When we return to the hotel after our first meal debacle and admiring a fusion of Asian, European, Egyptian and Persian art at the Gulbenkian, there is a message for us in our room. The hotel has to move us out of the room they originally put us in when we arrived at 6 a.m. that morning, because they’re doing renovations on the floor. We’re just happy they were able to accommodate us at that early hour, so we don’t mind moving rooms at all. When we go to the front desk to exchange our keys, we’re told that we are being upgraded to the top floor, with windows that overlook a sprawling view of the entire city of Lisbon. And for our inconvenience of having to switch rooms, we’ll be granted VIP spa access. Again, Portugal, is this REALLY happening? You really love us, don’t you?
We move to our new room and get dressed for dinner. We’re feeling really special here, so we decide to continue with this theme and eat dinner at a five star restaurant that came highly recommended. Our cab driver can’t find the restaurant. He pulls the cab over not once but three times to look at a map, get out of the cab and ask pedestrians for directions, while leaving the meter running. Not knowing our way around this city yet, we don’t have much choice but to wait for him to return to the cab and try to find his way to our destination. Eventually, we find the restaurant, which was supposed to only be five minutes from the hotel.
The doors are closed, and we have to ring a buzzer to get in. A uniformed woman retrieves us at the door and escorts us down some stairs to a regal looking couch adjacent to a small coffee table, the whole setup overlooking an outdoor garden with palm trees and greenery. We’re again, confused in Portugal. Is this where we’ll be eating our dinner? Why do other people seem to be at normal looking dinner tables? Are they simply placing us in this strange situation because we’re two seemingly naïve American girls? The waitress finally comes over and takes our order. We order two entrees, but there is no wine on the menu, so she asks if we like white or red wine. We respond with white, completely unsure of what she’ll come back with or how much we’ll be paying for this bottle. Meanwhile, we’re served appertifs upon appertifs, which were all delicious, but now I’m growing concerned about what kind of appetite I’ll have for the main course, and will I be scolded again for not eating it all, and is our entire meal going to be eaten while bending over this coffee table, and is there any more of this ridiculously ornate restaurant that we haven’t seen yet, and also, what the hell are we even eating right now? Just as maximum levels of confusion overwhelm, our waitress comes over and in a chipper, pleasant voice, asks, “Shall we go?” She motions to one of the tables with normal dinner chairs and silverware, similar to the tables the other Portugese patrons are sitting at. We’re pleased to see that we haven’t been pushed into a corner because we’re two American girls, not because they’re shunning or tricking us, but this is simply the process in which this particular restaurant serves dinner. So if anyone goes to the Casa de Comida restaurant in Lisbon, just enjoy the unique progression of your meal. By the way, it was delicious. And yes, they were disappointed because I didn’t lick my plate clean.
After dinner, we head to the Al Canterra neighborhood, with the waitress telling us to go to the “docas.” The docks? We pull up to a roundabout and are greeted by a swimming pool on its side, lit up like a sculpture at night. The “docas” remind us a bit of South Street Seaport, a line of bars along the water, with a mix of American pop music and Portugese dance music blaring out of every nightclub we pass. We take a video of two couples dancing beautifully to Portugese music, and one of the women comes up to me and says, “This is not photo for YouTube.” Laughing a little, I shake my head and wildly stress to her that no, no, I’m just taking photos from my vacation, not for YouTube. She eases my concern by putting her hand on my shoulder, saying, “It is only to laugh.” I know she meant to say she’s only kidding, but I really like this new expression. Because so many times in life, “it is only to laugh.”
After making our way through a few of these nightclubs and enjoying the nighttime waterfront scenery and carefree culture, we are ready to head back to the hotel. It’s around 1:30 a.m., and our taxi driver’s name is Marco. He was a law student who had to stop his studies to go back to work, because of Portugal’s current financial crisis. He’s determined to go back to finish his law degree in the fall, and wants to visit New York as soon as he gets his life in order. We’re stopped at a red light when out of nowhere, Randi and I hear whistling and a voice yelling “taxi, taxi!” over and over again. We look all around us to see where this voice is coming from. Turns out, it is Marco’s cell phone ringtone.
Portugal – utter confusion followed by laughter and delight.