During 2012 we first flew direct from Asturias to Lisbon and then, later in the year, Charo drove us and Alejo from Salamanca to Porto, latterly past big boulders balanced upon boulders, where glaciers must have butted up against the mountains between Spain and Portugal. The occasion for the second trip was Cristina as Spanish translator of Game of Thrones being inaugural guest of the School of Translators of Salamanca University, previously famous for rendering from Arabic into Latin many Greek classics which the Arabs preserved while Europe went down the drain. Inside the University Library, more eye-catching than the best of the Bodleian in Oxford, I contemplated thieving Aristotle’s lost volume about Comedy, but Dan Brown had already scribbled upon it.
The rattly traditional wooden and chrome #28 trams of Lisbon are indeed picturesque, although the ride begins to feel a bit theme-park, as does Livraria Lello in Porto, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world, one-way-only for the umpteen tourists going up the branching central stairway, usually not to buy books; no photos allowed, to minimise unbookish visits. The number of bookshops in both cities is noteworthy. Likewise, the multiples personalities of Portugal’s greatest poet, Fernando Pessoa, whom I probably should read for that reason alone, condoning his astrology and such stuff, although Portuguese pronunciation isn’t like Spanish even if many words look so similar.
In Lisbon we ignored the melancholy wailing of Fado folksong, but were sure to breakfast on the tasty little burnt custard puff-pastry tarts for which the city is famous. High bridges over the wide rivers in both Lisbon and Porto are spectacular,
and the Elevador de Santa Justa in the heart of Lisbon, to get to a higher level of the city, built by a disciple of Eiffel (it shows), is distinctly steampunk even if no steam is involved.
Strangely, Lisbon’s steep pavements of little white stones, polished by millions of footsteps, seemed less slippery after rain than when dry. Street art is interesting, such as this Smoke Without Brazier.
A special word for the superior tapestries by Goya in the Ajuda National Palace—almost unvisited when we were there; the place is a bit far uphill, next to the elegant Ajuda botanic garden, the first in Portugal—a palace also notable for the lashings of *Bling* decor on which royalty lavished their loot. Lisbon and Porto are alike in that shabbiness is jumbled up with magnificence. After a while the shabby can get you down, whereupon it’s time to head out of Lisbon for the hills to the absolute gem of the area, Sintra, with its tropical gardens, eccentric palaces and castles
not to mention one of the best toy museums in the world through which the charming elderly collector João Arbués Moreira glides in a wheelchair, very happy to advise, and advise all over again five minutes later since his short-term memory has gone, although not his acute memory of his treasures. We saw Sintra in pouring rain (though is it technically ‘raining’ while you’re within the rain cloud itself?)…
and went back another day in better weather, setting out through the horseshoe portals of Rossio station:
Stunning visits, both times. Very wealthy Goth, William Beckford of Vathek, rented the Palace of Monserrate at Sintra in 1793 to play with architecturally, as well as creating grottos, as one should.
Porto gave me an opportunity at last to try in its native habitat the signature cod dish, Bacalao Gomes de Sá, which Cristina and I included in our cook book. The Portuguese eat more fish than any other Europeans, and cod was originally a food for the poor, but Portugal has been trading in dried salted cod since the 15th century, resulting in a recipe for every day of the year. The Gomes de Sá version involves potatoes and onions, but the wretched restaurant which we visited (probably towards the west end of Rua de Miguel Bombarda) kept all the good parts of the cod for some other purpose, serving me a load of bones. I won’t go into who Gomes de Sá was, but the plaque on the house where he was born—unveiled by the Consul General of Brazil in 1988, hailing Gomes as “the glory of Portuguese cuisine”—was unfindable; maybe the chef of that restaurant wrecked the plaque one night, just as he wrecked the recipe. A slight irritant about the welcoming Portuguese restaurants is the custom of rushing to your table with unneeded plates of nibbles which will bulk up the bill unless you tell the waiter immediately to take them away. In Lisbon the Cervejaria Trindade, the oldest brewery in Portugal, housed in an ex-convent, has a gorgeous triple refectory with golden and blue allegorical ceramic panels adorning the walls, and its own excellent home-brewed beers are way beyond the average, although dark Sagres is quite acceptable.
Porto, blessed by a riverside funicular reminiscent of an accordion, is the only city I’ve seen which looks googlemap-tagged in reality, due to the huge signs of the rival port producers along the south bank of the river…
(Disclaimer: settings such as vibrancy, saturation etc etc are those that appeal to my eye, not necessarily to that of the disapproving but indulgent photographer.)