Fishes and the Sea (12/12-12/18)

dsc_0852Starting Monday, we were on our own for two days. We had packed up the show after the Sunday performance since we were moving for two shows to another theatre in another city later in the week. The thing about being here was that we weren’t exactly tourists, since we were working, but we weren’t exactly locals, since we were just visiting. So after doing our sightseeing during the first two weeks, going out and doing a tour just didn’t seem like the thing to do. But then, for me, sitting at home wasn’t the thing to do, either. I did that on Monday while grading papers and writing my article. So I knew I had to do something different on Tuesday.

So I went to look at fishes.

dsc_0534Lisbon is home to the Oceanário de Lisboa, one of the largest aquariums (and one of the highest rated) in the world – and me, I’m a sucker for the aquatic. So I got up early and figured out how to get there taking the metro (remember the trouble I had with the metro last week?) and arrived not long after opening. Of course, in order to get there, I did have to change trains and the station where I ended up forced me to walk through the Centro Vasco da Gama, a large mall complex which I figured to visit later.

The aquarium itself was in two buildings and not cheap (although I did get my teacher dsc_0450discount so on this trip, my ITIC card paid for itself). In the first building, where the ticket office is located, is also the home of the temporary exhibits – currently an installation by an underwater landscape artist. It’s a fascinating display, especially when you watch the video with interviews and a time-lapse showing how they took the space and transformed it.

Then, in order to get to the main section, you have to pass between buildings, past a multi-media room (which I’m sure also hosts birthday parties) along a slanted walkway up to the second level, which is where the one-way walk around the aquarium begins. The design is actually pretty cool, with everything centered around a single huge octagonal aquarium (more like a square with the corners cut) which contains over five million liters of water and not only dsc_0464sharks and manta rays (which I’ve never seen before in captivity) but also groupers and mola mola (which is just fun to say). In the corners are the secondary displays and environmental habitats, like for puffins and sea otters as well as specialized smaller tanks for individual fish.

Like Ikea, you are guided around the tank, stopping on the four main sides where there are big picture windows for watching the fish swim by, and when you’ve made a complete circuit, you find yourself at a set of stairs leading down so you can cover the same ground one flight lower. The central tank, obviously, is the same, but now the extra displays have a bit more education basis and add in amphibians and mollusks dsc_0528just for fun. All of this leads to the fact that by the time you’ve finished, you’ve at least walked by everything on display – whether you’ve taken the time to stop and watch the fish swim is entirely up to you, but the designers here have given you every opportunity. A truly pleasurable adventure.

Upon leaving the aquarium, I walked along the water, following the path of the sky tram (the girl at the aquarium gift shop suggested walking rather than riding) which led to a really cool hotel (they have a rentable party space on the top floor, but there’s no public area accessible) and then I headed back to the mall before catching dsc_0539my train back to town. At the mall I was able to actually get a bit of holiday shopping taken care of and scouted out at least one place I’d be able to see Rogue One later in the week (if I couldn’t find someplace closer to the theatre).

Walking home I noticed something interesting, which Jesse had actually pointed out earlier but I’d never really looked at it. In the older part of town, where our apartments were located, they were doing a lot of construction. And Lisbon, known as the town of seven hills (same as Rome and San Francisco) has some interesting lots available. So there was one place where they had completely removed the building to rebuild something else, but they saved the tree. The treeimg_5030 had a huge cage built around it to protect it from whatever was happening. I’d love to go back in a year or so and see what happened in that lot – and the tree is faring.

By the time I did make it home, I got a message from Jesse asking if I wanted to go and explore the “Bairro Alto. It’s the “Alternative” area of Lisbon (not necessarily gay, just different).” He’d gotten directions to an area a little more lively than our usual haunts so I said sure and off we went. We passed really cool graffiti and a sushi bar with a huge papier-mâché octopus hanging from the ceiling. We walked up and down hills, especially when, after walking for about 45 minutes, we hit a T intersection and weren’t sure where we were supposed to go. Since we were both tired and a bit hungry (we were going to eat in this fancy district) we made the judicious call that where we wanted to be was on the downhill side. So we walked and walked, passing all sorts of really cool used book stores until we finally walked into one and asked for directions. Yeah, you guessed it – we should have gone up hill.

So back we trudged, and ended up finding a really cool area (still not sure if it’s the one we were actually looking for) decked out with Christmas lights and interesting cafés, including one with a statue of some guy seated with an empty chair next to him. Now, if you see a statue with an empty chair, and sane, normal person (or me) would naturally assume that chair was meant to sit in and take a picture while somehow interacting with the statue, right? Of course. So this is what I did. The picture is below.


What you don’t see are the two women sitting directly in front of this scene eating at the restaurant who were giving me the Lisbon equivalent of the hairy eyeball for daring to sit and scold the sculpture (and yes, “Scold the Sculpture” is the name of my new alternative Ska band).

As always, we had a great time but called it a little early since we had to get up and be at at the theatre for 8:30 so we could be on the road by 9am – Figueira da Foz awaited.

Lorenzo, Vlad, Antonio, Miguel, Fanni

Figueira da Foz is a coastal resort city about 150 km north of Lisbon which they’d booked us into their arts center for two shows on Thursday. Now, because we had the best local crew ever, Miguel, Antonio, Lorenzo, and Vlad, all led by the intrepid and delightfully acerbic Fanni, a lot of our prep work was done before we ever showed up. This included building paper walls and mostly hanging the lights. So we worked a bit, got props unpacked and built then headed downstairs to the restaurant in the center for a delightful Portuguese meal. In fact, we would eat lunch and dinner there for the next two days and experience lots of Portuguese cuisine.

After getting all set up, we headed to our hotel, which was a comedy of errors. I had a decent img_5057room, with a tub (I haven’t had access to a tub in quite some time, so I enjoyed it, soaking and watching episodes of Killjoys). The only really weird thing about my room was the off-center (and off-kilter) half painting of a clown woman over one side of the bed. Of course, the heat had gone out so most every one else was really uncomfortable all night long, but since I’m overly hot when I sleep, it didn’t bother me too much.

Thursday was show day and we were good to go. Great audiences and a good time was had by all. If, having read through all of these posts, you’re wondering what it was I was doing, check out the short video below:

We packed up after the second show because we needed to get back for our final weekend shows at Teatro Tivoli. Then on Friday morning we got up early for our 2 1/2 hour drive back to Lisbon. The reason we got up early (aside from having to get the van back by 3) was because all us tourists wanted to stop at this castle we’d seen while driving up (and Fanni, who has been living in Portugal on and off for almost 20 years had never been there so there was that, too). Since I get up earlier than most anyway, I was planning on doing a little beach walk before we left. I ran into Dimitri in the lobby and he joined in, so we were able to imagine what it must be like in summer, when the place was packed.

The castle we’d seen was in Óbidos, and was literally a walled in village. Today, the interior ofdsc_0808 the castle walls are mostly hotels and vacation rentals but it’s still a pretty good representation of what that kind of village would look like. And… you can walk almost completely around the walls – which of course I did. And took video of doing.

Now, you might be able to tell from the video, the sky was threatening, but I didn’t think it would actually rain. It had rained earlier in the day, but I figured we were good. Fanni, however, insisted it was going to rain and suggested we take umbrellas. I took mine, just in case. Turns out, I needed it. But not until after I finished my circumference navigation and was dsc_0815looking for the rest of the group (They all chickened out and I walked the wall myself). Before I could find anyone, the sky opened up and it began to pour! But thankfully I had my umbrella.

We made it back to Lisbon, a little wet and worse for wear, but in time to dry off and get ready for the weekend’s shows. Since we actually got in before sunset, Jesse and I decided to once again try to see  Castelo de São Jorge since the last time didn’t turn out so well for me and while Jesse had been there, he’d never been there at sunset since he was always there on the cruise ships in the summer time.

We couldn’t have timed it better. We got there in daylight, were up at the top of the hill for sunset then got to see the lights in the city come on.  Some really amazing views were ours to be had.

Saturday night, I decided I was going to see Rogue One and looked for a nearby theatre showing it. I found one less than a mile away, which was easy walking distance, and had a screening which wasn’t too late. Being opening weekend, I figured it was going to be packed so I asked Fanni to help me pre-buy my ticket. She called the theatre but they insisted it wouldn’t sell out. I had no choice but to believe them. So after the show I got directions and walked to the theatre. It was past the Pizza Hut from last week and inside a mall. When I found it, I figured I would buy the ticket before exploring the shops. I bought my ticket and asked about reserved seats, a standard in Europe. Not so much here. Interesting but nothing to be concerned with. Then I walked around the “mall.” There were a couple of clothing stores, a book shop and… well, aside from a food court, that was about it. So back to the theatre to get my popcorn before showtime and I had to run for a good seat.

Except there was no popcorn. No concession stand at all. There was a selection of DVDs for sale, though, and some old movie posters and then it hit me – this was an art house. Sure enough, there were maybe fifteen people there to see a Star Wars film Saturday night, opening weekend. No problem getting a good seat (well, the first two seats I chose, directly on the center aisle, had been worn through, so I moved one seat in and it was fine). Then came the trailers, which were all for independent, art house fare. The projection was fine, though, and I loved the film, so all was good. Just not sure why this particular venue chose this particular film.

After our final show on Sunday night, we packed up everything and got it ready for transport to the airport the next morning, then, after saying goodbye to everyone at the theatre, Me and Yuri, our sound guy, and Dimitri, Jesse and Iryna all went out for a really lovely and fun meal to close out our run.

Monday morning I was going to get up and meet the gang at the theatre to help them load up, but since a) it was at 7:30 and b) they told me not to worry about it, I didn’t. Instead, I got up leisurely and did some last minute souvenir shopping and post card sending. I even stopped in at this coffee shop called Fabrica

Here’s the thing about this place: I’d seen it my first morning in town as it was right down the street from my apartment. It looked like a cool, hipster coffee house and there was superhero artwork on the walls, and I was all set to pop in and have breakfast before starting in at the theatre – except they didn’t have wifi and were proud of this fact. I understand the choice to not have an Internet connection, but the signs up everywhere said “No Wifi, Drink Coffee” and that’s what bugs me. Long time readers will recall I wrote a post a few years back about bad hostels and one of the reasons I wasn’t happy was they would turn off the wifi for a couple of hours every evening. This is unacceptable. And in today’s world, being proud of not having wifi in a coffee shop is the same. In a fine dining establishment, not having connectivity is okay. But in a place where people are gathering to converse or, like me, just sit and enjoy a coffee, telling me that my wishing to read the news or see how my friends are is somehow inconvenient to your business practices, I get miffed. So I never actually went in until that final day. And then I really just went in to take pictures of the art (I did order a coffee, which, honestly, wasn’t great).

Finally it was time to go. I grabbed my belongings and headed to the theatre, where Fanni drove with me to the airport. We said goodbye and I hopped a plane to Frankfurt and from there to Vilnius where Monika kindly picked me up and dropped me off at home so I could, after three weeks, sleep in my bed and wake up to see my girls.dsc_0535

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