I'm not entirely sure where to begin, actually. We--that is, Dom, me, Javier and my parents--arrived in Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese) late June and it was unseasonably warm. The highest while we were there was 37 degrees (98 degrees in American), which was actually hotter than Texas had been when we left. We had rented a pretty modern condo in the Oriente area of Lisbon, the capital city. (The satellite picture points to the train station, but the whole eastern part of the city on the waterline is called 'Oriente'.) This part of the city used to be nothing except warehouses serving the port, but it was almost entirely renovated for the World Expo in 1998. It's now known for, among other things, it's beautiful Parque das Nações (Park of the Nations) where the Expo was, the Oceanarium (Aquarium) and the Vasco da Gama (pronounced Vashco da Gama) shopping mall, named after a legendary Portuguese explorer.
Here's the inside of the Vasco da Gama:
The Portuguese, incidentally, are apparently the most retail-loving people in Europe. I was told that outside of Lisbon is now the largest Mall in all of Europe, for example.
Here's some fish in the giant fist tank just inside the entrance to the Oceanarium.
And here's Javier, still three at the time, being cute outside the Oceanarium. It was set quite far back from the street, so there was plenty of room for a very large square in front of it, as well as decorative fountains and pools such as this one.
(My dad took most of the video, by the way. I apologize for the bad quality of some of them; it's because the batteries in his Blackberry were wearing down.)
The Condo was enormous, and had cost the owner something like 700,000€. It had a living room, a very narrow kitchen, and a long hallway that ended in a kind of square cul de sac that could be seperated from the rest of the condo by a door, with two more bedrooms and baths. There were three bedrooms in all and four bathrooms. It was rather spectacular.
Unfortunately I don't have many pictures, but here's the kitchen:
The kitchen was entirely tiled in white, right up to the ceiling. The appliance you can see on the right is the teeny washing machine, which we somehow thought worked in Fahrenheit instead of Celsius, so we ended up boiling our clothing the entire time we were there. But I'm sure they were very clean. Possibly sterile. The fridge was interesting. Unlike the ones we North Americans are used to, where the kitchen is built with space for a fridge to be bought separately and fitted in. I have a picture of my kitchen's refrigerator for example:
But the ones in Portugal were built right into the wall, which is why the condo's kitchen could be so narrow and look like there was nothing in it. I found this fascinating.
Another thing that fascinated me was the general lack of clothes dryers. As you can see from the kitchen picture, it's pretty normal to hang your clothes up to dry even in million-dollar condos. This was something we saw everywhere:
What probably helped the clothes dry was the fact that the only thing the condo lacked was air-conditioning. When the Lisbon summer temperatures were normal this wasn't a problem, but during the heatwave it was pretty bad. The living room had a set of enormous windows, but unfortunately we were leery of opening them all the way because the windows weren't screened. Indeed, the condo seemed designed to encourage preschooler death by defenestration--Javier would barely have had to exert himself to take a header down to the street very far below.
(The river is the Tagus, by the way, pronounced Tagush by the locals.)
What the windows did have, however, was metal screens, jointed like garage doors, with small holes in them to let in a minute amount of light. They reminded me of blast doors from science-fiction movies, or plates of armour. Here, check it out:
I loved those.
Since we were staying in a condo instead of a hotel, we were able to go to the local supermarket to buy food to prepare, instead of having to go to restaurants. Aside from the coolness of getting to see local cuisine in the raw, so to speak, this also gave me ample opportunity to visit the Continente Store at the Vasco da Gama mall.
(I didn't take this video, because I found out the hard way that the Continente stores don't allow photographs or video to be taken inside, which means the videographer must have done it on the sly. Clever. Notice how you can buy wine in a supermarket? Portuguese wine is also astonishingly cheap--you can buy really fine stuff for about $2.00 US. I should also point out that this isn't the Continente at Vasco da Gama, but rather the larger one at the giant Colombo Mall in a different part of Lisbon. Contenente is like the European version of Wall-Mart, though my parents were horrified that I should have even suggested it. There are stores throughout Europe and even in North Africa. The Portuguese guy who founded the stores is on the list of the world's billionaires.)
I loved Continente. Not only does the name have the same number of syllables as Oklahoma, which meant I had an earworm of that song for weeks, but it sold everything from clothing to toys to automotive stuff to camping gear to, yes, food. I found out that the Portuguese have their own version of chorizo sausage, though it's tougher and much less spicy than the Mexican version I'm used to in Texas. I also found out that chicken in Portuguese is Frango, turkey is
The store itself was nifty, if labyrinthine for someone used to vastly different layouts in their food stores. I once spent half an hour looking for the eggs, which aren't stored in refrigerated shelves but out in the open like the cereal. They're also mostly sold in packages of six instead of twelve, and about four times as expensive as the eggs I can buy here in the much smaller city of College Station. This was quite a common thing in Lisbon in general, and I know it's the same in Europe: teeny food packages so depressingly expensive it's a wonder anyone can afford to eat anything at all. Continente naturally has their own brand, which tasted just about as good as the brand names but was significantly cheaper. I took a picture to show the North Americans the teeny packages and the tetra packs. Nearly all the milk was out on shelves as well; the only thing besides the meat, cheese and fish that was consistently kept cool was the yogurt.
