Today we’re going to the Alfama neighborhood and starting our day at Castelo San Jorge. Our cab driver asks where we’re from, and when we tell him America, he says it’s a good day for us. We ask why, and he tells us Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed by American troops. We’ve hit possibly the most major turning point in the war on terror, and Randi and I are in Portugal. But on a positive note, we get the BBC here, so we’re getting a global perspective on the situation versus a skewed view from American media.
Arriving at Castelo San Jorge, we walk up onto the castle grounds and see the most amazing view of the city of Lisbon, terra cotta rooftops everywhere and an incredible view of the Tagus. We start to wander towards the castle but are interrupted by a peacock walking around with its feathers extended. We admire this guy, one of many stray peacocks that seem to wander the castle grounds. We begin to make our way up to the castle itself, and soon, Randi and I are running around through ancient stone fortresses and climbing narrow staircases, peering through windows and exploring this ancient labyrinth. We feel like we’ve walked into a fairytale.
After playing at the castle all morning, we begin to explore the narrow cobblestone streets of Alfama. We wander into an artisan shop, where the owner asks if I voted for Bush, thoroughly relieved when I shake my head no. I ask where the tiles I’m admiring are made, and he holds up his hands and says “with these.” He lives across the river and has a workshop set up at his home, where he makes everything that he sells in the stores. I buy a few of his hand painted tiles before leaving the shop.
We stumble upon a small park, with two men playing music next to a painter making watercolor depictions of the site we’re looking out on. The park overlooks the river and sits next to a church with blue painted tiles depicting various biblical scenes. We wander a bit more and head towards Rossio Square, on our way to explore the Bairro Alto neighborhood. We stop into a café for lunch. As we’re enjoying our meal of calamari and pork, the weather changes our plans. It starts raining, and we decide to visit the Oceanarium, the world’s second largest Aquarium. The café owner, a sweet woman in her fifties who can’t do enough for us, gives us detailed directions on how to get to the aquarium by metro. And then she scolds us for not finishing our meals.
Our afternoon at the aquarium is lovely – we see penguins, starfish, and the most adorable sea otters. We can’t stop watching these furry otters as they glide around in the water, washing themselves and just enjoying their aquatic life to the fullest. The aquarium is set up so you can see ecosystems from all the major oceans of the world, which is really interesting. We walk outside the aquarium and stare at the Vasco de Gama bridge, the longest bridge in Europe. It seems to go on forever. We stroll back to the metro station on what seems to be a rickety wooden path over the water, somewhat unsettling, but we make it.
After many failed attempts to put money on my metrocard, we make it back to our hotel just in time for our exotic wood and bamboo massages. Randi booked a bamboo massage, me an exotic wood drainage massage, but when we compared notes afterwards it seemed like the same thing – where the masseuse basically rolled a rolling pin down each of our backs at various points during the massage. The spa at the hotel is a sight itself, containing an indoor pool that illuminates in different colors every few seconds, and has a tile mosaic of some ancient statue overlooking this glowing technicolor spectacle.
This evening, we’re eating at Guilty, a new restaurant opened by famous Lisbon restaurateur, Olivier. Our waiter doesn’t speak a word of English, so we communicate with him through pointing and hand gestures. He’s amused by us, and every time we buzz him on the buzzer in the middle of the table (apparently this is how you get your server’s attention in Lisbon), he cracks up and comes over to see what we want. We’re too full for dessert tonight (obviously), but we order the nutella pizza anyway, which proves to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.