Monday, January 10, 2011

Our 14th Anniversary

I have a confession. I can't say I can really remember any anniversaries of years past, but this one was definitely memorable. We spent the day wandering through Alfama, a neighborhood settled by Romans and Visigoths between the sixth and eight century AD, followed by the Moors who created its narrow, winding street network as a defensive measure that just happened to keep their homes cool at the same time. Alfama was built on dense bedrock so it is one of the only areas of Lisboa to survive the earthquake, making it a medieval wonderland. The streets are a maze of narrow pathways, some only accessible by foot, others you wish they would make only accessible by foot. The narrowness of the streets that people drive on here is, well, insane. Often times we are walking on a "sidewalk" that is only one to one and half feet wide and the street is only wide enough for one small car. We encountered the famous Tram 28 of Lisboa on a particularily narrow street where we each had to squish flat into a doorway as it passed by, insane. As we explored, we bumped into the Monastery Sau Vincent de Fora, founded in 1147 and reconstructed in 1580. Inside we saw its ancient cistern, gorgeous cloisters (I'm a sucker for cloisters), tombs of royalty from 1640-1950, delicate tile work telling traditional Portuguese fables, ornate religious rooms used for God only knows what, and gold, lots and lots of gold. Gold goblets, gold embroidered religious-wear, gold staffs, gold crosses, gold crowns, pieces of saints encased in gold, and jewels. I am understanding the church had a lot of money back then and perhaps even now. Anyway, the highlight for a young man you all know, was climbing the 237 travertine steps to the top of the monastery where we enjoyed another panoramic view of the city. As we stumbled back into the real world we came across a flea market, very different from what we had just seen and a very third-worldy experience with poor people selling junk off of their blankets on the street. Next we stumbled upon the Pantheon (a brief note here: we are not big planners, so if it sounds like we are just wandering aimlessly here, it is because we are) with its gorgeous dome, where we saw fake tombs tributing Portuguese heroes like Vasco de Gama with the highlight being, again, the climb up the 126 stairs (Isaac is the official stair counter for the trip) to the top of the dome to peer down (it made all of our tummies feel funny) at the patterned floor below.

In our wanderings in Chiado yesterday we saw a very hip-looking restaurant with low, loungy red couches and a giant, puffy, red, dandelion-in-seedesque chandelier called Sacramento and decided to give it a try for our anniversary dinner. After the adventures of the day we wound our way over to Chiado hungry for dinner, arriving at the restaurant around 18:00 only to find that it opens at 19:30. So what to do? The obvious thing was to eat dessert before dinner at Confectionaire Nacional where a new love affair began with Pastel de Nata. Back down to Rossio Square where the modern wire sculpture that encases a towering statue was lighting up in tempo with Christmas choir music that filled the square. At Confectionaire Nacional we ordered the famous Pastel de Nata, or pastry of the nation, a sweet custard in a phyllo dough-like crust, along with cake, sweet potato pastries and sweet egg yolks. With our bellies full of sweets, we headed back to the restaurant. Settled at out table under the puffy chandelier, we ordered pork leg for the boys to share, and Jason and I ordered the Arroz de Marisco, a thick saffron stew with tomatoes, rice, shrimp, mussels, clams, and lobster very much like paella. Just before our food arrived the waiter brought out a table to serve our food from. There, he carefully cut up boys' food and gave them each their own plate of fall-apart tender, melt-in-your-mouth pork. He then turned to our huge pot of arroz de marisco, spooning each of us up half a lobster tail, whole shrimps complete with eyeballs, mussels, clams and rice. Delicious.

Click here for photos of Alfama.

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