Lisbon, October 13, 2009
I got off the National Geographic Explorer this morning and was quite disoriented to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a replica, of course, but made me feel deeply how much I miss San Francisco! I’ve been gone from home too long, 2 ½ months.
That said, I LOVE Lisbon. What a picturesque city. Today is a stunning day, just the right temperature, too hot in the sun and perfect in the shade. This, too, is strange, since a month ago I was sweltering in Sicily, then flew to St. Petersburg where it was abruptly the middle of a cool autumn. Now it really is autumn and I’m back in a tank top and sandals. Strange to go against the seasons on the boat by traveling south.
Before I left the ship I had an amazing experience, the kind of thing that makes Lindblad famous for its journeys. On one of the last evenings I was having a drink at the bar with some of the naturalists, and one of them, Richard White, slipped out. I headed toward my cabin on the deck after that and he came running: “Bioluminescent dolphins surfing on the bow!” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but of course made my way to the bow. I leaned over and there were the glowing silhouettes of six swimming dolphins. They were dancing with each other, really, criss-crossing paths, leaping and diving. It was amazing: the plankton in the water makes them glow independent of the lights from the stars and the ships. We watched them play in the water and then they suddenly came upon a huge school of luminescent fish, fanning out like 1000 firecrackers. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was worth two months on a ship to see those dolphins; a sight of a lifetime. Up there with watching the volcano on Stromboli erupt.
So today we disembarked in Lisbon. I was happy to be on my own again, and on solid ground. It’s been a month since I’ve slept in something other than a mattress on a big waterbed. After a morning tour of monuments—get me off the bus!—we landed at the hotel, and I took off with a couple of friends from the boat for the center of Lisbon. The city is so beautiful, with its tile-faced houses with slender balconies (to allow room for carriages to pass). We wandered up to the castle, had some vinho verde and sardines, and then made our way to Barrio Alta before they departed. Then I was on my own to explore. I wandered around the neighborhood and found the botanical garden, which was full of palms and earthy smells and tulip trees. Then I found a lovely spot above the ocean to watch the sun sink red behind a distant cathedral.
[Note to men: skip this paragraph]. I kept walking along, a little too early for dinner, and not sure where to eat, and wandered in to a little boutique. I’ve resisted all the European boutiques up to now, but this woman had great taste and dresses that look great on me, so, well, we made a little deal and I have a couple of new dresses that make me feel good. That’s not such a bad thing after wearing the same Patagonia clothes for 2 ½ months. I brought too many clothes, anyway. I spent so much time packing into a carry-on and I still brought twice as much stuff as I needed. All you really need is that Patagonia black dress, a couple of Ts, jeans, the Patagonia black pants, and a few scarves and the Patagonia long sweatshirt. Patagucci all the way for a long trip, but now I’m delighted to have a couple of dresses from a French designer at Lisbon prices. The only other purchases on this trip were a pair of Tod’s engineer boots at a used clothing store in Brugge for 100 euros, great deal, and some espadrilles in St. Jean de Luz, a high-heeled black pair by the people who make them for Hermes, and some striped beach sandals, which are darling.
Okay, men, safe to start reading again.
I found dinner in an alley in the upper barrio, some giant squid, which always make me happy. There were some street musicians playing bad Neil Young songs, but they were cute, and looked like they stepped off Haight St. circa 1984.
Lisbon has so many hills and alleys and houises with tiles and red roofs, so lovely. Sorry to have only one day here, but the day was great.
Tomorrow I am off to Paris for the last leg of my trip, on a not completely happy visit, saying hello to a friend who is seriously ill…
The cab driver back to the hotel today asked me where I was from, and when I told him San Francisco, he lit up. “We have the same bridge,” I told him, only ours came first. “We both have seven hills,” he said, and I suppose that is so. I certainly feel at home in Lisbon. I don’t feel at home in the language, though: it seems like Portuguese should be a lot easier if you speak Spanish and Italian. Half the words are completely familiar, but the accent is impenetrable. For now. I’ll be back!