Friday, August 20, 2010

My first week in Lisbon

Wednesday, August 18

I am 60 years old.  My name is Ellyn and I reside in Lisbon Portugal… at least for the next four months. My neighbor is the Castelo Sao Jorge, and it will be my protector and guide when I am lost among the many winding dead-end streets.  I need only look up to find my way home. I am a blessed, kept woman, married to a very brilliant man who has been awarded a Distinguished Fulbright Chair and I am happy to be along for the ride. Anyone who would like to learn about the Fulbright organization can follow his blog at Leaving our condo in Tempe, Arizona, was an easy thing to do. We love where we live, but a chance to live in a place with a history older than 100 years is an opportunity too hard to give up.

My diary/blog is VERY loosely inspired by “Eat, Pray, Love”. However, my musings will mostly be about Eat, Eat, Eat and oh, yeah -- Eat and a little bit of “love” thrown in.  Steve and I are both foodies and I am not embarrassed to admit that enjoying the typical foods of regions around the world is my favorite part of traveling. The “pray” part will be my looking up to whatever supreme being there is and praying that I can once again make it up to my apartment, which is a difficult (to say the least) hike up to the highest point in Lisbon.

We arrived tired, but soon became too excited to try to make up for the 24 hours of lost sleep. Our beautiful Fulbright host, Otilia, treated us to a wonderful lunch. I ate tender pig’s cheeks in a warm, buttery gravy, rocket salad with ruby red strawberries and soft rolls with queso fresca, which is somewhat like ricotta cheese (but better!). Spread on bread with a little salt and pepper makes a tasty accompaniment to an otherwise perfect meal. After our bellies were full, we were handed off to Carla, a Fulbright assistant who patiently walked us through getting a bank account and securing other needed documents.

Moving in to our beautiful apartment was pretty uneventful except for schlepping four large duffel bags (each weighing 60 pounds) up a short flight of stairs. The place is beautiful (, apartment 56) and there is plenty of room for all our things (including my 15 pair of ballet style flats, which are totally useless on cobblestone streets). I am trying to master walking in flip -flops.  (Steve thinks this is an accident waiting to happen, but I forgot my sneakers….really!) After doing minimal grocery shopping, we stopped for some grilled sardines that were as large as carps, felt sated and headed once again up the hill.
 Our first night ended after walking to an outside café overlooking the Tagus River, drinking beer and listening to fado, a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor.  Since hearing it, I have this incredible urge to start dancing alone in the streets in some dream-like state. I will let you all know if this actually occurs before I leave. Maybe with enough beer or wine…..

Thursday, August 19
pastel de nata

I am on Day 2 and already I have calves of steel and have lost 30 pounds. No, that can’t be right. Just today I consumed 3 beers (it is very hot!!!), leitao porco (roasted suckling pig), and a most delicious pastry called  pastel de nata, a Portuguese egg tart pastry that is to die for.  I plan on consuming many of these over the next four months.  (Did I say I had lost weight?????).  The day was long, hot and tiring and I need sustenance!

We decided to do a tourist thing and take one of those double-decker buses around the city. (Poor choice!)  We were on the top level of the bus in blistering heat (Steve is badly sunburned) and I dreamed of getting off to have yet another cold beer. (By the way, I have never before been a beer drinker.)  After a not-so-great tour we disembarked and headed to Tram 28, which would take us to the bottom of the hill leading to our apartment.

TRAM 28. I cannot possibly sign off before relating this experience. San Francisco-like cable cars, but NOT. There doesn’t seem to be any weight limit as dozens of people board this tram heading toward the castle. Narrow streets with tracks SHARED by oncoming trains makes this a harrowing experience. I managed to grab a seat, not realizing it was reserved for old and infirm people. I tried not looking into the eyes of the short, stocky gray-haired women who vied for my seat. I was tired…VERY TIRED AND HOT!! I thought about letting my dyed hair grow out quickly, revealing my gray hair and perhaps allowing me to get these choice seats on future rides. After all, I am 60!! I looked at these sturdy women who seemed perfectly suited to ride these wild trains and then my guilt took over. I grudgingly gave up the coveted seat and stood next to Steve and hung on for dear life. These trains are not meant for long-legged Amazonian women! But we made it home. After an ice-cold shower we called it a day and watched from our patio the setting sun and the beautiful Tagus, and listened to the sounds of Fado echoing throughout the city. I am a very lucky and tired lady

For now….boa noite!
One final note: I apologize from the get-go for misspellings, grammatical errors and any mistakes relating to Portuguese life. These will be my ramblings…out there for any of my friends and loved ones to enjoy…if they wish.

Friday, August 20

The day’s accomplishments:

•    ATM and Banking
•    Monthly metro and bus pass
•    Learning the metro and bus system and riding each
•    Finding yet another place to eat roasted suckling pig (okay…so they are baby pigs, but killing for eating isn’t bad, is it?)

Things I have learned today:

•    Walking up a hill stresses your heart. Therefore, due to family history…I will soon be dead
•    Walking down hills cause hideously painful calves. These will not feel better after two or three days of using these muscles. Drugs do not help; enormous amounts of beer does nothing. My legs will therefore hurt the remainder of my life. (Which according to the above learned lesson…should not be long.)
•    There is never again a need to travel 10 metro stops to a giant mall which has every known American store and a grocery store…to buy GROCERIES. Argh…it was hideous. I will not again enter a store larger than 150 square feet. Corner markets with limited groceries are definitely my thing!