That little twelve-hour nap is the ideal springboard from which to face this new corner of the globe. We’re suddenly wide awake feeling like we own the world with the energy to take it between our teeth.
A look around our immediate surroundings reveals a room in a typical European budget hotel, small, shabby, cheap with none of the amenities of a modern American chain lodging. Motel 6 is a palace compared to this. We’re in a building that could be hundreds of years old, was no doubt once an upscale townhouse for some patrician family, with a marble spiral staircase we walk down to get to the front door. The stairway is grand and charming, but the day before it presented quite an obstacle trying to ferry our luggage up to the second floor reception desk. There is of course no elevator.
Today, however, our arms are empty and we have all the energy in the world. We step outside and the sunlight is blinding. The sky is absolutely clear of a blue that is really, really blue. The trees and grass in the park across the street are really, really green, the stucco walls of the buildings up and down the street really, really pink with tile roofs that are really, really red. There are flowers growing everywhere.
We’re in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The area is called Belem, meaning Bethlehem, actually considered a suburb of Lisbon, right where the Tagus River empties into the Atlantic.
Our hotel is next door to the Palace of the President of the Republic, with guards flanking the entrance dressed in nineteenth century cavalry uniforms – blue and red jackets with epaulettes, skin tight white pants, glossy black leather knee boots and tall helmets with horsehair crests. We later discover we’re a block away from the national equestrian academy from which a cavalry troop parades on ceremonial Sundays. Behind the palace wall is a stand of lime trees two stories high adorned with fruit, and I pick up a fresh ripe lime off the sidewalk.
The air smells of food and nature as we walk down to the Tagus River a couple blocks away. There are ships making their way out to sea under the gaze of two 15th century stone towers stilled ringed with iron cannons to protect against invasion. As every other sight so far, the water shimmers like some magic potion.
And we are enchanted.