was then that Jordan noticed a woman, about the time I did, who really made her nervous. It was odd for her to act fearful. But in this case, she hid behind me whenever the woman would move, and she wasn’t even that close by. Maybe it was the woman’s shock of fire-red hair and her height which scared my sweet 3 1/2 year old who was peeking out behind my legs.

We gravitated toward a large tent with beautiful colorful fabrics. There Jordan relaxed and helped me pick out a sari, which the Eastern Indian women said was an unusual print, particularly for a sari. Another of my weaknesses: fabric.

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I bought the sari, for their asking price. Once again I felt the sellers were not trying to gouge me, they were just people who could appreciate the money (and the women were very sweet with Jordan even giving her an “I Love Portugal” decal). We walked a little further and found a cork box (most of the cork in the world comes from the cork trees in Portugal) with hand painted dancing children on the top. This was a perfect gift for Gabriel. Then we found a couple of trinkets for Jordan, too. Bag in hand, she and I headed out of this wonderful market hopping right on a cable car as if it had been waiting for us.

Before leaving the United States, I told a friend that two goals of mine on this adventure was to see flamenco in Spain and hear Fado music in Portugal. Seeing flamenco happened in Sevilla but hearing fado hadn’t, and now only one night was left in Portugal since we were flying back home the next day. I was talking myself into just letting the wish go by the wayside and just be thankful for all the other amazing experiences during this 3 week journey.

Back to the apartment, Jordan and I crawled into my bed with my iPad to read her a story while she quickly fell into a deep sleep. I dozed a bit, then caught up with the international news online, and updated friends and family via email.

The Adult Kids came home an hour or so later. Jordan woke and we exchanged interesting stories from our day and all went to the downstairs restaurant (owned by our Lisbon landlords) to dinner. I decided to put some effort into dressing up just in case I decided to try getting over to a fado bar. A nice scarf and jewelry can do wonders when traveling when you need to dress up one of the 2 sets of clothes you have been wearing day-in-and-day-out. Dinner was ok, but not outstanding, but Jordan behaved well (unlike the night before), so the nap did wonders. She took photos with my camera to amuse herself, and so so did I.

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After dinner I bid my adieu and went up the street to a restaurant I noticed a few doors up. They had turned me away a couple of nights ago when I asked if I could listen to fado there. He had politely told me only if I ordered dinner. This time, I was dressed better, and I politely asked the server standing in the doorway if I could buy a drink and listen to the fado singer. Again, he very professionally told me I could only come in if I ordered dinner. So, I sweetly said, “What time can I come back to buy a glass of wine and just listen to fado?” I was firm but friendly. He gave me a funny little look, raised a finger, and said, “One moment please.” Two moments later he returned and bowed to me saying, “Please, this way.”

I entered the candlelit and crystal chandaliered dining room noticing the white tablecloths and only one couple sitting at a table in front of the windows. There was a small stage with a mic but no one was there. I asked the maitre ‘d where I should sit and again he bowed saying, “Anywhere you wish, madam.” I felt like I had walked into a dream. There was a table under a mirror on the far wall in direct view of the minuscule stage. My table was perfectly set as if I was going to order an entrée, and bread was put before me as my server told me I didn’t have to eat (many restaurants in Europe charge for items such as bread). I proceeded to order wine and settled in for what turned into an hour and a half of fado songs sung by a very soulful man strumming his guitar.

Another man, with a yellow scarf wrapped several times around his neck, and extraordinarily long shoes where toes couldn’t possibly fit, sat at a table in the front silently, and alone, for the entire time I was there. His table was elegantly set with a bowl of white sand holding 3 long white tapered candles in contrast to mine, which held only one. I knew he had to be the owner (and he was) since the wait staff were very gratuitous while deferring to him at every turn.

My server/maitre ‘d came over to me to chat during one brief intermission. I learned that the couple at the other table, around my age or a little younger, are in the midst of a journey bicycling from Holland. And they weren’t done yet. They were drinking and having a great time, with the guy being handed the fado singer’s guitar at one point so he could play some dramatic chords.

There was another older man in the shadows whom I hadn’t noticed before, who ended up being persuaded to sing a mournful fado tune quite beautifully. I was told he lived in the neighborhood and was known as the local fado singer. My buddy, the server, asked me questions about myself and thought it was hysterically funny that I came all the way from America to go to the Feria da Ladra where his father used to take him as a kid. The fact that I did something as normal as the locals seemed to please him.

Eventually I was the only customer left, other than the neighborhood fado singer and the owner. The scheduled performer sang in my direction quite a lot, but I was the only female in the place, so that was pretty much a given. He sang beautifully and the only time I understood any lyrics at all, was when he sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in his soulful melodic tones. People have said that fado is the Portuguese version of the blues. Frankly, I enjoy the blues much more, but that could have a lot to do with the language barrier. My server buddy told me the Portuguese language is very easy for artists to translate to poetry and musical lyrics, hence, Fado. It was very soothing music, for sure.

