I had the great good fortune to spend a couple of months in Lisbon this past summer. At what point of time does one stop “staying” in a place and start “living” in it? I felt that I was living there, my whole new world revolved around my new daily routine. I started to feel as if I belonged and stopped feeling like a tourist. Of course, I never managed to master more than one or two words in my new adopted tongue, but this did not deter me from feeling like part of the local scenery.
On my walk to work every day, I passed the same people, started to get to know their routine and even started to nod and offer a mumbled “Bom Dia” (two words I went on to master with great fluency and conviction).
After trying out a couple of pretty little cafes and bakeries, I started to frequent a more basic, hard-working establishment with less frills and more locals on my morning meander. Not as glamourous, but the coffee was stronger, the pastries flakier and somehow it just felt more authentic. I would pop in around the same time every morning and always order the same coffee – a small coffee with milk (café meia de leite – the “meia” word never sounding quite the same on any two given mornings).
And I’d try a different pastry each day. I may be a creature of habit, but far from me to not try every available food item whenever possible. Variety is the spice of life and all these little eggy concoctions with sprinkles of cinnamon, flaking pastry shells and crumbly-sweet deliciousness definitely provided plenty of wonderful breakfast derision…not to mention plenty of early-morning calories…oh! Who cares! Well, that’s the problem when you start living somewhere as opposed to visiting, now you are no longer on holiday, so you should be working out! One great thing about Lisbon is you will walk everywhere, so burning calories is actually not an issue.
On my walk back from work every night, I would stop at the same kiosk and order the same glass of sparkling wine. What an incredibly-civilized invention these kiosks – no matter where you roam in Lisbon there are places – which in other countries of the world would sell newspapers or magazines – but here they sell alcoholic beverages and wonderful, tasty morsels of really great food! Really! How absolutely marvelous! Of course, the odd magazine would also have been a good reading attraction whilst sitting and sipping but there is so much happening on the streets of Lisbon that a literary distraction or the latest Hollywood gossip would not have enhanced the experience one bit.
These kiosks are usually located in places of beauty or interest, but they are not there for the solely for the purpose of touristy enjoyment – they are there to serve the people who live in this pretty city. So, in essence, you could take off to the park with the toddlers for an afternoon of family entertainment and get happily sozzled as you sit looking on at the playful antics of your kids. Really, what a remarkable country to think of something to amuse both adults and children at the same time – making for a perfectly pleasurable family outing. And the kiosks are cheap… well, in fact, all wine in Portugal is exceedingly well-priced and incredibly palatable.
I got to know which kiosks were busy at what times and started to say, in a sort of insider-know-it all-fashion, to work colleagues and newly-made friends – Oh! I’ll just meet you at the kiosk on the corner of X and Y on Friday – there’s’ always a great crowd there at that time!
And, whilst on the subject of the kiosks, something that really knocked my socks off. After having spent a couple of weeks living in my newly adopted city, I felt I really did need to visit the impressive St. Georges Castle. I had to wrestle with myself that I was really a tourist after all and knew absolutely nothing about this impressive landmark which dominates the Lisbon skyline and scenery. Yes, I would take a walk over there, to the other side of the city and learn a little about the history and see how my side looked from there. I have to say it was a glorious day, not a cloud in the sky, all the bright, sunny colours of the Lisbon homes jumping out and competing with one another for prettiness and vibrancy.
The walk was amazing, I got happily lost, walked around in ever-decreasing circles following signs in clockwise and counter-clockwise directions, taking photos, not bothering to ask directions – just lapping up the history, the architecture and the smiles of the happy people on the street.
I was probably putting off the arrival at the castle gate thinking I’d have to wait in a queue with others who may have been “daytrippers” or “passing tourists” (see, I was becoming a complete Lisbon snob). Imagine my surprise when I finally arrived and found about ten people ahead of me, all of whom passed in quick succession and left me still fumbling with my entrance admission. Great!
The views were incredible, the castle even more impressive up close and personal – not to mention fun! It’s a castle you can wander through, climb on, lumber up steep flights of stairs and end up in eerie outlooks far up in the fortifications. It’s a kid’s delight, imagination bringing back tales of olde as you clamber around and hark back to the past.
Imagine my great delight, then, after having passed a good fun hour of touring, to come across a mobile kiosk! Wow! This was really impressive – it was basically nothing more than a very well-decked-out pushcart next to the cannons in the ancient battlements – declaring itself to be “a drink with a view”. Now, most of the historical monuments I have visited over recent years forbid me from taking photos, touching the walls, using a flash, bringing water, dropping litter, sneezing and breathing….(well, not really the last two….but sometimes you feel that way!) Yet here, right in the midst of the marvelous castle, was a very jaunty place to buy a glass or a bottle of wine with the possibility of taking it to the battlements, sitting on a warm, ancient stone and enjoying it whilst taking in the breathtaking view of the incredible city at your feet. How lovely! Really! This city has it all figured out!
I stopped, bought my bubbly, sat looking out at the paths I had trodden to get here and raised my glass to salute this incredibly accommodating city and the wonderful invention of the Lisbon kiosk.
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