Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Lisbon days out - Quiosques and Cascais

One way we manage to wile away the long dark evenings after the clocks change is by watching DVDs. Our choice at the moment is the Maigret series that Granada TV produced in the early 1990s starring Michael Gambon. I mention this because of the stylish opening credits. They consist of a series of black and white stills of Parisian street life from the fifties. They conjour-up a café culture - people reading papers relaxing over a coffee in the sun, tree shaded squares and busy boulevards flanked by flower stalls.

It is tempting to dismiss it all as fantastical, except as we sat eating a late breakfast - not brunch - in dappled sunlight outside a quiosque in the Praça do Principe Real, a leafy little park a few hundred metres from Sarah's apartment, I had an distinct sense that we may have tumbled into the credits, only this time in colour and here and now. 

At the risk of repeating what I said in the previous post, Lisbon has an uncanny knack of seeming simultaneously old fashioned and contemporary - a seductive mélange. It came as no surprise to learn that the city's name is derived from the Phoenician for delightful shore - Alis Ubbo.

Later we wandered across to the Alfama. The old Arabic quarter is Lisbon's concession to mass tourism as the cruise ship terminal is right next to it. Cunard's Queen Elizabeth was moored, towering over the red-tiled roofs. Sarah recounted that a week or so previously the world largest cruise ship berthed instantly depositing almost 3000 visitors into the city. Such influxes are not welcomed universally. Walls in the area are scrawled with slogans - 'Mass Tourism = Human Pollution'.

We added to the problem by having a drink at one of the touristy cafes. Our excuse, we are not tourists but guests of the city's newer inhabitants. Anyway, the place had a fabulous view of the 'delightful shore' and was so laid back a number of the customers had fallen asleep.

Rob is working freelance and had stayed at home to get on with stuff. Later in the afternoon he joined us and we had a meal at the café on the terrace of the Museum of Medicine. It too has a great view of the city, especially at sunset.

That evening we returned to the campsite and slept in the van. Next day we met Sarah at the station in Bélem and caught the train to Lisbon's seaside resort - Cascais. It probably was once more up-market than it is now judging from the fin-de-siecle villas that overlook the fishing harbour. It is still attractive, but not entirely posh. 

In a sense it is almost Portugal in miniature. It has beautiful beaches, a stunning coastline, a small fishing harbour and a big marina. There is an area with stylish fish restaurants but also a central square containing two Irish bars, a British style pub called 'The Duke' and half a dozen other eateries with burger and chips on the menu and waiters disengaging passers-by with a hard sell.

We escaped their clutches and had a nice lunch on the roof terrace of a vegetarian place. If Cascais is to be like Portugal in miniature then this place represented the relaxed hippyish vibe we had found on its west coast. The waiter had dreadlocks and paisley patterned headgear. He was laid back to the point of being horizontal, but kind and friendly - the food was great, especially the desserts - the wine excellent too.

Ibiza chillout wafted from the Bose, the sun shone and the sea sparkled. It's not difficult to see what has drawn Sarah and Rob here, the quality of life on offer is so much better than in Hackney. Good luck to them.

We had an hour or so before the next train back to Belem. Time for a spot of Christmas shopping in the gift shops then a drink by the seaside. Sadly the only table available was next to a busker who managed a Bob Dylan song and some acoustic bits from 'Wish You Were Here' with equal musical incompetence.

Time to head back. We hopped off the train at Bélem; Sarah needed to stay on to reach the city centre, so it was a very quick goodbye hug, but we will see the pair of them soon as they are coming back to the UK for Christmas. We watched another spectacular sunset over the Tagus estuary as we waited for the ferry. 

Tomorrow we head inland to Evora, then back to Spain - homeward bound. Though the days are growing shorter and the nights chilly, sunny days are forecast for our journey towards Bilbao. We are going to miss these endless days of blue skies and bright colours.

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