48 hours in Lisbon.
A wash of old-world splendour.
I lean off the balcony to my Lisbon flat. In the historic port district of Alfama, the streets, more alleyways than not, twist and wind their way down to the waterfront. Out of a cloudless cornflower blue sky, the sunshine tinges yellow the leaf tips of the neighbouring tree, his gnarly branches waving bom dia. Having arrived in this city coated with a wash of old-world splendour, I grab my Portuguese fedora and set off to taste the textures of Lisboa. Lifestyle photographer Carolina Flores awaits outside Café Tartine in the Chiado-district. Over a delightful brunch, I learn that she, a trained product designer working in web design, has held to her personal Last Minute Dreams project for the past four years. A website born of a love for photography, the founder occasionally captures Lisbon moments.
Why this city? - I ask. “Actually, the more I travel the more I fall in love with Lisbon. We have sun all year round.” With peals of laughter she concedes, “Three days of rain and we tend to get depressed! Besides, when I’m in the city, I can be at the water’s edge in just minutes.”
And her footsteps, or perhaps her heart, suspiciously take us in that direction. Before long, I have a wine glass in hand and a majestic view of the glittering Tejo river from the lush garden patio of Restaurante Pharmacia discussing local cuisine and culture with this young heart.
The Lisbon tailor.
Parting ways, and turning up toward the Príncipe Real district, I bump into the charismatic José Cabral of O Alfaiate Lisboeta (The Lisbon Tailor). He appears perfectly comfortable in an unstructured double-breast coat with a knitted jumper slung around his neck as a makeshift scarf. Born and bred in Lisbon, he knows that one can never be too careful with spring weather and he carries an umbrella that completes his stylish urban-wanderer look.
Although his work is often mistaken as a street fashion blog, José insists: “I photograph people and not the clothes they wear.” Having also started out with a second hand camera, José left the financial sector to capture the lives of his friends.
Today, the stories he spins are addictive, from the son who decided to match his father in a polo shirt, to the pregnant woman on the beach catching the sun before starting a new life of parenthood the very next day.
The magic of solitude.
He explains that he primarily chooses to stay in Príncipe Real these days, but, after a sip of wine, shares one of his secrets: “There’s a special place in Alcantara - an old church.
No one ever goes there, maybe just two or three kids playing football in the summer. If I were to get married, it would be there. The garden is beautiful and a great place to take a girl!”
Locals are not solitary in this poetic calling to the waterfront. Alessandro Puccinelli an Italian ocean photographer – also considers the Portuguese Atlantic coast to be one of his adopted homes, having spent at least half a year here, “Mostly in the van along the coast,” he says, referring to his 1983 Hymer motorhome powered by a Mercedes-Benz engine. Having discovered surfing at 16, the powerful calling of the ocean has never subsided for Alessandro. “The more you stay in the water, the more you get involved. And I decided to combine this with photography. It’s probably my way of not feeling guilty about always staying on the beach!” Speaking of his work, the painterly “Van in the Sea” project in particular is an on-going one for a journeyman “in search of a peaceful life. It’s about growing up every day and focusing on what’s important.”
Calling from his waterfront studio on the Italian coastline close to Pisa, Alessadro explains: “Portugal is one of the few places in Europe where you can still stay on the beach overnight.”
Feeling spirited by the various water-inspired lifestyles come the next morning, I jump on the train from Cais do Sodré train station to Carcavelos and Cascais, where surfers carve up into emerald green waves smashing up violently onto rocky shorelines.
Watching that wildness that will forever refuse to be commanded by humanity, I ruefully smile at Alessandro’s words: “Even when I’m in Lisbon, after two days in the city, I have to go the beach.”
A special treat for foodies.
But what good is a Lisbon experience if not to taste the equally artful produce of the ocean? Taking an earlier suggestion from Carolina, I track down dinner ingredients at a brand new fishmonger in town: Peixaria Centenária, a small but lively store located on the lush Praça das Flores. The young designers and artists running the place understate: “We’re not experts on fish,” – though they all descend from fishing families. Joana Mateus, the youngest of the crew, with tight curly hair and captivating blue eyes, is drawing the day’s illustration on the entrance wall. “We’re not trying to be gourmet and sophisticated.” Rather, their touch is frank and friendly, though contemporary without a doubt. That attitude in combination with the knowledge that their parents and grandparents personally select the days’ fish does them credit.
“People react to it, and are not shy to say ‘I don’t know how to cook this but I want to take it home to surprise my friends.’ Our mission is not just to sell fish, but to teach people how to cook!”
A graceful city.
Selecting a sea bass, – most likely to meet its demise pan roasted and served with Portuguese sweet potatoes, buttered mushrooms, and paired by a dry red – I take a part of the Portuguese ocean home with me. Occasionally the mournfully romantic sounds of Fado music resonate out of this restaurant or that bar.
The lustre and pride of a bygone age still resonates deep in the people that call this city their home. Before turning the corner onto my street in Alfama, I look back and, peeking out between the tiled buildings, the Tejo sparkles blue and silver, gracing its way to the ocean.