Lisbon: Here at the Western World

Posted by in Culture, Travel

*Due to unforeseen circumstances this is not the blog I envisioned, something on par and as detailed as my Helsinki blog – still one of my faves which deserves more eyes and curious minds. As for Lisboa, I’ve had to cobble together a piece as best I can from my notes on this my sophomore visit to the Portuguese capital.

ALL THAT GLITTERS…

The city glitters from my freezing air conditioned bus as we pound across the April 25th bridge (the one that looks like the Golden Gate in San Fran if you don’t know – you can also visit it as a tourist attraction). No photos as my iPhone is not so good on night photography. It’s a stark contrast to my previous visit in 2008 where murky white cloud smothered any chance of seeing anything, other than the occasional patches of urban terrain.

Watching the planes come in I can see that on a clear day the approach into Lisbon would have been much more interesting flying over the same bridge, the buildings of Sete Rios, hotels, the municipal police and into the airport at Portela.

In the early hours of the morning, the planes mostly belong to TAP and other Portuguese former territories; ANGOLA in plain black type says one on its belly (Lisbon is the only city in Europe you’ll see it). Then there’s AZUL a spectacular livery with a Brazilian flag as its centrepiece (again only seen in Lisbon as far as Europe goes) and to top off, Easyjet and the memory of 2008 is renewed from the ground.

The dazzling architecture of Lisbon’s Oriente station.

AT ORIENTE

As it’s only been 11 years it’s hard for me to know how much has changed in Lisbon. Oriente station is pretty on the surface but it’s being poorly maintained and rusting in the corners.

The Randstad employment agency has vacated and the churros vans and croissant trams stand shuttered and silent as a winter town in the UK, strange for summer in Portugal.

Inside there’s no shortage of breakfast cafes or pasteleria’s to indulge one’s coffee and pastry urges (the orange juice is to die for!) And if that isn’t enough, the Vasco de Gama shopping mall is directly opposite.

One oddity with Oriente is a lack of info as to what trains are departing on the platforms above or what planes are arriving/departing from the airport – still Portela – up the road (should you need to know such info).

Outside the Vasco de Gama mall lies the extensive arts and culture broad walk of Freguesia Parque das Naçðes. Jorge Vieira’s Homem-Sol sculpture and the Portuguese Pavilion being prime examples.

Thus this area is the eastern equivalent of Lisbon’s western cultural mecca Belem which itself features MAAT (Museum for Art Architecture and Technology)(though some say it’s best viewed from outside – really!?) And Museu Coleção Berardo (for modern and contemporary art) among many others.

CULTURAL SPACE AND PLACE

There’s no Alfama or Belem this time round as I stick to central areas and the more homey Olivais; though a reunion with Mr O Atlas is dashed due to us switching points on the real time atlas (or curve if you’re a Wang Chung fan) – him to Spain and me to Portugal.

Do you remember what I said in the Shenzhen blog about the first point of entry or suburb visited in any given city, nine times out of ten, becomes my spiritual spot in that city. Well Olivais is Lisbon’s home base so I knew where to head.

The metro station is a work in progress. However once you escape the labyrinth and find daylight you can sample the local atmosphere of the Spacio shopping mall which covers most needs and sits in the midst of suburbia not far from said station – but again you’d have to know it was there.

UNSEEN LISBON

If you’re in Lisbon as a tourist with money to burn there’s no shortage of things to occupy your time. Aside the above there are museums charting the Lisbon story (much like we have in Cardiff) and a French company (Lisbonne Ame Secrets) offering the kind of ‘secret’ walks illustrated in my Seville piece and if myth and legend is your bag, then check out nearby Sintra.

Each visit to a city reveals the familiar (the trams, the statue of Cristo on the opposite shore, the Santa Justa elevator), things that may have been forgotten and essentially something new and here at the western end of Iberia I managed to see parts of Lisbon that I never saw before. There are probably as many which I’ll never see.

This being my second visit I concentrated less on the touristic sites and more on the simple aspects of general domestic living: the parks, viewing the arches, bakeries, bookstores, the general vibe of the city streets, and does Europe possess a cafe more European than the Folar? The Nicola cafe in Alvalade also displays a similar charm though its tables are internal.

Speaking of ‘vibe’ while the city is still beautiful in its old trams and sparkling Tejo (Tagus in English) river, this time it definitely felt more urban, like Barcelona the darker undercurrent of the city is a lot more visible. Its hills still remind of Barca and Auckland as written about in Year Amid Winter.

It’s far from winter as my pack sticks to my sweaty back in the heat of day. If only I could get about on the cities smart Uber bikes. As mentioned at the front, due to exterior forces my time here was cut short. And I still never heard the fado, not even on the wind.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Title ‘Here at the Western World’ from the Steely Dan song of the same name. My personal thanks to the Lisbon City Hotel for their generous help and assistance.

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PLAYLIST
Missing (from Amplified Heart) – EBTG
Empty of Feeling (from Songbook) – Savoy
Minor Earth, Major Sky (from Minor Earth, Major Sky) – A-ha
Dance Hall Days (from Points on the Curve) – Wang Chung
Only the Very Best (from Tycoon OST) – Peter Kingsbery
Where I’m Calling From (single) – O Atlas

Photo Credits:
KH except the AZUL shot by Alex F sourced from Wiki.