After a productive morning’s work (and a quick workout for me), we went out into the sunny afternoon for a tour of our immediate neighborhood. We were hoping for something more sedate and less exhausting than the day before, so none of the places we visited were more than fifteen minutes’ walk from our flat. Even within those parameters, our tour encompassed a variety of places and people only possible in a capital city with hundreds of years of history.

We started by taking a stroll around the shabtastic botanical gardens, where we were joined by a flock of noisy green parrots in the treetops and one of equally squawky old Portuguese women. I spotted my first wisteria blooms of the year, and all of the other trees were just on the edge of leafing out and/or blooming, many of them displaying large spiky thorns along with their delicate blossoms. I appreciated the cautionary message: I may look pretty, but I also have sharp edges.

After touring the jumbled botanical history of the Portuguese empire, we sampled a bit of its confectionary history in the 200 year old pasteleria across the street. Confronted with approximately 25 linear feet of sweet sticky goodness, we pointed at a few appealing things and asked the guy to wrap some of them up for us to take home. Or rather, I asked for them “to arrive” (chegar) instead of “to go” (levar), but the man understood what I meant, and waved away my apologies at not being better able to express myself. Unlike some countries, the Portuguese seem to be extremely tolerant of tourists running elephant-like through their language. I think they are just appreciative when you speak it at all.

Next, we took a stroll through the antique tile store down the street, ogling the stacks of tiles dating as far back as the sixteenth century and laughing over some of the antiques they had for sale. A huge wooden door for 3000 euros? No problem! Cheap at the price. I even managed to hold my own with the tiny and very chatty lady working there, although judging by her greetings as people walked into the store, she was perfectly content to chatter away at you in any number of languages. Despite my assurances that we were just looking, she insisted on holding various tiles up against the wall to show us how they can be combined, almost dropping them in her enthusiasm. Luckily, just then a crew of French tourists came in to the store, so we were able to extract ourselves from her attention before she had to buy any of her own broken or chipped wares.

Continuing on, we took a peek at the view from the mirador, then dove into the back streets of Barrio Alto in search of supplies. There we bought vibrant bouquets at a tiny florist shop crammed with blossoms and colors, followed by two kinds of pumpkin jam from a gourmet food store nestled in between shuttered bars and nightclubs. (After debating the difference between the two jams with the guy working there in both English and Portuguese, we solved the question by simply buying both.) Last, we stopped at a fruteria to fill a bag with fresh fruit and veggies for dinner, then turned for home.

On the way, I noticed that the doors to the ornate Sao Roque church were open, so we ducked inside. There we admired the various elaborately decorated naves, including one made entirely of lapis lazuli and marble, which was built in Rome, consecrated by the Pope, then dismantled and reassembled stone by stone in Lisbon. What can I say — there was a lot of wealth rolling around here in the hey day of the empire.

So ended our tour of the neighborhood, delicious and widely varied in both taste, sight, and personalities. Best of all, I managed to convey all of our needs in adequate if not 100% grammatically correct Portuguese. Since Gabe handles most of my interactions outside of the gym and the grocery store, this was a great opportunity for me to test my Portuguese skills, and I was surprised to find them up to the task. A rampant success, all around.

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