We began the day with an uneventful flight from Funchal to Lisbon, arriving around noon. Actually it turned momentarily eventual when it came to disembark. Both of our carryons were missing from the overhead compartment--all my camera equipment. I got off the plane trying to catch the the thief before he or she got away. Evelyn stayed behind to report the loss to the airline. Turns out some idiot took our carryons down and placed them on a seat two rows back.
After a 20-minute taxi drive that was both informative and at times terrifying--don't drive in Lisbon--we arrived at the Hotel Britania, which is located one street off the Avenida da Liberdade, which is best described as Lisbon's Champs-Élysées (a wide boulevard with luxury retailers lining both sides of the street). In other words, the high-end shopping district, something that doesn't interest us. The hotel is several metro stops east of the Barrio Alto and Praça do Comércio (the central square at the foot of the Tagus River), which meant that the neighborhood was quiet at night.
The Britania is exquisite, with a small, but beautiful lobby and bar area. Our room was very large, with art deco furnishings and all the modern amenities. It is just a short walk to the central metro line (coded blue), so we were never more than five or 10 minutes from Lisbon's hub.
With our first day in Lisbon being just a half day, we decided that the most efficient use of our time would be to start with Gulbenkian, Lisbon's world class museum. Founded in 1956, the museum house the collection that Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, an Armenian businessman, who was instrumental in making Middle East oil available to the West, left to the foundation that oversees the facility. Given that 2016 marks the Gulbenkian's 60th anniversary, the museum featured a commemorative exhibition that served as great introduction to the collection--pairing works from different eras and styles with each other. I particularly liked the extensive collection of Alvar Aalto furniture.
The museum is housed in several modern buildings that are spread across a park-like campus that has water features, an amphitheater, and a restaurant. After spending time in the commemorative exhibition, we had lunch in the museum's cafeteria, and then explored the main collection, which includes paintings, René Jules Lalique glassware and jewelry, Chinese porcelains, furniture, and most notably, turkish/arabic rugs, tiles, and ceramics. The turkish/arabic collection is the highlight.
I wouldn't knock the collection of paintings, but it stops largely at Impressionism, with a one-of-everything feel to it. Madrid's Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is much better when it comes to providing a comprehensive survey (the 13th Century through the 20th) of art history, but the Gulbenkian'c holdings include paintings by Degas, Delaney (both Robert and Sonia), Manet, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Sargent, so how can I complain.
I took a 15-minute nap on the lawn, while a couple made love (fully clothed, but very entangled) about 25 feet from me. By my estimate, they were going at it for a good 90 minutes. And to think children were also playing on the lawn in close proximity.
We then walked through the garden, saw the amphitheater where a jazz festival will take place in mid-August (including performances by Marc Ribot and Tim Berne), and headed to the building that houses the modern collection. Here we were treated to an exhibition that showed the political history of Portugal in the 20th Century through the artist's eye. Some terrific surrealistic photographs were included.
Around 5PM, we headed past the duck and turtle pond to the garden cafe, where I had eucalyptus gelato. Evelyn went for the fig-flavored gelato.
We then took the metro to the Barrio Alto, where we stumbled into a rehearsal for an outdoor evening dance recital. Photographically, it was to good too pass up, so we spent an hour watching a director from Amsterdam put dancers from Portugal's National Ballet Theatre through their paces. To my untrained eye, it was unclear whether these were professional dancers or students, if you get my drift. Evelyn was far more forgiving in her assessment, admonishing me that professionals don't go all out in rehearsal.
While we surveyed the square, we noticed Café Lisboa at the foot of the stairs that severed as our viewing platform. Some very beautiful people were walking in and out, so we decided to see whether the establishment had an opening. We were in luck, so we sat down when offered a table. Turns out, this is one of several restaurants run by José Avillez, whose restaurant group includes Belcanto, a Michelin 2 star restaurant, which is just a block away from Cafe Lisbon.
I started with the prawn and garlic appetizer, and then we both had one of the house specialities, Brás Style Cod with “Exploding” Olives. Somewhat unusual for us, we ordered a bottle of white wine (and finished it). Turns out the cod dish is a Portuguese staple, codfish hash that is bound together with eggs and french fried onions, topped with exploding olives--almost a liquid. It was most excellent, but it would have made a better side dish than a main course. We read Avillez's cookbook, but didn't buy it. Turns out it takes 24 hours to prepare just the eggs--way too much fuss. For dessert, we went with “Pastel de Nata” with Sugar and Cinnamon, which is a tradition pastry.
The dance performance was scheduled to being at 8:30PM, but at 9:30PM it still had not started, so we walked around a square, watching the crowds, buskers, and trams. We also poked our head into the Café A Brasilia, a well-know Art Nouveau coffee house. We then called it a day.
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved