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Lisbon Story: Why You Must Go Part I – The Skies

January 26, 2012


It’s been more than a week since I’ve been back to the farm, returning from an indisputably ideal way to spent the end of December and a hefty chunk of January: eating one’s way through Lisbon, Paris, and the west coast of France in the fisherman’s village of Plougonvelin, all in the company of family and great friends (who might as well be family). My sister and I packed our bags the day after Christmas, and set our sights on the country of our grandfather (whom we admittedly did not know): Portugal. Marta, our summer writing boarder (and farm manager, if you recall), invited us to see Lisbon, her hometown, through her eyes. Who would pass that up? Not I. (Jason, maybe—but he has a good excuse, I promise! In the face of his grandfather’s health, he has been entrusted with quite a bit of the cattle and shop management, so at the moment, he’s knee-deep in manure, hay and taxes…). Jewells and I, the intelligent ones for never passing up a good thing, immediately made our first mistake: we both packed luggage that was enormously too small. The perils of return flights…they get us every time! (That is another blog post, on another blog of embarrassing stories).

Nonetheless, let me take a moment to brag about Portugal, in a valiant effort to assure that everyone I know at least gets an earful about why they should visit this tiny little European country with a gigantic heart and soul.

ALL summer, despite witnessing some of the most glamorous and serene sunsets over the Blue Ridge Mountains right here in the USofA, Marta defended her skies. “They are the bluest skies in the world in Lisbon, especially in the winter. They are bluer than anywhere else I’ve ever been.” Believing this friend of ours to be a) well-travelled, b) honest, and c) reasonable, we still second-guessed her. It was as ridiculous as claiming “my country has the best soup!” or “the best grass” or “the best trees” or “the best bread”–everybody’s got sky and soup and grass and …. no, I take that back, admittedly, I will argue to my death that France has the best bread. But you get the point. However, upon arriving in the capital city’s quaint and easily-navigated airport, I was put in my place. I was educated about something I was previously unaware of. The sky was blue. Bluer than I could remember seeing. Cloudless. Clean. Crisp. My mind jumped back to our 64 jumbo pack of Crayola Crayons: aquamarine, blizzard blue, blue green, blue grey, cadet blue, cerulean, cornflower, denim, green blue, midnight blue, navy, pacific blue, periwinkle, robin’s egg blue, sky blue, teal blue, turquoise blue, violet blue….inadequate! Crayola, you fail me now. 29 years of learning your hues of blue, and you reward me not with a single adequate descriptor of Portugal’s winter firmament. Blasted. Yet, all was not lost, despite my loss of poetic adjectives; after a few days of soaking in the warm winter sun, I came to my senses…it’s not a color that can describe the many shades of pristine blue that is their sky–it is a feeling!  The sky, yes, was a color, but more than that, it was a quality. It had that quality where no matter how long you stared at it, it seemed to get deeper and deeper in its hue, as if it were constantly in motion. It felt tangible yet fleeing your visual grasp all at once. It swallowed you whole in its ocean of blue, and then spit you out again that you might ever stare into its endless deep. It was so clear and cloudless and open that at times, beneath it, you forgot you were actually beneath anything at all.

Enough with inadequate words and crayons. Let me show you a spectrum of Lisbon Blue Days (never mind that photographs are always inadequate pointers to a visual existence. Let’s pretend, for a sweet moment, that they’re more than that. Maybe you will feel the open expanse and the still breeze on your face coming from the sea, and you’ll book the next flight…):

The sky above the World Heritage Site Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, a municipality of Lisbon, as seen from the Tram.

The coastline leading to the town of Cascais, a fishing village that has also served as a resort town form both Portuguese and Spanish Royalty. Cascais is about 30 minutes east of Lisbon by train.

The sky in its pristine flatness above a fortress that was used as a "summer house," finished towards the end of the 16th century by King Philip I (Philip II of Spain). The ocean washes right up to its stone foundation in high tide.

Barely a cloud in the crystal sky over the beach near Sintra where Marta and her cousins spent much of their childhood.

The Pier near Cascais


Men Fishing on the Pier near Cascais


Cascais Pier Fisherman


Jewells looking out at the sea



Do you need more evidence of the bluest winter skies I’ve ever seen?

Não é um problema.


Jewells in the castle at Sintra, the picturesque village 30 minutes from Lisbon, where Marta's parents and grandparents have homes.

Can you believe this sky? Jewells on the other side of the castle, overlooking some of Sintra leading to the ocean.


Woman feeding seagulls in Cascais


So you see, a color is an inadequate descriptor. It is more about what the blue of the sky does to you when you are under it. So you’ll just have to trust me and go see for yourself. The skies were undoubtedly my first invitation to this lovely country, but I must tell you my favorite part: The Food (of course–what else?). You would eat your heart out (I did). You would fall in love with the pastries of convents (no joke). Your teeth would sink deep into some of the best egg tarts in the world (more about pastel de nata in the next post!)


3 Comments leave one →
  1. gram permalink
    January 27, 2012 10:49 am

    As always. . . . . Top notch!

  2. January 27, 2012 10:53 am

    Please take me there.

  3. February 1, 2012 11:24 pm

    In this case I am glad to say… told you so! 😉

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