Portugal was quite pretty. Before going there I was a bit stressed out about the language, mostly because I used to be able to speak it and had forgotten most of it. As usual, it was not worth stressing about. I could read everything I wanted to read, and could say everything I wanted to say. Understanding was a bit more difficult, because the Portuguese don't speak Portuguese like normal people from Somerville and Watertown. They eat almost every vowel that's remotely edible, and don't palatalize t's and d's where they should. They do, however, speak English better than most of the southern Europe.
Lisbon is full of places that are very retro and give you the feeling that you are inside some Italian neorealist movie of the fifties. Usually I only like the fifties on screen, but it was all right for a short vacation. And it was certainly unlike any other place I'd seen.
The city is situated on a bank (not both banks, really) of a huge river called Tejo. They have an unbelievably long bridge over it, 17 kilometers or so.
We stayed in Chiado apartments (well, one of them), and I highly recommend the place to everyone who goes to Lisbon for a week or more. Beautiful apartment, spacious, well-equipped, great location, great view, great everything.
Except for fado. But it's not the apartment's fault. You can't escape the damn thing anywhere in Portugal.
In fact, everywhere in Europe musicians of dubious quality like to play outside in the center of the city in hope that somebody will give them some money to go away, but in Portugal the extent of the problem was orders of magnitude worse than elsewhere. They have fado.
Fado is the Portuguese version of the common folk music topic "I am a redneck, and nobody wants to have sex with me", mostly - or so I heard - with the added theme of "I am a redneck lost at sea, and if anybody even wants to have sex with me, they surely aren't here on the boat". But whereas other peoples of Europe sing of their horny redneckitude to cheerful or at least melodic tunes, fado tunes sound like the cries of a donkey that is being raped to death excruciatingly slowly.
(Speaking about the raped donkeys: they (the Portuguese, not the donkeys) have an organization called União Zoófila. It is some animal protection organization, but the name is suggestive.)
And they sell it. To masochists, I assume, or maybe to the Deaf community. We had a fadomobile parked right on our street all day, an ancient car that played fado all day and had a human being sitting in it and selling the CDs. Every time we walked by the fadomobile we discussed various ways of sabotaging it, but there were too many witnesses.
When the fadomobile left for the night live musicians came out, even though every time they did so they risked becoming dead musicians. The worst were a couple of guys that played one night right under our windows. Their music was composed as atrociously as the fadomobile's, and played even worse. I considered throwing eggs, rotten tomatoes and other similar tokens of appreciation at them, had to remind myself that I am a cultured and law-abiding Western woman, and also that the area is probably monitored by security cameras. Then Benka came out of here room, where she went to escape the sound, and reminded me that we don't have any eggs.
Benka has become a total jock in her advanced age. Good for her, but I am not sure the rest of us will survive it. Every time she sees any steps, her reflex is to run up them. I am afraid to visit the Empire State Building with her.
The Portuguese have obliged her and built a great many steps. They also built Lisbon on a number of hills.
Anyway, this time she brought a step meter with her, and it became a bane of our existence. She holds a very firm opinion that a person who hasn't walked 25 thousand steps during the day does not deserve any lunch, and the problem with that is that after you walk 25000 steps it's usually time for dinner. My parents also disapprove of such human needs as coffee, water, or sitting down for a minute, so every time I feel in need of any of the above I get to hear a lecture about my weaknesses. I am, however, allowed to piss without a lecture.
BTW - the public places in Portugal are usually rather well-equipped with toilets.
The favorite hobby of the Portuguese seem to be demonstrations. On the day we arrived, there was a demonstration against "fortress Europe". On the day before we left, there was a demonstration of teachers against bureaucracy. One of them asked us to send them an extra Obama, if we have one. I told him that I'd be glad to send them the Obama that we have in the White House, and he found this rather generous.
In between those two big demonstrations there was a number of smaller ones. On the days when the government failed to do anything objectionable and thus provide a good reason for a demonstration, folk dancing was substituted for it.