This weekend was a mental health weekend, two days of physical and mental rest after what proved to be a more stressful week than anticipated.

Saturday, St. Anthony’s day, we sat around all day to conserve energy for the festivities that night. Gabe worked, while I napped and continued to devour my book. Late in the afternoon, we roused ourselves from our stupor and went out to the Alfama area again to check out the festivities with some friends from Gabe’s uni.

We went to the same square we’d visited the other day, and it was already packed at 6 PM. We fought our way up many sets of stairs to reach the restaurant where Gabe et al had eaten on Thursday night, which is the perfect spot from which to observe the festivities: a place removed from yet overlooking the crowded square.

The building’s day job is a sports association center, but as with every other square inch of real estate in Alfama, it had been temporarily converted for hedonistic purposes. (Please note my favorite in the pictures below: a guy who had turned a trash can into a bar, and was selling sodas and beer off the top of it. Classic.) There was a tiny grill set up in the back, which wafted thick smoke over our heads and out through the open windows. In another building up two more flights of stairs was the kitchen, where women were skinning giant pans of roast peppers, and their bathroom, which they were thriftily charging 50 cents to use.

Our friends’ food arrived just as we did, so we perched at another table behind them and ordered our own sardines, caldo verde soup (traditional fare during festas), and salad, which had the aforementioned roast peppers on top. Topped off with a pitcher of sangria, good company, and an amazing view out over the city, we were pretty much in heaven.

By the time we left the restaurant, another three people had been wedged in to share our table, and there was a line out the door waiting to be seated. We soon parted ways with our friends and headed back down through Alfama to Avenida, where the parade was soon to start.

Since we got there early, we started out with a great spot, right on the street with a tree to lean up against. Then a family of Portuguese children started popping up in front of our legs, which was fine, until their loud and large mothers started elbowing us aside as well. In the end, we’d moved over so far that we’d displaced one of the young men standing next to us — although that didn’t seem to stop the samba dancers from thoroughly ogling him and his friend as they sashayed by on the street in front of us.

Being a Portuguese parade though, we did a lot more standing and waiting than we did actually watching the parade. Every act took about twenty minutes to reach us, as we were just down the street from where they stopped to perform in front of the main stage. Soon we wearied of standing and waiting, and decided we’d get a much better view if we walked up the street to find each act as it came down. We didn’t have as good a view, but at least we weren’t standing there lock-kneed and chilly, set upon by wriggling children, waiting for the action to come to us.

Each area of Lisbon had its own troupe of dancers, all dressed up in their own particular costumes. We came across the Castelo crew loading into their bus on our way down from Alfama, and their “queen” had an elaborate castle headdress to complete her costume. It was very incongruous to watch them getting into a tour bus with all their finery on!

We soon got the impression that the parade would by far outlast us, so we decided to watch more of it on TV when we got home, and turned up the hill to check out the street parties of Barrio Alto. Normally this is night life central, and by 11 PM should by all rights have at least been starting up. But it was still pretty much deserted — apparently Barrio Alto is the after-party spot.

Still, we enjoyed wandering around and noticing the differences between what we saw there and what we’d seen earlier in the evening. In Alfama, everything was outside, as there’s simply no room to do anything outside. All the partying was on the street. In Barrio Alto, everything was in the bars, although people were spilling out into the street with their liter-sized buckets of caipirinhas.

Our friend S, who lives in Barrio Alto, had asked if she could stay the night with us to avoid the ruckus that she knew would keep her up all night long. We picked her up at her flat, which indeed sounded like a nightclub thanks to the DJ who was set up on the mirador, three blocks away. She got a great night’s sleep at our flat, which despite being in the middle of everything, was still nice and quiet.

So ended St. Anthony’s day, of which we saw three very different aspects: the traditional, exuberant, almost spontaneous gaiety of Alfama; the organized, extravagant parade; and the still quiet, modern, late night celebrations gearing up in Barrio Alto. Never have I seen a city party like this before, since I’ve never been to Rio during Carnaval or New Orleans during Mardi Gras. This was on a much smaller scale, true, but was no less intense for it. As Gabe said, it was a city-wide block party, and was wonderful fun. This was the biggest of the street parties, but they will continue nightly until mid-July, of course, albeit somewhat more subdued. And mostly without our participation.

Here’s some pics, stay tuned after the jump for our Sunday antics…

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Yesterday, I’d fully intended on spending the day packing our first bags, which will go home with Gabe’s sister after they visit at the end of the month. But the day was just too pretty to spend inside, especially after a week of yet more rain, so instead we went to the beach. We did the long ride (2 metros, a huge line for tickets, and a train) out to Cascais, accompanied by many tourists and Lisboans ready for a beach day at last. There we spent a lovely day by the ocean, eating sandwiches and pastries, riding free bikes up and down (the up being very difficult to accomplish on such a crappy bike!), and finally a couple of really good ice-cold smoothies by the water before heading home.

So there you go: one day of rest, an evening of mad partying, and then a day by the ocean. I can’t think of a more perfect weekend! I’m glad to report that mental health has been more or less restored.

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