The night was waning and so was my 22 day sojourn in Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, and Portugal. I stood up to leave and the fado singer pointedly thanked me. I replied with a thank-you in Portuguese, “Obrigada!” and they all clapped. I wafted out of the restaurant in some dreamlike state of mind while the owner thanked me, the well tipped server thanked me, and I thanking the shy old fado singer who was at the table closest to the door in the shadows. I was also given a business card by the owner with his email address and promised to send him photos of the evening. The Portuguese name of the restaurant meant “Seduction.” I think the owner is a gypsy. He had that mysterious mystical energy about him.

Floating outside into the street, I was at our apartment door within moments, and easily walked up the 5 flights of stairs still hearing the sweet soul of Portugal’s music in my mind. This was the perfect way to close a chapter on this amazing journey.

Obrigada…

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The Mist of Sintra

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It was a Sunday when we arrived in Lisbon. This apartment didn’t have 3 flights of stairs, it had 5 flights. I was thrilled when the apartment owner just grabbed my suitcase and ran up those 5 flights with it.

What an amazing view of the cathedral, river, and Golden Gate-like bridge from our windows, which helped a bit with the all out fear I would be holed up in the apartment for the next two days feeling faint of heart to leave and return only to face the staircase. I realize now that it’s time to admit my limitations and stop thinking I’m 40 years old with no health issues.

After a brief rest with the tall balcony doors open and facing my bed (being up that high has the advantage of no one able to see inside), I heard music, and got up to look down upon a marching band with horses. The guest of honor appeared to be a statue on a horse, stiff legs sticking out, with red ribbon around the horse’s ankles. Jordan and I thought this to be a very nice welcome to Lisbon. Christopher and Kelly were on their way to find the supermercado and also saw the parade. Love these impromptu celebrations when I usually have no idea why they are celebrating.

After that little adrenal rush, I told Jordan we had to go take a walk, stairs be damned, in the neighborhood. Shortly after buying a stuffed fish from the shop across the street, some souvenirs (which included t-shirts for both her and Gabriel), we found the Mother of All Climbing Trees. Jordan didn’t hesitate. Soon after, and as I was just reprimanding her to stop going so high, her parents found us. My son’s horrified look spoke volumes as to what he thought about Grammie letting his daughter climb so high up into a tree. Geez…as if he never used to do the same thing! And he lived to now watch his own daughter follow in his footsteps. Cute, right?

We all walked together to the top of the hill with a lookout, and then hopped a very San Francisco style cable car for a long careening ride (#28) up and down the Lisbon hills. At the end of the line was a gorgeous public park where, since it was warm and sunny, I figure about a quarter of Lisbon’s residents were having picnics, listening to a live jazz band in a gazebo, sitting on benches talking, or playing in the large, well-equipped playground. Jordan was in heaven. We stayed quite awhile so she could work off that pent up energy after the long train ride from Porto.

In many European cities, we have found that they close museums and shops on Sundays and Mondays. We learned that while these Lisbon (Lisboa) places would be closed the next day, if we took the train out of town, about a half hour away was a castle called Sintra. That was the plan.

In the rain on the following day, we made our way down the waterfront, to the TI gazebo (TI is “Tourist Information” where you can pick up free walking maps for the city you are visiting as well as staff to answer questions) to get the city map and then figure out how to get to the subway station, called The Metro. From there we took the Metro to the train station (remember to validate tickets at most stations BEFORE you get on the bus or train), then on to Sintra.

“National Palace (Palacio Nacional)
While the palace dates back to Moorish times, most of what you’ll see is from the 15th-century reign of King John (Joao) I, with later Manueline architectural ornamentation from the 16th century. This oldest surviving royal palace in Portugal is still used for official receptions. having housed royalty for 500 years (until 1910), it’s fragrant with history.” Rick Steves’ Portugal April, 2011

After arriving at the train station in Sintra, it’s a short walk around the corner to wait for the bus to take you up the mountain. It was raining. I went across the street to check out a, what we used to call, ‘junk store.’ Wow, I could have spent hours and a lot of money in that place. Really cool stuff and I could kick myself for not getting the metal knight in full armor for Gabriel. His mother, however, would be on the other side giving me a kick, too, if I had bought it. My daughter is a minimalist, so less is best in her world.

The ride through the cute little town was brief and the ride up the mountain didn’t take more than maybe 15 minutes. It was getting increasingly foggy as we ascended into the clouds and we could not see a thing beyond 50 feet.

We arrived at a gate and paid the entrance fee along with the bus fare for Jordan and I to go the rest of the way to the castle. The Kids were just going to walk in the rain and they were better equipped to do that than Jordan and I, anyway.

