Fantastic day yesterday. We had a late and lazy morning, during which we went back and forth between having an equally lazy afternoon, going to the gym and then coming home and reading, or going on a walkabout instead. We decided since rain was predicted later in the day that we would go out on a walkabout first, then come back and go to the gym later on. Only it didn’t quite work out that way, for which we were both quite glad.

Since the rain never showed up, we just kept walking… and walking… and walking. Just around that corner — oh just up that hill — let’s see what’s over there. Soon, our short walkabout turned into a very long one. We now know the city well enough that we no longer need to be those tourists on the corner with a map, debating over whether to take that tiny windy street or that one. Now we just launch off on whichever tiny windy street that we haven’t been down before, since we know it’s heading generally in the right direction. In other words, we now know where we’re going well enough to really get lost. And it’s great fun to do.

Our walk covered maybe a total of two miles, but still we discovered things we had no idea existed. Our first stop was a park that we can see from our flat, but had never been up to before. Once up there, we were rewarded by spectacular views (including some of our house, which is the small red building in the very middle of two of the earlier shots below), as usual, but also very nice bench seats, complete with foot rests. Another prime outdoor reading spot for when the weather starts to get warm!

We then wandered down the other side of that hill, past a hospital with a funeral home directly across from it, and into one of the main squares of the city. There was a stark contrast between this area and the one above our flat, which we walk through more often. Whereas the area behind our flat can almost be termed shabby chic, this area is just plain shabby. More of the buildings are falling apart, without any redeeming touches of their former grandeur, and the streets are dirtier, more crowded and noisy.

The real difference however lies entirely in my own eyes. When we first got here, I only saw the dirt, the stores crammed full of cheap junk, the dog poo on the sidewalk. Now that I’m used to living here though, I see nothing but beauty: the brightly colored rugs hanging from a window, the stores with beautiful Indian jewelry displayed next to rows of cheap plastic earrings, the hilarious incongruity of a guy carrying an old computer monitor down this ancient cobbled street with one hand and chain smoking cigarettes with the other.

Soon, the hill leveled off again and we turned down a side street, heading vaguely towards the castle. We walked by amazing vistas and ancient doors, ornate door knockers and demolished buildings covered in morning glories.

A quick glance through an open doorway revealed a staircase leading down to a small cafe with incredible views over the river, so in we went. As we ate our soup and salad, we were surrounded by people of all nationalities: a table of four young women, all speaking English with different accents; a Korean couple who giggled and took pictures of the long octopus tentacles on their mixed grill platter; and even two slender young Portuguese women, who proceeded to order and consume a massive T-bone steak, complete with garlic bread, wine, and appetizers. Impressive, as always.

After we had dutifully consumed our post-lunch cafezinhos, we continued back down the hill for home, arriving back nearly four hours after we’d left. Even counting an hour for lunch, that’s still three hours of walking, mostly up and down hills! Somehow, the gym no longer seemed quite as attractive to me as curling up in our new comfy futon chair and reading… or sleeping, as it turned out.

It was a good thing too, as the day was far from complete. We went out again later in the evening to a dinner party chez our Princetonian friends, whose house we went to for lunch just before we came home last month. We had another lovely meal with them and the very international crew they’d assembled: a French couple, one Canadian, an American, and her British/Portuguese husband. The latter three have all been here a long time, but the French couple have been here about as long as we have, having moved here from Houston in the fall — must have been quite a transition!

As might be expected from a group that diverse, our conversation was loud, vibrant, and wide-ranging, covering topics ranging from last fall’s long Indian summer to the delicious “illegal” raspberries our hostess served for dessert (procured from a secret organic connection she has through her kids’ high school) to the booming black market for Smart car parts (our hosts had the back of theirs neatly and professionally removed when they were out of town last month.)

The French couple told us about their troubles getting US visas while they were in Houston, and their relief to be back in Europe, where things make sense (ha!) I was bonded with the young French woman over the vagaries of learning Portuguese and the woes of having an early bed time in a country full of night owls — we agreed to go have our own early party some time, and leave the later hours to the rest of them.

We also heard about construction nightmares from the Canadian, and her struggles with the condo owners’ association in her building. The American woman told us about her research into the aftermath of the 1788 earthquake in Lisbon, which included not only the earthquake, but also a fire, two tsunamis, and the plague, all in short order. And the British/Portuguese man told me about how his parents met in the ruins of the Moorish castle in Sintra, then corresponded for years before getting married at the shockingly late ages (in the 1950s anyway) of 35 and 33. How romantic!

It was a fascinating and varied group, and as we settled back into the chairs in their beautiful living room after dinner, I was shocked to see the clock on the piano saying it was midnight. Turned out the clock was an hour fast, but still — it was 11:30 PM by the time we bid our hosts goodnight, and I had only just begun to grow tired! Clearly, the night was a big success.

We wandered home up and over the wet, shiny streets to our flat, tired but happy to have further expanded our social circle once more. As I remarked on the way home, this all feels very fantastic and surreal — in a year’s time, when we are back in our normal lives in Santa Cruz, will we ever believe that we went to a multinational dinner party in a beautiful old house after spending the afternoon crawling the streets of Lisbon? Maybe not, but at least it’ll be a wonderful dream to remember!

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