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Last Day in Portugal

Last Day in Portugal

March 10, 2019 11:49 pmComments are Disabled

It was perhaps not ideal that we didn’t decide to do a walking tour of Lisbon until our last day, but I’m glad we did it this way.

Discovering a country on your own is so much more fun than being lectured about it, even if the lecture is a comprehensive, colorful walk through centuries of history led by a self-described “city rat” madly in love with his home. Over the course of a week, we learned about Christians and Moors, Romans and goths, fado and football, just by being around locals and talking to people and seeing the country.

And now, we had the opportunity to reinforce what we had learned, learn something new, and tie up the whole trip in a neat bow. Our guide was fairly typical as far as free walking tour guides go: ebullient, knowledgeable, and funny. But he also had an interesting personal story which he shared with us over the course of the day, as different memories from his past intersected with our walking path. The bookstore he bought he favorite book, the theatre where he used to work, the bar he moonlights at now. Our guide was a Gen-X’er of Indian descent, born in Mozambique and fled with his parents to Portugal after their revolution. As such, he was uniquely situated to speak on issues of identity and national memory, especially when discussing Portugal’s Age of Discovery and colonial empire, a topic of which he and many Portuguese, we gather, are both proud and reflective. His poignant telling of the 1506 massacre of the Jews of Lisbon had the crowd entranced.

Our walk through Lisbon took us through the modern city center rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire in the 1980’s, to the old Moorish quarter, largely destroyed and rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. We learned about Vasco de Gama and Luis de Camões, José Saramango and António de Oliveira Salazar. We learned that Ian Fleming came up with the idea for James Bond in World War II Lisbon.

Walking the path of the ancient city walls with a local historian is a visceral experience, and puts learning in a new light. It’s not hard to imagine people walking these same streets four hundred years ago, with a guide, marveling at what by then would have been over fifteen hundred years of history. Cities like Lisbon have been rules by many regimes and visited by many merchants and traders all over the world. It is hard to believe that Lisbon was already a millennium old during the American Revolution. People who live in a place with that much history (as I saw last year in Egypt) have a completely different perspective of the world.

After a full day of walking the city, including visiting the monuments at Belém, we had an early dinner with a full bottle of Port wine and, regrettably, called it a night. It’s hard to believe that after so short a time, though what feels like so long a time, living, breathing, tasting, smelling and walking Portugal, we have to head home.

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