I know many of my pages dont...
I know many of my pages dont talk about the conventional stuff like beaches and sun and useful insights, but hey...who knows they might serve some purpose....ok, so if you get ill (hope you dont an' all dat, of course), Luzdoc were utterly fab in their care at a critical time when my lovely mummy was ill, so, POWER to the docs and nurses and this place..Thank you ! :-) That they treated my mother with care and identified a serious problem.. it was in one of the main streets in Lisbon that I cried, and was soothed by the pretty view around me, quiet streets, small corners to sit and contemplate, a freshness in the air and a moderate heat. Here and throughout my extended stay I spent £400 on my mobile phone, which was really rather horrific, but alas 'worse things 'appen at sea', Outside this attractive medical centre I had to phone home and tell my kids I am sorry but I cannot come home as planned and will have to go to intensive care for as long as required, that was soooo sad.
All over Lisbon, you will walk past buildings covered in tiles--blue, green, yellow, brown patterns that really liven up the streets. Sadly, it's hard to show them properly in photographs, because you can't really see the intricate patterns from far away. You'll just have to go to Lisbon and see for yourself...
Starting in Rua da Alfândega (customs street) and climbing up the hill up to Castelo de S. Jorge, we find Alfama, Lisbon's oldest and most picturesque quarter, which faces the river on the southeastern slope of the most visible of the 7 hills. Visitors will find the unique atmosphere prevailing in the streets and alleyways of far greater interest than individual buildings.
Some houses in this quarter still stand on foundations dating from the times of the Goths (5th C.), but the whole structure of the area was essentially shaped by the Arabs that settled in Iberia peninsula on the 8th C. Actually the name derives from arabic, al-hamma (hot spring or hot baths), from the hot springs that existed in the area and which gave birth to some of the oldest fountains in the town –today we still can see the Chafariz de Dentro and the Chafariz de El-Rei. Although no houses remain from these times, the confused arrangement of its maze of moorish streets and alleyways does. The initial intention was to protect the castle from crusader invasion by designing streets that only residents could navigate.
Like a kasbah, Alfama is a labyrinth of lanes (becos) paved with pebbles, tiny alleys, steps, arches, courtyards and small squares. The houses, shouldering each other, deteriorating, with crumbling walls and chipped tiles (azulejos) and with wrought iron balconies with lazy cats, birds in cages, and all sorts of plants growing in cans. Some of the houses are so close that the sun never makes its way into the lane (something that you can see in many arab influenced countries as it was a moorish typical way of making the streets in places of hot sunshine), and the roofs seems to touch each other as the inhabitants pass each other things from one window to the next. And without sun the laundry hanging out the window or the balcony, a “typical” photo, dry mostly from the breeze that flows through the lanes. There is practically no vegetation, except for a skinny tree in the small backyards and maybe a bougainvillea here and there. Of course in the small squares there is room to accommodate maybe a big tree.
In the old times, Moors, Christians and Jews lived in the old quarter (although separately). Rua da Judiaria recalls one of its three former Jewish ghettos. Today it seems almost inconceivable that during the Middle Ages Alfama was once a respected, rich quarter where prosperous members of the bourgeoisie and aristocrats lived. On 1511 king Manuel I moved the royal palace to Terreiro do Paço (Praça do Comércio), and Alfama increasingly changed its character and started to be poorly maintained, and consequently those Lisbon's prosperous inhabitants moved to the “new” Bairro Alto to build new houses and palaces for themselves. Alfama never recovered its importance and this left space for fishermen, craftsmen, workers and sailors to settle here, and the area started to crumble. In the 18th C. Alfama was temporarily regarded as a center of prostitution. The 1755 earthquake left Alfama almost untouched, and the mentor of the rebuilding of the Baixa (downtown area), Marquis de Pombal, is supposed to have said that “Lisbon could really do with a second earthquake”.
