In a moment of pique with France, we decided to spend a week in Lisbon, land of salt cod and pasteis de nata, with one of my oldest friends in the world, el Stone (Mike to his folks). Stone and I have known one another since Sub A (grade one to you Gen Y'ers) at Grey PE, which equates to something like 26 years. That makes me feel old. Of course, recently making 32 also makes me (feel) old. And being creaky as anything. And grumpy. But I digress (it's the alzheimers).
Where were we again?
Lisbon is not a tourist city like Paris or Barcelona. It doesn't have many explicit tourist attractions, or tourons. Yes, there were tourons, but they were wandering around with a look of confusion on their mostly vacant faces, as if to say "We had the pasteis de nata and we saw Placa Commercio and the bridge - is that it?". If you're a tourist, chances are you *will* be bored after Pasteis de Belem and Placa Commercio. If you're lucky enough to have a guide as au fait with the city as el Stone, on the other hand, Lisbon will reveal all the fun stuff.
What made Lisbon great to me was a combination of a few pretty important things - food, beer, people and surf. I'll start with surf. Stone and I started surfing together, back in the dark ages of something like 1992. We've since surfed together in PE, St Francis, J-Bay and Cape Town (and very possibly other places along the way). Stone 'moved' to Lisbon a while ago because he couldn't surf in London. So, of course, we went surfing. The surf wasn't great. Hey, it's Portugal in August, not J-Bay. But there's something awesome about paddling out, getting wet and hooking up a few waves with an old friend. It made me realise that I don't surf nearly enough.
The food, and food culture, in Lisbon is awesome. It's all about three things - salt cod, steak and pasteis de nata. None of these are bad things. In combination, i.e. functioning as starter, main and dessert, they're pretty damn awesome. Hence the reason I left Lisbon as, basically, a fat bloke. I went to three restaurants in Lisbon that I'll never forget - Petiscaria Ideal, home of the best prego roll and blood sausage ever; Pasteis de Belem, the king of pasteis de nata; and Cafe Buenos Aires, which makes a damn fine Argentinian steak. And none of them more expensive than a very average meal in Paris.
Added to all of this are the people - they're chilled, friendly and nowhere near as tourist-wary and -weary as Barcelonans or Parisiens. Stone took us along to a guerilla inner city birthday dinner where a horde descended on a small square in the middle of LIsbon one evening, set up tables, and proceeded to have dinner. And then show a stop-motion animation on of them had made, projected on a building across the square. Rad. And no-one batted an eye when Stone brought along a wandering horde (and Tanja) of hungry, loud and hard-drinking Africans - we'd met up with another old friend from back in the day that evening and had started in on the beer. The beer is pretty good too, except that it comes in 200ml bottles, or 200ml draughts, called Imperials. It took a while to realise that you could order a normal 500ml draught, called a Caneca, because they're not on the menu. Apparently the Portuguese don't like them because they get warm and flat too quickly. There's a solution to that, of course - just drink them quicker. I call that South African ingenuity.
And now we're staying just outside Fontainebleau - from the city to the forest, from chaos to calm.
But more on that later.