Our meanderings yesterday took us to a completely different part of town (and seemingly the world.) About ten years ago, the entire riverfront area to the northeast of the city was demolished and rebuilt for the 1998 World Expo, held here in Lisbon. It’s only a short metro ride away from where we’re staying, but whole worlds apart. In fact if you came here for a conference, and never saw anything but the airport (brand new), the Metro (ditto), and this part of town, you’d leave wondering why everyone says Lisbon is such a quaint, picturesque town. And that would be a shame.

Of course the Lisboetas that we know have all raved about the Expo area, saying that we’ll love it, it’s so fancy and new, etc. But compared to the jostling, vivacious, utterly alive feel of the lower half of the city, to us this area just felt sterile and kind of creepy. It was clearly intended to accommodate huge masses of people, so the couple of hundred walking around made it feel abandoned, empty and echoing. We ate lunch in one of a long, long line of restaurants, all of them practically empty, all of them featuring fancy international cuisine — Argentinian, Spanish, Irish, etc. We chose to eat at the most crowded one we could find, which of course served traditional Portuguese food. Trust the locals to know what they like.

The entire area had an aquatic theme, with marine-inspired place names, a huge aquarium (which actually looked kind of cool, though we didn’t visit it this time around), a botanical garden featuring water plants, and a water garden with an elaborate fountain and large water sculptures — which of course Gabe had to play with. Further down the waterfront, there was even an apartment building built to look like a ship! All this fancy architecture was intended to be modern and edgy, but true to everything here, it was obviously too much bother to keep it up, so it’s all kind of shabby around the edges now — the concrete is crumbling, the boardwalks are warped, and many of the water features were either drained or clogged with plant growth.

There were some really cool aspects to the area, like the entire smokestack they’d left intact amidst an outcropping of chic, modern apartment buildings. But for the most part, it was just weird. We climbed to the top of the nearby Parque de Nacoes, only to find it immaculately maintained and without a single other soul around. We were so creeped out by this last bit that we made our way quickly back to the metro station, stopping to walk around the crowded mall nearby (so that’s where all the people went!) just to see people again. Normally I would enjoy a quiet day away from the crowds, but somehow, this just felt strange.

We were both immensely relieved to return to our ‘hood, however temporary it may be, and even more relieved that we hadn’t followed the advice of the person who told us to look for a flat up in that area. No thank you! I’m sure we could’ve gotten a much bigger, newer place up there, but the experience would have been entirely different. And that, in the end, is why we’re here — to have a great experience, and to live in a city with layer upon layer of history. Not one that was custom built ten years ago and is now a no-man’s-land of crumbling modern architecture and a few stray tourists rattling around.

Today we pack up our bags yet again — which will hopefully be the last time we’ll do so for a while — and tomorrow it’s off to the new flat. I can hardly wait.

(In the pictures below, you’ll notice a group of people with a banner. This is something we’ve been seeing all over, since it’s the beginning of the school year here — they are some kind of student union initiation, all of which apparently involve humiliation and hazing of the new students, but an equal amount of looking pompous and hot on the part of the older kids, who have to wear suits with a black cape over them. At least the guys with their underwear outside their clothing feel cool, even if they don’t look it!)

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more about “Expo“, posted with vodpod