Being one of the poorest quarters in the city there are some clichés: the already mentioned laundry hanging out on the balcony; the poor food of the fishermen -sardine-; the devotion to Santo António (born here) with its processions and parades; and the fado -the songs of “fate”. During the summer is “sardine time” and their smell spread all over the neighborhood, but when it’s not hot the humid plaster and moss are perceptible in many places. Misery, cheap wine, yearning or “saudade” (the quarter has a Rua da Saudade), are essential to the fado.
Actually this is the quarter where fado was born and where some of the best fado houses still exist. But remember that some are big tourist traps (see my tips about fado restaurants). Fado born as what we call "vadio" (loosely translated as vagrant / vagabond but that means "amateur" in fado's language) and the most “castiço” (loosely translated as “pure”) is the one you can listen in places where anybody may get up and perform. In Alfama you have still some those restaurants, as for example “A Baiuca”, which has a modest family atmosphere and basic but honest food. Of course you have more “fancy” ones such as "Clube do Fado", "Parreirinha da Alfama" or “Casa de Linhares” with higher prices but more professional performers. And you have Fado Museum, close to the fountain "Chafariz de Dentro", which is open 10am-2am Fri-Sun. If you are lucky maybe they have a nice performance there when you visit.
Most of the people who live in Alfama right now are not fishermen anymore as you may read in tourist guides... that was more than 40 years ago as I never saw them there. Nowadays they are pensioners, artisans and immigrants, and surviving from one day to the next is about all they can manage. But they are gentle people, maybe melancholic and amiable. According to some tourist guides “ready to help tourists”... but this I don’t comment as I don’t’ know them all. But at least I can say it is a safe place.
Some of the becos are overrun with tiny shops serving souvenirs, or food, and you can see small taverns and adegas (wine cellars) where you can have a glass of “honest” red wine from the barrel. Nowadays with the European Community laws we will not see anymore the varinas (fish sellers) yelling the nice pregões (street vendor's cry) about the “best and fresh fish in town”. But we will still see the small benches with fresh vegetables sold in the street in some small squares.
Moreover, cars don’t circulate the internal side of Alfama, rendering the streets and alleys entirely to walkers (or bikers if you are able to). Actually, here life is lived for the most part on the street and gossiping when shopping for groceries or while taking a glass of wine is still a daily routine. So you can “lose” yourself in these streets without a problem -even without understand a word of English (of course the young generation will understand) the locals will “understand” you. And of course you are more than welcome if you come in June, especially on the Santo António’s eve -June 12th-, as the entire city will come to this quarter celebrating, singing, dancing, eating and drinking. Next day, -June 12th-, will see the devotion of the inhabitants toward the saint, as it is the day of the procession that goes from Santo António church down to the small streets of Alfama and passes, in front of the major churches in the quarter.
The famous tram 28 is the typical touristic way to climb from Baixa to the narrow streets that leads to the castle. But in case you can I will recommend using your legs instead. The usual route into Alfama leads via the cathedral (Sé Patriarchal) and the Santo António church to the Santa Luzia Miradouro (viewpoint), and from there to the steps of Rua Norberto Araújo.
The best way to see Alfama is from the castle, and there are 2 other viewpoints (miradouros) in Alfama wher you can see the Tejo -Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro das Portas do Sol.
Most of the guide books also will tell you that along with Bairro Alto, Alfama is the place to eat the “real Portuguese traditional food”. I doubt in most part of the places because they are designated to tourism and flavors/tastes are twisted according to the “internationalization” and “globalization”. Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions which are the small taverns and adegas and the small restaurants where the inhabitants and working class have their meals. Try to find one of those.
Bacalhau - the national dish of Portugal. Intererstingly enough, the fish comes mainly from Norway. It is salted cod that must be soaked for 24 hrs. prior to cooking. There are thousands of ways to cook bacalhau. Try it grilled, if you have no idea what to choose.
Euro 2004 - Football prime time
It will be the biggest event in Portugal in 2004, so don't miss it...
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Have fun!! And... take the chance to know this beautifull country a litle bit more