To call “The Traveler's House” a youth hostel, however, is a bit misleading because this place is luxurious! The common room is littered with plush bean bags, three Mac computers offer free internet access, a wide selection of DVDs are available to watch on their big screen TV, they make the beds for you, and an eggs and toast breakfast is included! Besides that, it's very spacious and decorated tres chic. All that for just 30 US Dollars per person per night.
We met up with another guide friend of my dad's, Rita, from Lisbon Walker in the early afternoon for a walking tour of Baixa, Lisbon's downtown. We met her by the river in a big square called Praca do Comercio. I had no idea Lisbon had such an interesting history.
Lisbon's Royal Palace used to be located on this square until it was destroyed by the huge earthquake in 1755. It was actually three earthquakes plus a tsunami plus a huge fire (sparked by candles Catholics were lighting for All Saints' Day) equals a very ruined city.
Afterward, the king was more interested in his mistresses than in ruling Portugal, so his prime minister, Pombal, seized the opportunity to rebuild the city himself. He acted like a dictator, doing everything to take away power from the nobles and the Church in order to maintain his authority.
He made the nobles all dress like plain old bourgeoisie. He built fire-and-earthquake-proof buildings in a uniform grid and painted them all a somber yellow. He required that all the shops be located on the ground floor, that nobles live on the second floor, and that lower classes live on the upper floors. Pombal was clearly a nutcase. I mean who in their right mind paints a city mustard yellow? At least choose a nice blue!
He allowed the Church to rebuild only a few of their churches, if and only if the new architecture was very discreet. We visited a couple churches hidden in the midst of large buildings. One of them was completely undistinguishable from the street unless you walked to see its small façade on one side. The other church was given away only by a tiny cross above it on the roof.
Lisbon's downtown is now “dying.” The river that runs beneath it is rotting the wood foundations of the buildings. Fifty years ago apartment rent rates were frozen so some people still pay a mere $10 to rent. Landowners have no incentive to fix the places up because they can't charge any more regardless. No young people want to buy such shabby apartments so all that is left are old people. It's not even a great shopping district because there are better shopping malls elsewhere. Despite all this, the squares are full of locals and tourists abound everywhere.
So far I like Lisbon even more than I did Spain. It has that metropolitan feel but it's intimate at the same time. Its got lots of quirks: hidden churches, an obsession with fish, legions of cat-calling men (some of whom literally “meow” at you), street vendors who offer us automated dog toys and hash, famous liquor named after a clown, and lots of old people with plenty of attitude.
About This Entry
You are reading "It’s Mostly Yellow and Dying, But I Love It", an entry posted on 19 July 2009 by Jackie Steves.