Portugal and the World of Tomar… (12/6-12/11)

belem-tower-farWeek two started on Tuesday with a late start, for me. I was out of the house at 10am and decided to try one of the several Hop on/Hop off bus tours in order to get to the big sites easily. Unfortunately, we’re in the off-season so the bus schedule for the line I chose (and I admit, I just went with the first one I saw, and even then I thought it was a different line), the Grayline tours, which, truth be told, was kinda shitty. The busses were supposed to come every 20 minutes but every 30-45 minutes was more accurate and the ground staff (and the one driver when I tried to get on the wrong bus) were unfriendly and unhelpful. But I had paid for it, so I tried to take as much advantage of it as I could. I did do the full circuit on the two lines (out of four) I had paid for so I guess that was okay. And it did take me to see the Belem Tower, which is certainly on the must-see list.

And it was pretty cool. But again, being the off season, the observation level was closed for renovation so instead of going in, I just took some pictures. The same was true of the Discoveries Monument, which was covered in scaffolding so the only thing which could be seen was the leading edge figure. It was a beautiful day, so instead of going in to any museums, I stayed outside (tried a Portuguese hot dog, which had shoestring fries put into the bun!) and just took in the sights I could.

That night, Jesse and I met up with Fanni and her son to go see Aspects of Alice presented by the TaFantasika Theatre of Prague. It was a black light theatrical experience in the top theatre facility of Lisbon (and presented by the same company who brought Aga-Boom to town). Interestingly, I’d seen this show before, when I was in Prague back in 08. It seems they tour this show all of the world so I was able to enjoy it again. Well… enjoy is a bit strong. It’s a weird performance art piece, still has not much to do with the original story, and a bit repetitive in terms of performance technique (“Alice” gets hooked up to some sort of flying rig, which in itself is really impressive, but it’s used poorly and repeatedly and thus, we got bored with it) and music (I wish I could find the “Knocking on the Knocking Door” song!). But it was still nice to see more theatre in town.tomar

Bright and early Wednesday morning I got up to head out to the small town of Tomar to research an article for next month’s David Magazine. In order to do this, I had to take the Blue Line subway/Metro to the train station and then take a train to Tomar. Once I was at the train station, I had no doubt I would be fine, but getting there had been making me a bit nervous, primarily because I wasn’t sure I could find the right subway line.

See, I needed the Blue Line and all of the signs I saw for the Metro looked like this one:

In other words, all the nearby Metro stations were for the Red Line. Every time I asked someone for the Blue Line, I was told it was right out front. But all I saw were the Red Line stations. Finally, I decided to go down into the station to see if I could figure out where the Blue line was… and I discovered that I was in the Blue Line station! I wasn’t seeing the Red Line, I was seeing the general sign for the Metro, which were all red.

I felt like an idiot, naturally, but then I felt better since I was going to have to do this navigation on my own at 7 in the morning. Eventually, I did figure it out (getting a top up of the travel card I got when we went to Sintra on Monday) and by 7:45, I was on my way. It was a two-hour trip and I had arranged my travel to get me to Tomar just before the museum I was going to see was scheduled to open. Since I didn’t know how much time I would need, I wanted to make sure I was covered. Everything was going fine, I was watching some TV on my iPad when we stopped in some town or other and the conductor came up to me, pointed and said, “You, come with me.”



I got up and followed him off the train, unsure why I was being taken off. “You’re going to Tomar, yes?”

“Yes,” I replied.

He pointed to the front of the train. “This part goes to Tomar. That part-” he pointed at the section where I had been “-doesn’t go there.”

Ahhh… he was just doing his job making sure I got where I was going. I thanked him, “Obragado!” and made myself comfortable for the rest of my journey.

