Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oh, Lisboa!

Three hours after being whisked from Porto, my train arrived in Santa Apolónia station. A short taxi ride later and I found my temporary apartment in Baixa. Well, after a few puzzling moments on the pedestrian Rua de São Nicolau, looking for number 42.

Exit through the gift shop.
And enter.

Literally. Walk into the tiny souvenir shop. Hidden beneath the various futebol jerseys is a narrow doorway that leads to a dimly lit staircase.

The proprietor of said souvenir shop, who speaks little English and even less Portuguese, directs me up two flights, where "she" is waiting.

Perhaps it's residual skepticism from my time in Brazil but this feels super-dodgy.

Ever curious, I climb... breathing a hesitant "uh, hello?" every few steps, until I hear Felipa respond, "Yes! I am here waiting for you!"

From the foyer chandelier, the apartment exceeds every expectation. Huge rooms (and more of them than i thought--it has two additional twin sleeping quarters aside from the master bedroom), twelve foot ceilings, seven gigantic windows that offer amazing light and views, lovely 5-inch plank flooring, decorative molding and ceiling detail throughout, but completely modernized in appliances and furnishings.

I want it.

As I gushed about how neat the apartment--indeed the whole neighborhood--was, Felipa explained the different look and feel to Baixa, compared to the other neighborhoods in Lisbon. "Baixa" means "low" and the area sits flat and low, adjacent to the river, with pedestrian streets laid out in a grid system. The surrounding hills contrast with winding, narrow streets and tiny staircases curling almost randomly throughout. Baixa was completely leveled by the 1755 earthquake (which reportedly also claimed the lives of one-third of the city's inhabitants). Reconstructed, cleverly, by the first Marquês de Pombal, the "new" architecture is known as Pombaline.

Baixa is almost exclusively tourists by night. It's expensive for Lisboetas to live here, and many prefer the modern conveniences afforded by newer construction on the outskirts of Lisbon to a costly retrofit of an (albeit charming) 18th century building. Despite being the heart of the tourist district, I'm glad I'm staying here--as much for the apartment itself as for the absolute convenience of transit and location, making everything easily accessible. Plus, unlike tourist areas in some cities around the world, it's quite safe, even at night. The biggest threat seems to be pickpockets, and they'd only get my map and some Carmex.

After depositing my luggage I was off for a quick loop around the neighborhood. At Praça do Comércio I almost lost it. Lisboa is beautiful.

It was after 4pm, so taking advantage of the little remaining daylight I boarded the famed elétrico 28.

Normally, I would happily while away all of my days in a new place with aimless wandering... seeing what there is to see. But suddenly I knew this was serious. I needed a plan to maximize the coming days.

I de-stressed with a hot soak in a big tub.

I bought red wine, port, brie, salami, bread and chocolates and installed myself at the dining room table with an unread guidebook, my iPad, a map and a pen. Anthony Bourdain helped.

What more could a girl want?