Chilling Out in Lisbon – October 13 to 15

Since arriving at our lovely apartment on Tuesday, October 12, we’ve just been enjoying being temporary residents of the Alfama district in Lisbon. Inside, our apartment is ultra modern–all white walls and swooping lines with beautiful appliances, nifty storage units, sleek furniture, and a sweeping view of Lisbon and the river. And then we step outside into a tiny cobbled street that only very narrow cars can negotiate. Gregg probably couldn’t lay down sideways between the walls on either side of the street!

To the left I see a small square with tables and umbrellas–the outdoor terrace of a tiny restaurant. We ate lunch there on our first day and got friendly with the waiter. Now every time we pass, we pause and shake hands. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t actually very good (and over-priced for Lisbon) so we won’t eat there again! But it’s nice to say hi to the waiter. Also, last night the restaurant featured fado music. I opened our balcony windows on the street side and could listen to the singing without needing to buy the not-to-great dinner! More on fado to come.

Past the restaurant is a steep hill leading up and up to the castle. We’ve walked it a few times–and it doesn’t get any flatter! The Alfama tumbles down the side of the hill in a bewildering maze of streets and stairways. Pretty much every time I go out the door I get lost within minutes. Apparently, the area was built to be confusing so that invading marauders wouldn’t be able to find their way up to the castle. Still works.

To my right as I come out the door is a small cafe next to a fish shop. In the afternoons, the cafe is full of men playing a board game, watching television, and talking. They don’t look up when we pass by. At the fish shop the women examine the fish probably pretty much as they have done for centuries. The people we see living in the Alfama look very square and stolid and actually not all that healthy, perhaps as a result of living in such narrow quarters for generations. I am surprised by how many people — some quite young — walk with canes up and down these tiny streets.

When we walk to the right, we very quickly come to the main road leading along the water. We are fortunate to be located almost at the bottom of the Alfama which means we can get to shopping and downtown Lisbon without going up a hill!

On our first day, we finally found a supermarket located right on the platform at the train station about a ten minute walk away. It’s pretty tiny but has more or less everything we need although the selection of vegetables and fruits is pretty thin.The main and busiest parts of the store are the pastry counter (the Portuguese LOVE pastries it seems) and the fish counter! I don’t dislike fish, but the displays of fish I see are just a bit too close to the sea for me. I don’t quite know what to do with the mounds of octopus and the slabs of salted, boned flat fish that I must say don’t look that appetizing! I  might try getting some salmon next week — I recognize that!

The prices for food are amazing. We get two or three bulging bags for about 20 euros — and that includes cheeses and some ham or chicken. I bought three carrots and the price was 8 cents, while a big box of ice cream cornets was 1.79 euros (about $3). The same box at home would be about $7. I’d say the food prices are about half what we pay at home.

Although we are living temporarily in the Alfama, we are certainly aware that we don’t really belong here! We kind of stick out like sore thumbs as we sidle past locals in the store and stand bewildered on corners looking for street signs. At this time of year, there are not all that many tourists around and so the area feels a bit forlorn. Plenty of people live here but I gather that tourism is a big money maker and since there are not many tourists, I gather that the money isn’t really flowing in.

Just a few blocks away is a block of about five Fado joints in a row. Each place is full of tables set beautifully with linens and wine glasses. But so far, I haven’t seen many customers. When we walked along the street the other night, many of the proprietors asked us if we’d like to come in and enjoy the fado. Since we’d already eaten dinner, we declined, but I definitely sensed their disappointment. I don’t know if the number of tourists in Lisbon is less than normal, but certainly things seem pretty quiet.

Here are a few pictures of our neighborhood.

Just up the street, the family rooster hangs out   
View up the street from our front balcony

View straight down from our balcony to the narrow street

Building facades in the lower Alfama

 Next up – an evening of fado and a visit to the tile museum.

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Categories: Travel

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