I arrived in Tomar just before 10 o’clock, got confused directions from a cab driver waiting at the train station for the tourist information office and soon found my way to the museum I needed (The whole story of that visit will be available in a linked David story soon). Turns out I didn’t need as much time as I thought and literally could have been on the next train back to Lisbon, but hey, as long as I was in castle-exteriorTomar, I might as well have a look around. The big thing to see in Tomar is the Castle and Convent of the Order of Christ. It’s on a hill overlooking the town so I parsed my tourist map and figured out how to get up there. It’s beautiful, as most intact 12th century castles are, so I took some pictures and then went to see about actually going inside. It was €6…except I saw that teachers were free! So with excitement and pride I walked up to the old guy reading behind the counter and handed him my ITIC card. “No,” he said, castlebarley glancing up. “Only with group!” and he went back to reading. Well, if he wasn’t interested, than I wasn’t interested either so instead of going inside, I took a walk along the outer walls (no ticket needed) and had a great time. Then I took myself on a little self-guided tour of the old town, which is adorable, before I thought I’d head back to Lisbon.tomar-scenery

Then I decided to go for a tuk tuk tour. These little vehicles are ubiquitous in Lisbon and I wanted to try one so I approached the  Tuk Lovers Tuk Tuk, parked in the square of the Church of Saint John the Baptist in the center of town. It wasn’t cheap, but I wanted to see the nearby Aqueduct of Pegões and this seemed to be the easiest and tuk-tukmost fun way to do it, so off we went! The Aqueduct was impressive as hell and the ride was worth it, but it didn’t leave me much time to get back to the last train for two hours if I wanted to make it back to Lisbon in a reasonable time. I did and Jesse and I had dinner together, something becoming a common occurrence.aqueduct on-the-aqueduct

Thursday we were back in the theatre, and I had a final exam due for one of my classes, so the parts of Thursday and Friday not taken up with show duties were taken up with grading duties, which did get finished (whew! although another, with more students, is coming later this week).

With one exception. Friday night, Jesse asked me if I wanted to go have pizza. He said there was a Pizza Hut up the street and would i like to join him. I should state, for the record, that Jesse and I, here in Lisbon, are neighbors. We are both staying in the same building, me, on the first floor and him on the second. We also have a lot of mutual friends, including Kevin Burke, the one who first got me hooked up with this crew. As the only two native born Americans on the crew, we’d been hanging out so going to dinner was no big deal, considering we both have the same attitude about food (mainly that it’s a more social occasion and that fast food was just fine – And he’s probably even less adventurous about food than I am, which is saying something).

So off we went to find Pizza Hut. Not that it was hard, seemed it was just up the main street which was on the corner of where we lived. And it was just past a Birger King we had tried to find last week, but didn’t walk far enough and it was raining so… But this time, no rain so we could walk just fine. But was we were walking , we happened to look down (we were on some sort of bridge or overpass) and on the street below us, some 30 feet/10 meters or more, was the sign for a comic book/toy shop. Since we had nothing better to do, we figured out how to get down to check it out.

Inside it was more a haven for collectable figures than anything else. They had some comics, but when I asked for something (I was hoping to get some hard copies of Marv Wolfman’s latest, Raven) I was told they didn’t carry new comics, just some selected recent (the last 5-10 years) favorites. We were then told that there were a lot of comic shops in Lisbon so the competition was fierce. Pretty interesting. That said, though, we left without buying anything but the thought of walking back up the several flights of stairs to our previous street level was not exciting. Instead, we went in to the gym which was on our current level to take the elevator up.

No dice. The elevator didn’t go up. We asked the girl working the counter if there were a way and she told us there wasn’t… then winked and said she could let us in to the gym to take the escalators but not to say anything. So we’re not mentioning names or locations but were we ever grateful (and yes, the irony of sneaking through a sport club to avoid walking up stairs did not escape us).15380810_10155464882269688_5377703623409851703_n

Further on our walk, we did find the Pizza Hut, but before we could cross the street to get there, we saw the theatre where the Portuguese version of Defending the Caveman was 15338700_10101136664976308_3434427199930744984_nplaying. Since our mutual buddy, the aforementioned Kevin Burke, is the star of Vegas’ version of the same show, we knew we’d have to get a picture. Naturally, though, we wanted to see what was playing and ask a few questions – being theatre people it made sense. Eventually, they gave us a tour of the space and Jesse picked up a ticket to see that evening’s 11:30 performance of Forbidden Broadway (I declined, knowing I’d never stay awake for a show that late).

