One red eye flight later (with a bonus layover in the Azores!) and I have arrived in Lisbon!
I met my host and Dutch ex-pat, Jan, at the men’s clothing boutique that he owns not far from the center of the city. His apartment is only a few blocks from the store. The room I am renting from him is very comfortable. On the table he had left a bottle of wine and a glass and a corkscrew, all carefully arranged. Above the table there’s a large window that opens onto the street below, and if I crane my neck to the right I can see the Tagus River, which bounds the southern edge of the city and which flows west into the Atlantic Ocean just a few miles beyond.
After passing out for a few hours, I went out to explore and find something to eat. I walked down to the water and the sun was setting over the river in such a way that even people who I heard speaking Portuguese were pulling out their phones to take pictures.
Walking east, I came to the city’s main plaza, the Praça do Comércio, which is dominated by a giant statue of Joseph I of Portugal (reading Wikipedia articles! learning facts about history!), who was king of Portugal during a massive earthquake and tsunami, in 1755, which completely leveled the city and killed more than 100,000 in one of the worst natural disasters in history to that point. Afterwards, the king had his planners rebuild the majority of the city center according to “the enlightened model” (like Peter the Great’s St. Petersburg and, later, Napoleon III’s Paris), with large open squares and straight boulevards and streets. The king is also credited with developing the earliest earthquake-resistant buildings, asking his engineers to build scale models of all the new structures so that they could be run through earthquake simulations, by having his troops march in circles around them.
It is peculiar then that on the monument Joseph I there’s a lot of trampling going on: Joseph I trampling snakes, a horse trampling a man, and then for good measure, an elephant trampling what looks to be the same unlucky man. Not sure what that’s all about.
Finally, after wandering around for a couple more hours, I retired to a cafe for a late dinner and to write the first barrage of postcards. Almost too picturesque: the walls of a cathedral, tufts of grass sprouting between the masonry, looming across the street; a line of orange trees, their scent mingling in the evening air with the plumes of tobacco smoke emanating from the other tables. (If you will…)
It is morning of day 2 now. Stay tuned!