Hello from Lisboa! This marine city is home to a little over 500,000 people (for perspective, about 8.2 million people live in New York City). It is pretty small, but all of the grand architecture reminds one of Lisbon’s golden age, when it was once the European center of trade for Africa, India, and the Far East and home to explorers Vasco da Gama, Magellan, and Prince Henry the Navigator. Built by a river and on top of several hills, Lisbon boasts some of the most interesting geography I’ve seen! The streets go up and down and all around (much like San Francisco), but the sidewalks are made out of little stones using a method called calçada portuguesa. The effect is of a mosaic on the ground, which is beautiful, but also very dangerous. Feet, wind, and dirt have eroded the stones so much that they are now very slippery! I found myself almost sliding down some steep hills while winding through Lisbon. I also tried speaking Italian in Lisbon since I do not know Portuguese, which inspired some laughs and interesting stares. All this traveling in Europe has made me really appreciate that English is my first language. Although I am disturbed by the ignorance of many Americans, I am also proud to be a citizen of the most powerful country in the world. China is catching up, but people assume I am Chinese anyway, so I guess I’m covered in that regard!
On the first full day, Marie and I visited the São Roque Church, which is the world’s most expensive chapel. I kid you not, every surface was covered with gold save for the ceiling, the floor, and the pews. While the walls displayed beautiful mosaics, some that even looked like paintings from far away, what surprised me the most was the ceiling. Studying abroad in Rome, I marvel at the magnificent murals and elaborate architecture above me; yet, the São Roque Church, despite its intricate interior, featured a painted wooden roof. It was like the builders spent so much time on everything else that by the time they got to the roof, they were too tired to do any more.
After that, we took the tram to the Belem Tower, which actually rises out of the sea! It is located at the point where the river opens into the Atlantic Ocean. Can you imagine being an explorer from the 1500s and seeing a massive Romanesque tower as you sail into Lisbon? Of course, no visit is complete without a taste of Belem’s famous pastry, Pastel de Nata, which cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. It was delicious!
On our way back, we stopped at MUDE, Museu do Design e da Moda. The museum features an impressive collection of iconic pieces from each era starting in 1900 to now. I was even able to recognize the pieces made by Italian designers thanks to Professor Krizek’s class trip to Milan! In the Milan showrooms though, I was actually able to touch and take pictures of the pieces, whereas at MUDE, there was a strict no touching and no photography policy. Although MUDE is located in Portugal, the exhibition felt more like a timeline of the history of design; rather than a celebration of Portuguese design, which was what I had expected. The large number of works by French, Italian, and Scandinavian designers far overshadowed the meager showings of a couple Portuguese creations, which unfortunately highlighted the fact that Portugal’s golden age is over. Other than that though, MUDE is great (and free); definitely a must-see.
It just so happens that this past weekend was also Lisbon’s fashion week. As Marie and I were coming back from dinner, we stopped by the plaza where all the beautiful people of the world had just seen their respective shows. Keeping to ourselves, we people-watched from a prime location just outside the doors to the show. As we critiqued each outfit, a man approached us and asked what show we had just come from. Then, a random photographer asked to take our photo. It was a dream come true. Next dream? Actually get invited to a fashion show.