Only then did we cross the street and have our pizza. It was nice having a personal pan, with real pepperoni. Had been a long time since I’d had good ol’ American pizza. We had a good time there (and our contention, when questioned, is that since there were a huge number of locals eating there, it qualified as Portuguese food!).15439872_10155479628664688_3825186176279352724_n

On the way back, we stopped at the Wonderland Lisboa Christmas market in the big park. It was a nice mix of traditional booths with hot alcoholic beverages, homemade products, 15400546_10155479628674688_4525272507845298583_nand activities for the family, including a ferris wheel and ice skating. After walking for a bit and exploring the offerings (and making lewd 15401084_10155479628844688_3529452732419903203_njokes at the expense of the places called Le Moustache… come on, you mean to tell me you would have let that tag line alone?) I left Jesse to go to his show and I made my way back home.

This left me with only a couple of articles to write, but since it’s the holiday season, Dimitri and I spent Saturday morning, before our afternoon show, at the Lisbon flea market, which is huge and mostly filled with crap, although I was able to find a few presents. We had fun, though, no matter what the offerings were.

Sunday morning, before our show, Jesse and I had tickets to go see a local production of The Little Mermaid at the Teatro Politeama. Now, we’d booked these tickets a while ago, having seen the theatre on our walk on our first day in town and the pictures outside the theatre looked like a cross between a cirque show and Disney. When we’d gone to the Circus, which was right across from this theatre, we’d asked about tickets and were told it was selling out quickly. So we bought our tickets early. After we did, though, we discovered the reputation of the show’s producer left quite a bit to be desired. His show’s were not known for their quality, but hey, we’d already gotten our tickets so we were committed.little-mermaid

The show was fabulous! The production values were nice, including a computer generated video projection backdrop for setting the scene, a ship which lowered from the rafters and Ariel flying every time she was supposed to be “swimming.” The “fish” characters were all 15380833_10155475490354688_8225979393297600890_nzipping around the stage on hover boards and everything looked Julie Taymor lite. Now, this wasn’t exactly Disney’s version, although it was certainly “inspired” by it. Most of the characters were intact, like Sebastian the Crab, but Flounder was gone, replaced with a strangely limp-15492414_10155475490229688_5627454620606389217_nfinned dolphin and Ursula’s eels became a pair of hammerhead sharks, but it was close enough.

Then there was the music. When the show was starting its pre-show, Jesse leaned over to tell me the were using the music from Cirque du Soleil’s “O.” Interesting. When the show itself started, the first song being sung and Jesse said “This is from South Pacific.” Now, since the whole production was in Portuguese, we had no idea what they were singing, but the tune was not original. Turns out none of them were. There were melodies from Hamilton and How to Succeed in Business, among others, alongside the Rogers and Hammerstein. We were tickled, wondering which show was going to be bastardized next, but the kids in the audience (of which there were plenty) had no idea and were just excited to help Ariel when her voice was gone (by screaming her name for her) and yelled loudly when it looked like the wedding plans for Ariel and Prince Eric (No idea what name he actually had in this show – Portuguese, remember?) might not happen. And with a running time of just over an hour, it was perfect.

Then it was back to our theatre for our show, with another really great house. That said, three weeks is a long time and we’re all getting a bit homesick. Tomorrow starts our last week here, and who knows what adventures it will bring.

3 thoughts on “Portugal and the World of Tomar… (12/6-12/11)

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