Yesterday we decided to play tourist again, and finally made it out to the Museu do Azulejo, or tile museum. We had long heard it was one of the best in Lisbon, but since it’s not convenient to any Metro stops, we hadn’t yet made the trip.

Despite a wrong turn and a tour of the homeless people’s box houses near the docks, it was well worth the effort it took us to get there. Once we were inside the former convent (what’s with the nunneries here anyway?), the grime and noise of the train tracks and docks nearby all dropped away and left us alone with a bunch of French tourists and some incredible old tile work.

The interior of the building was beautifully restored, very modern. The tiles were laid out in rooms by century, with the earliest examples dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and up, with even some funky modern designs at the end. You could also peek into the restoration workshop, where they had many more tiles either stacked up in neat piles or laid out and labeled, presumably to be mounted and displayed elsewhere in the museum. My overall feeling was that we’ve seen a wider variety of tiles on the buildings around Lisbon, but these were certainly the oldest and best-preserved — which I guess is the point.

One of the biggest highlights was the chapel, one of the most ornate and well-tiled examples I have ever seen, with every inch of wall and ceiling space covered in either paintings, gilt, or tiles, and the floors covered with intricate inlaid wood. We were of course far more absorbed by the reliquaries, the saint’s bones sitting morbidly in their display cases, which Gabe especially found gruesome and fascinating. Such strange habits these Catholics have.

But the best and most famous part of the museum came right at the end — a 75-foot long panorama, composed of over 1300 tiles, picturing Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake. Even though its sense of perspective needed a little help (we spent a long time trying to figure out which buildings were which, to no avail), it was stunning, simply for the technical feat of creating and maintaining that much tile over so many years.

By the time we had finished meandering through the centuries of tile, we’d worked up quite an appetite, so we decided to look in on the azulejo cafe. It was also beautifully redone, clearly residing in what had once been the convent’s kitchen, as the tilework there featured a culinary theme, with haunches of ham, fish, and other delectables painted onto tiles around the room. It opened out onto an overgrown jungle-like courtyard full of plants, a few tables, and not a single person sitting outside. I laughed to think at all the people in Venice and London who run outside as soon as it gets over 50 degrees, but here anything under 70 just doesn’t cut it for dining al fresco.

We had a lovely lunch, a salad for me and a crepe for Gabe. We were sitting at a table next to two older Americans, who turned out to be an economics professor from the Hoover Institute at Stanford and his wife, on a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale. Small world.

Afterwards, we meandered home (via our first successful bus ride!) and did some Christmas window shopping en route. We also saw some huge images of the Beatles outside of the design museum, which has a new exhibit on style in the 60s and 70s. A little incongruous, but OK.

In the picture of the Beatles display, you can also see some huge guys in white T-shirts, who walked by us shortly after I took this picture. They turned out to be Bosnian football fans, in town for yesterday’s World Cup match between Portugal and Bosnia. Literally the one in the middle looked like a tree trunk. It was frightening. I did not want to be around that guy if Bosnia lost.

Also on our way home, we walked by a beautiful old church that’s up the hill from our house (as one does here) and noticed the doors were open, so we peeked inside. They were setting up for a musical performance that evening, so we wrote down the website and looked it up when we got home. We debated whether or not to go, but at the last minute decided to clean up a bit and walk up there, since, well, when else are you going to have a chance to see classical music performed in a 16th century church?

And good God was I glad that we did. Any thoughts we’d initially entertained of leaving early was immediately discounted as soon as they sounded the first note. Needless to say, seeing Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ” performed by a full choir and orchestra in one of the oldest and most ornate churches still standing in Lisbon was an absolutely transcendent experience.

I had never seen a full orchestra perform before, and all I could think of was, “I had no idea. How could I be almost 30 years old and never have experienced this?” I never knew that music could actually move you to tears — I always thought it was just a cliche — but there I was, tears in my closed eyes, unaware of the audience around me or the beauty of the building, utterly absorbed by that incredible sound. I left feeling drained and euphoric, as if I’d gone for a long run without even moving from my seat, and woke up this morning with a smile on my face.

And to think — all that cost only 6 euros, the same price as the movie we’d seen the night before. One of the most priceless and incredible experiences of my life, and it cost about ten bucks. What a deal.

After a week of acute homesickness, it was good to be reminded again of why we moved here, of these experiences that are simply not available in the States. Between Haydn in the church and the 75 foot long tile mural, yesterday served as a truly spectacular reminder of that fact.

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