At the top, now seeing what would have been a wonderful day of exploring if it was dry and warm, were the castle and the acres of gardens. The walk up the curving dirt road to the entrance was very manageable and felt mystical as Jordan and I rounded a bend and saw this medieval/gothic yellow and red imposing structure before us. I took a lot of photos.

As per her repertoire, Jordan said she was hungry. We found a deli, rather than go into the restaurant. I felt soggy. Jordan looked even soggier. We were not fit to be inside a restaurant. Christopher and Kelly soon found us and we all ate lunch at a small crowded little counter with only two stools for all 4 of us. The Kids had brought French bread and salami, as is our standard low budget fare (not knocking it…great way to save some bucks rather than eat in overpriced tourist spots).

We walked all over this amazing place. Unfortunately it was yet another location (like the library in Porto) where photos were not allowed inside but suffice it to say that the furniture was as magnificent as the architecture. There was also a team of experts diligently restoring various pieces of stained glass, tile work, etc. The antiques in here were invaluable.

Jordan had another meltdown as she reached her boredom maximum and poor Kelly was ready to lose her mind. I didn’t envy either of them and I could understand both of their frustration. They went outside.

After exploring every inch of the exterior perimeter while inside a cloud of mist, Jordan and I headed back on the bus to the exit gate at the bottom where we waited longer for her parents than I would have liked. They had taken a detour on the way back and spoke with some guy in a building who had a model of the grounds and was sharing his knowledge with them. I didn’t blame them, on the other hand, I now had a very bored and fed up 3 year old who was now playing hide ‘n seek with me, in the non-kid friendly souvenir shop, where pottery and tiles stood stoic waiting to be bumped into and smashed to only a smattering of what they had once been. It was pouring outside so there were very few options, the restrooms being the other choice. (We left without owing any money except for the couple of small trinkets we bought.)

Later, back in Lisbon, we found a restaurant not far from our apartment where Jordan showed off a whole new line of bad behavior as if it was the spring edition of “Jordan Wear and Tear.” The food was not great, the beer was ridiculously expensive, and Kelly had to take Jordan screaming back to the apartment before we were finished eating. It had been a very long day.

The next day I offered to stay behind with Jordan as they went to Bellem. I wanted to check out the ancient flea market in our Alfama neighborhood and just take it easy before we flew back home the next day. As Jordan and I descended the 5 flights of stairs, we walked up the hill (passing the souvenir shop where we bought a few things a couple of days before and where the owner was standing in the doorway recognizing us and giving Jordan and I kind words of greetings (this is one of the great aspects of renting apartments in neighborhoods when traveling). Halfway up the hill, as Jordan wanted to climb the old knarly tree again, I realized I didn’t have my camera. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave behind my camera on my last full day in Europe.

So, quite begrudgingly, we returned to the building and climbed the 5 flights of stairs again. I was wiped out. It felt like the last 3 weeks had fallen square on my shoulders and I didn’t have any strength left. My nerves felt shot. I couldn’t find my camera. My stomach was upset. Jordan was racing around. Everything felt like it was careening out of control.

And then it happened.

I was in the bathroom when I heard a high pitched screech. I came out and looked down the hallway into my room and saw that the previously closed balcony windows were now wide open and what I could see of the narrow balcony was empty. I started running down the hallway while I called for Jordan and there was no answer. I yelled for her as I went racing to the balcony. No answer. In my panic, I imagined Jordan going over the edge of the balcony and falling to her death like poor Eric Clapton’s son. As I rounded the bed frame (with the bad Feng Shui corners that kept gouging us) innocent faced Jordan came walking back into the room from the balcony. I grabbed her, far from very gently, and told her to never go out there again without an adult (which we had already warned her about) and to answer me when I called her name. She had never seen me so angry so the both of us broke down in tears hugging one another. I didn’t feel like going anywhere by then.

I still hadn’t found my camera and was only mildly consoled by the fact that most of the photos, except Sintra, had been backed up on Christopher’s camera. However, it was a relatively new camera and the thought of it being lost, along with my eyeglasses, just made me feel sick. But, after looking again, I found it under a backpack and told Jordan we were getting out of the apartment, pronto!

We asked for some directions at the top of the hill where there is a stunning view at a very popular overlook, and then hopped the cable car to the flea market. We had to jump off at the last minute with the help of a tall man lifting Jordan high in the air to place her gently on the sidewalk, me squeezing between the boarding passengers, and the driver yelling at us. We were supposed to exit from the rear of the cable car. Oops. We kept walking at a fast clip to the church where the old lady sitting next to me (this time old means very much older than me) had told me the flea market was located.

I was going to redeem this day come hell or high water. And I certainly did, as you will soon find out in the next edition of this too-long-and-too-wordy blog.

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