This week I have been in Portugal. I opted for the´sudden immersion´ approach to the City. It is some while since I have travelled in a foreign city alone and so I was quite relieved to have adequately navigated the mysteries of the Lisbon Metro, successfully coping with the ticketing system and the map and emerging into the light for the first time at the Cais do Sodré on the banks of the River Tagus in the middle of the city.
It is exciting after the impersonal , non-nationality specific aura of airport and international hotel to ‘Arrive’. To feel, for the first time, the light and the atmosphere of a different place. I love the assault on the senses which comes from such an approach. Here was bright light and the smell of the River and the Atlantic. A busker was playing classical guitar in the square and, in the market, there was every conceivable type of fruit and vegetable. Hams, wrapped in muslin, hung from long rails. Fish gazed, glassy-eyed from beds of ice. The smell of spices was intoxicating!
I wandered, without direction, up narrow cobbled streets dodging trams and Tuk-tuk and gazing up at tall terraces of buildings in a multitude of colours. But what struck me most was the ceramics. Many buildings were clad, at least in part, in beautifully decorated tiles.
This is the Portuguese way of protecting their buildings from the elements: Azulejo cover almost every flat surface and the impact is incredible!
Many buildings are clad in tiles to protect them from the elements.
Later I walked along the river to the National Tile Museum to learn more. The museum is housed in an ancient monastery and I had difficulty focussing on one thing because there is so much to see. The architecture of the building is old and beautiful, the tiles range from sixteenth century to very contemporary and the tea room served some of the best Pastel de Nata (custard tarts) I was able to find! The second floor is given over to one enormous mural of Lisbon, part of the museum is given over to an explanation of the making of Portuguese Azulejo through the ages, and in the cloisters, a group of children were decorating their own tiles under the watchful eye of a curator.
This museum is less well frequented than others in the city because it is not so easy to get to but I made it my fist port of call and I was so glad that I had – it is a treasure!