Today makes two weeks that I’ve been here, but I’ve been upright for only about half of it. I still have a lingering cough that is manageable as long as I stay hydrated. Despite the generous use of 50 SPF sunscreen every day, I’m getting a nice toasty tan. The slightly humid weather is fabulous on my skin but hell on my hair.
The weather goes from warm during the day to cool at night, and the locals are complaining that there has been “no summer” this year. They should be happy toward the end of next week as temperatures are expected to reach 34°C (94°F).
This week I started apartment-hunting in earnest. I had seen one or two places last week and was discouraged by what I found, although one viewing became a real adventure as I met a discombobulated agent with bright red hair, lime green stiletto heels and fake eyelashes that looked like caterpillars. She brought the wrong set of keys and took me on a joy ride through town, iPad on her lap giving her driving directions to her office, chatting and nearly taking out a few pedestrians along the way.
The apartment, unfortunately, was a disappointment. Broken furniture and a weird layout. Also, the Portuguese don’t seem to know how to build safe stairwells. In the older buildings they are steep, narrow and rarely have handrails. Also, the dead cockroach the size of my thumb made this place a firm “no, thank you.”
I saw seven places this week, each quite different and each with its own charms. None fired on all cylinders — proximity to water (bonus points for a view), some kind of veranda, central location but a little quieter and modern upgrades — at least within our price range. I did see two yesterday that are worth follow-up, so G and I will be seeing them together. The good news is that we have until September to make a firm decision.
The question is whether to get a place that is furnished or unfurnished. We are both inclined to get a place that is already furnished so it’s easier to depart with minimal shedding. The caveat is that it needs to be stylishly furnished! The other thing about getting a furnished place is that is always feel like you’re living in someone else’s home. (I saw one yesterday that was quite nice, well appointed, in an amazing location; a little more expensive than our budget but if you consider the cost of furnishing and shipping out stuff from the US, may be a wash in the end.)
As I have wandered the streets I’ve made some observations worth noting. The more personal, inward observations will be part of a separate post.
Everywhere, really, crowding the trams and pastry shops, crossing the street against the red lights, walking down the middle of narrow streets oblivious that it’s an actual vehicle path, taking in the city through the lens of their phone cameras.
Tourism has helped to rejuvenate the city, and locals are loathe to complain about the economic boom that the industry has brought.
There is some pressure, though, on AirBnB. I saw one apartment yesterday where the woman told me the other building tenants complained about the noisy guests and she’s now banned from renting it out short-term.
Tourism has also inspired the use of so-called “tuk-tuks,” allegedly “eco-friendly” open air vehicles that can navigate some of the more narrow streets. They are wildly expensive (€65 for an hour, on average) and they are everywhere, although the mayor passed an ordinance that limits where they can park.
Just as in San Francisco, the tourists clamor to hop on the trams (or trolleys), forming long lines and packing in like (*ahem*) sardines. I love open air rides as much as anyone (sniff…my BMW convertible), but I would not stand in line an hour to do so.
One of the most popular fashion statements is what can only be described as a “onesie” for women — a loose one-piece jumper-short outfit.
A lot of women wear this, or cute dresses, with sneakers. Hurray for being comfortable (though I do see the occasional woman navigating the cobblestone in stilettos).
Women also wear loose flowing palazzo-style trousers, usually with flowery patterns or bold stripes. Having navigated streets in jeans, I can see this is a very practical alternative.
I have not yet had a bad meal, even in the least expensive spots. Because apartments tend to be small — and kitchens are barely an afterthought — the preference is to meet up with friends in restaurants and bars. This is a big transition for me, who generally likes to host. But I think I can also get used to having less work (planning, prepping, cooking and cleaning) to do. One woman told me that when she was newly married and living in Chiado, she and her husband almost never ate at home. It was too easy to stumble a few steps to a restaurant.
Dining here is like the rest of Europe — and unlike the US — where the waitstaff generally leave you alone to enjoy your evening. There aren’t the usual interruptions every 15 minutes to ensure you’re in and out within an hour so they can turn tables. You have to flag down the waiter for your bill.
I’ve generally managed to avoid red meats, instead focusing on seafood and fish. The Portuguese have also upped their game in the green salad department — fresh greens and vegetables, well seasoned and well-dressed. But if you’re visiting you can leave your fear of carbs at home — dishes often come with rice and potatoes.
Also, brunch has apparently arrived in Lisbon. There is a whole guide to the best brunches. I’m guessing I’ll avoid that scene as much as I did in SF. Of course, in SF I had a waffle iron and could recreate all the greatest brunch hits at home (see earlier paragraph).
So those are my observations thus far. More on a personal note about home and identity later.