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20 years on

sunny 23 °C
View Europe 2023 on AvrilAbroad's travel map.

Avi here. I'll let Avril comment upon our undelivered luggage (not "lost" since we know exactly where it is, but no airline employee wants us to tell them). But I'm sitting here in a huge shopping mall on a day I could be eating natas in Bélem, living the true Portuguese life. Nobody in Canada dreams of coming to Lisbon to buy socks and underwear.

Lisbon. The other day the leader of our walking tour asked us to name the oldest capital cities in Europe. Athens was #1. But Lisbon is #2, older than Rome. She also asked our international mixed group when they first knew they wanted to visit Lisbon – answers ranged from three months to three years. And how long have you known you want to visit Paris, London or Rome? All our lives! Welcome to the new "in" destination.

I told her I had been here to visit 20 years ago. She was amazed – that almost never happens to her.

So how do things compare after 20 years? I located my old emails from Portugal and reread them.

First of all (and this isn't just Portugal), emails have changed. 20 years ago we were hunting down Internet Cafes, shelling out five euros, and typing madly to get everything done in the 30 minutes we had purchased. Except in Evora where we could sign up for the municipal system and stand in line to use the free internet at the local library. And we talked then about how much better this was than writing aerograms and going to collect mail at American Express.

(Literary fun fact: When was the printing press introduced to Portugal? Answer: 1487, when a Jewish printer in Lisbon started printing copies of the Torah in Hebrew.)

From the travel blog of March 20,2003:

The quest for lost & found Jews has been very strange. It has taken us into the hilltop villages of interior Portugal. Each town has some old castle – and the juderia was usually situated somewhere below it on the shady side of the hill (Christians got the sunny locations). So we've climbed castle walls, peered at eroded store doorways, and wondered which time zone we're living.

Lisbon isn't like that. For one thing, Lisbon was destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1755, so nothing of pre-expulsion times survived. In 2006 they erected a monument to the 1506 massacre of thousands of Jews (most of whom had converted to Christianity on the promise it would save them) in a plaza in downtown Lisbon.

Mind you, we only stumbled across it because it's close to A Ginjinha – the best little hole in the wall place to get ginja, a special Portuguese sour cherry liquor. I know it's "the best" because Lonely Planet said so – and because it's exactly the same place that one of the locals told Ruth and me to go to 20 years ago. Some things don't change.

Back to the Jews: There are about 3000 in Portugal, most in Lisbon. About 700 are members of the Sefardi synagogue, and about 30 are members of the liberal Ashkenazi synagogue, originally founded by Jews fleeing Fascism and persecution in the 1930s who found refuge under Salazar. Go figure. That's where we went for Erev Rosh Hashanna, and I returned to help carry some tunes the next day. Not surprisingly, when the leader deviated from chanting or leading us singing in Hebrew he had congregants read sections in Portuguese (the prayer book was from Brazil), but when he called page numbers or generally gave info about the service he usually used English! I think that was for the few visitors and the British or American ex-pats, but it also reflected the fact the most of the born Portuguese in the room had a grasp of working English.

Which leads us to this section of the March 20, 2003 blog:

We have experienced and seen so much in these few days, and all in this strange language. Surprisingly few people speak either Spanish or English, and we didn´t have to leave Lisboa to discover this reality.

That has certainly changed. Maybe it's the tourism invasion, or maybe the anglophonic conquest of the world through the internet, but we're having no problem finding locals who can function in English. (Confession: I still can't function in Portuguese and, despite my pride at having gotten functional in Turkish during a visit there years ago, I doubt I will ever be able to do that with this language that resembles ones I know. Read Portuguese? Sure, that's close enough to written Spanish to be workable. Speak or understand spoken Portuguese? Hopeless.)

[20 minutes later]. OK. Let's rethink that earlier paragraph. I stopped writing long enough to look for a coffee in this vast suburban Lisbon shopping mall – and discovered I had left familiarity with English eight subway stops ago! I was bemused to pass a stall for WTF. That seems to be some local internet or cell provider. WTF am I doing in some vast suburban shopping mall??!! (WTF is my luggage doing in YUL airport??)

Let's end this TLDR on a good note. That earlier email also said:

Smokers! They're everywhere and nobody has heard of non-smoking restaurants. We've seen cigarrettes dangling out of the mouths of internet cafe staff (cough! cough!), shelf-stockers in food stores and police officers on the beat.

Which is no longer the case. Yes, there are still some smokers around (and they always head directly for the outdoor restaurant table beside us), but the puffing hordes of yesteryear seem to have gone the way of Internet cafes. Or my luggage.

Time to go drown my baggage frustrations in a glass of ginja.


Posted by AvrilAbroad 17:58 Archived in Portugal Tagged travel change lisbon jewish_lisbon

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I hope your luggage story doesn't come to this!

by Debby

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