Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
From Brussels, I flew to Portugal, a mystery country for me. I don’t know a whole lot about Portugal and my time in Lisbon didn’t help. When I arrive in a new place, the first thing I do is walk around to get a feel for the city. Lisbon left me feeling very confused. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t figure this city’s vibe. I am sure it was quite amusing to see me walk through the city, looking completely bewildered. I was used to feeling so very different. They appeared to be a mishmash of lots of other places, rather than their own city. They have their versions of a Golden Gate Bridge, a St. Marks Square, a Burj al Arab, a Christ the Redeemer and on and on. I don’t know whose came first, but seeing them added to my confusion. So I decided the next day, I would do something I rarely do- I took a tourist bus, just to get a better feel for the layout and the history. And help end my confusion.
Here is what I learned. I do like traditional Portuguese Fado (music), bulls are not killed in the bullfights (one of the few places where this is true), Fado means destiny and is really just traditional sounding emo and literally everything in the city is refurbished or being refurbished. You cannot tell old from new. I think this is partially due to the earthquake and subsequent flooding in 1755 but partially because the city is always modernizing, making it look different than other European cities. I did get to see how spread out the city is and many of the monuments. I was still confused but I suspect that wasn’t the buses fault.
The next day, I did a road trip to Sintra, a cute tourist town about 40 minutes from Lisbon. I always feel better when I spend some time closer to trees than concrete. On the train, I got to see how massive Lisbon is and every inch of it is tagged. First stop in Sintra was the Quinta da Regaleira. This was the insane summer residence of the Carvalho Montiero family built in the neo-manueline style. Yep, I had never heard of that style either. Turns out it is a Portuguese style that basically means exuberant. It was one of the cooler places I have seen. It was a combination of gardens and buildings all built to symbolize the meeting of heaven and earth. It incorporated the mythology of Olympus, Virgil, Dante, Milton and Camoes. As well as the Templars.
The second stop was the Palace of Monserrat. This was 33 hectares of garden with species from all around the world. They changed soils and water levels in different parts of the garden to allow for these plants. It was extravagant. The mansion was a traditional upstairs/downstairs so I got to play Downton Abby for a bit.
My last day in Lisbon was wet. This city doesn’t mess around when it rains. It pours. I decided to head out to see the monks and get one of their delicious custard tarts- made from a 100 year old secret recipe. It was delicious. Everything else about the morning was horrendous. Lisbon was already on thin ice with me and today didn’t help. What should have been a 30 minute each direction single tram ride became a four and one half hour, seven forms of transportation plus a two mile walk. Our first tram got stuck because a delivery driver parked on the tracks and went for a coffee. Apparently bus drivers only work for five minutes because three of them just stopped, told us to get off and walk two blocks to catch another one. And time can be bent in Lisbon transportation. One of my trams said it was one minute away. Then, poof, it was 25 minutes away. It stayed that way for 15 minutes. Once it started moving, it went from 9 to 2 minutes in about 30 seconds. All of this time, Lisbon has been hiding the secret of time travel. I had enough of Lisbon. I headed to the cinema….. where there was no sound at the beginning of the movie. Everyone sat there. I guess they have just accepted that confusion exists in this city.
Off to Barcelona.
I arrived in Barcelona and immediately fell in love with it. It was so lovely to have gone from utter confusion and distaste to perfect happiness. As is my style, I hit the pavement. Everywhere you go in Barcelona, there is something to see. Just outside of my hotel was the Arc de Triomf. There was a protest happening at the time. They were speaking in Catalan so I couldn’t understand what they were protesting but I loved that these peaceful protests were happening in a park, surrounded by cyclists, and bubbles and families. Barcelona is so easy to get around- I walked and walked and walked. Part of the walking was due to the fact that I ended up in the Gothic Quarter’s winding streets and kept going deeper into the Rabbit Hole! I love Spanish architecture and I nearly ran into many walls and people because I was staring up so often.
The next day was Gaudi Day One- religious buildings. Of course, I went to the Sagrada Familia. Guess what? It was under construction!! They plan is to have it finished in 2026. I will be back! This too, was designed to represent the meeting of heaven and earth and is impossible to describe. The outside is carved stone and marble and glass and each of the four sides will have a theme. The nativity scene was the first completed, done to inspire donations from the local people. The 18 towers, once complete, will rise to a height of just below the height of the hills- because Gaudi believed that man’s work should never be greater than God’s work. The basilica itself was inspired by the Montserrat mountains, which means serrated mountains and when you see them, you can see why. Once inside, I realized that I much prefer Gaudi’s interiors to his exteriors. I could write pages on the beauty of the inside. Google it. Or better yet, go. It must be seen. After that, I went to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, another Gaudi church and not bad itself.
Ever since I learned about Andorra, I vowed I would go. Today was the day. I boarded a bus that took us first to an adorable medieval town of 2000 called Baga. Then, we were off to France, the town of Ax les Thermes- were I dipped my feet in the heeling waters and instantly noticed they were ten years younger. It was a ski town which made me long for my skis and boots. Little did I know that Andorra itself is basically a ski town.
We drove into the Pyrenees Mountains and arrived in Andorra. Andorra is one of five European micro countries and is ruled by either Spain or France- alternating each year. It is 181 square miles, about 150 of those are ski resorts (maybe exaggerated) with 84,000 people. I really, really wanted to go skiing now. They are often forgot, as they were after WWI. They had declared war on Germany, although they did not fight. After the war ended, everyone forgot about Andorra and they did not sign the peace treaty. When WWII started, Andorra tried to declare war on Germany, but could not, as they had been at war the entire span of time between World Wars. We stopped in Andorra la Vella, the capital, which is a lot like a cruise ship town. Andorra is duty free and a tax haven so liquor stores and perfume shops abound.
All in all, I really loved Spain. The best part was that I never saw a Madame Toussouds Wax Museum, so it is either disguised really well, or I missed that part of town. I will return to Barcelona and to see more of Spain. Portugal…probably not.
Off to Switzerland to see what Zurich has to offer.