Lisbon and Cascais

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September, 2005

Pretty much the first thing that everyone, especially Americans, asks themselves when first touring around Lisbon is: “Uh, what’s with the bridge?”.

I guess that’s what happens when you put an exact replica of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge sprawling across the mouth of your city. To be fair, it’s bridgenot an exact replica, but with cherry-apple red paint splashed across a suspension bridge frame, the 25 de Abril Bridge draws immediate comparisons to its American counterpart. What’s interesting is that the bridge is actually modeled after the gray-colored  San Francisco Bay Bridge, only with the paint job of the more famous Golden Gate.

Aside from the bright red architecture spanning the river, one of the most popular sites in Lisbon is arguably the Batalha Abbey, a stunning example of Gothic architecture that has stood in the same spot since its construction in 1388.  Inside it houses Portugal’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which actually houses two Portuguese soldiers who died during World War II. In batalhamy opinion, Gothic architecture + corpses = cool, but creepy.

Aside from the architecture and sights of the city, the vibrance of Lisboa can best be felt on a casual stroll down Rua Augusta, the main pedestrian thoroughfare through the city. With charismatic street vendors, charming outdoor cafes, and African immigrants hawking sunglasses and knockoff purses, Rua Augusto is Portugal’s answer to Barcelona’s Las Ramblas.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that Portugal is just an extension of neighboring Spain, however. I witnessed a poor American fellow thank a pizza vendor with a humble “Gracias”, and the vendor turned on him with a meat cleaver and shouted in broken English that “Spain is over that way! Here, it is obrigado“. Yikes!

While walking the streets of Lisbon was enthralling in that old world way, my augustalargest disappointment while in the capital was that I was not going to be in town for a Whitesnake concert advertised on a billboard that was happening the next weekend. The thought of missing out on thousands of young Portuguese drinking Super Bock and singing along to 80’s power rock was a thought I couldn’t bear. Just the fact that Whitesnake was huge in Portugal 20 years after their prime made me happy enough, though.

Needing a respite from the bustle of the urban city, we jaunted out to nearby Cascais, a tranquil fishing town turned fashionable beach scene that sits on the outskirts of the city. While the town has become the hub of Portugal’s “Costa do sol”, the fringes of the town still resemble the old world charm and the fishing heritage that the town was founded upon. A walk along the coastline of Cascais will bring you to tucked away little rocky coves where women still hang the laundry out over the sea, and colorful fishing boats lay at anchor in the calm offshore waters, patiently waiting to go ply the seas once again. Even though the beaches in summer are warm and the blue waters look inviting, this is still the North Atlantic, and the ocean  still packs an cascaisincredibly chilly punch. Regardless, we made a go at it and swam half-nude to the amazement of the Portuguese urban sunbathers. This was my first chance to swim on the “other side of the pond”, and I wasn’t about to let some frigid water temps drive me away.

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