(Back to front, cereal with dried fruit, 'balanced' low-calorie cereal with fruit, a three-pack of spearmint gum (much sweeter than the American version), two bottles of locally-produced wine that were about one euro each, a bag of cream, a package of breakfast cakes very much like ones I'd had in France and remembered with much fondness, a package of orange (laranja) cookies (jaffa cakes) a tetra pack of mixed-fruit nectar, a teeny-tiny jar of peanut butter (Sandra told me that Portuguese people really don't eat peanut butter), chicken boullion cubes, Heinz baked beans from the UK, 'Pintarolas' candies (Commonwealth will think 'Smarties', the Americans will think, 'flatter M&Ms'), low-calorie butter, super-creamy, sweetened yogurt in lovely little glass jars, and the egg tarts that Portugal is famous for.)
Possibly because it was too expensive to buy a lot of food at once, there were different kinds of small baskets. Not only the kind you could carry (all oval shaped), but nifty little ones you could pull behind you, like this:
The only problem was that they didn't stand up on their own, which made letting go of them to grab something with two hands difficult.
I couldn't get a picture of it because of Continente's policy of paranoia, but there was a young woman in the alcohol section offering free tastes of beer to the patrons. Now, this isn't much new to me--our local Kroger and H.E.B. ('here, everything's better!') grocery stores offer samples of wines about once a week. The difference is that the wine samples are about a quarter-ounce thimblefulls (about eight ml), and this woman was offering entire glasses of beer. She even had one of those tubes they use at frat parties so she could poor it direction into your mouth. I have no idea why. But the fourteen year old boys she was offering the samples to certainly seemed to enjoy it. (There is no legal age limit for alcohol consumption in Portugal, though you do have to be eighteen to buy it.)
Aside from blinking at the free beer for minors (in case you're wondering, the drinking age in my homeland of Canada is either 18 or 19, depending on the province), I was bemused to see the sheer overkill of food wrapping in Continente. This is just one example of four packs of apples:
This Continente also had a specially staffed counter where you were required to bring your fruit and vegetables in order to have them put in plastic bags, taped, and then barcoded. Even bananas. My friend Sandra, who was our delightful host while we were there, informed me that this environment hatefulness was mostly unique to the Oriente area of Lisbon, and that the rest of the city was much more conservation and recycling minded. I did see recycle bins at the mall, but they seemed to be used indiscriminately for garbage.
When we weren't cooing over the adorable food packaging or lamenting our contribution to the destruction of the ecosystem, we occasionally went out to eat. This was an interesting experience, because Portuguese restaurants are very aggressive. I've been in Paris where waiters stand in their restaurant patios and lure people in by being charming and very insistent, and I've been in New Orleans before the hurricane where young women in period costumes did the same thing, so a nattily-dressed guy urging my family to eat lunch at his swanky seafood place wasn't anything new. What was, however, was the two different kinds of appetizers they instantly plonked down on the table: cold, peel-them-yourself shrimp, a small, round spreadable goat cheese, butter and bread. I had a sneaking suspicion that this wasn't an example of Portuguese hospitality and altruism, and I was right. This, it turns out, is standard restaurant procedure. The appetizers will be automatically added to the bill unless you specifically send them away. I've never encountered this anywhere else in Europe.
As you might imagine, the Portuguese love their meat, and they love their fish. I'm not sure if they invented the steak, chips (i.e. french fries) and eggs meal (I thought that was mostly a British thing, myself), but they sure as hell have perfected it. Actually, they like eggs on beef in general. As well as ham and cheese, at least on their burgers. I'm afraid I didn't eat out enough to get to sample a wide range of their cuisine, but the best meal I personally had was at Sandra's house, where she made a dish kind of like a meatloaf stuffed with ham and cheese. Delicious. :) And I certainly never lacked for protein.
Little Javier, however, promptly decided that almost nothing was familiar enough to eat, and proceeded to subsist on yogurt, french fries, the occasional Chicken McNuggets at the McDonalds in the Vasco da Gama (oh yes, it's truly everywhere), pizza (they had Pizza Hut, too, as well as KFC), and ice cream. Luckily the last was very, very easy to find. As I remembered from other trips to Europe, they are a truly civilized people who understand that a day--nay, a life--is not complete without as much application of sugar and fat as humanly possible. Nestle and Ola were the two main competitors, and had either blue and square ice cream stands (Nestle) or these round, red and white ones (Ola) about every three meters.
Jav's record was three ice cream bars in one day, but he'd still lost a pound by the time we got back to the States, poor fickle guy.
Though I have to say it was one of my priorities, Lisbon wasn't actually all about eating. There were also things to look at, which might not surprise you.
I'll tell you more in part two,
And Part Three