Afternoon in Cacilhas

Ruins with grafitiCacilhas ekes out barely a dozen lines on Wikipedia and is not in our Portugal guide book but, like so much of any unfamiliar landscape, it can still startle and delight, at least for an afternoon.

We gave Cacilhas one of our afternoons in Lisbon because our AirBnB host told us we could get delicious seafood on the waterfront there. Combine delicious seafood with seeing Lisbon from a boat, and how could we not go? For a mere 1.20€, we hopped one of the passenger ferries that dart across the River Teja (Tagus in gringo) to burp hordes of commuters, other locals and the occasional diner onto the opposing quay every 15 minutes, 20 hours every day.

Cacilhas (6,000 souls in 2011) is the waterfront of larger Almada, and it did indeed hold the power to startle and delight.

We found the last man of war commissioned by the Portuguese Navy retired there. Forty-four guns strong, the Dom Fernando II e Glória has been meticulously and lovingly restored by the Navy to 1850s standards and crewed with mannequins that depict everything from manning the war cannons to being held in irons. Louis was in heaven, and Doris was at least in the clouds.

DAF boat

The Dom Fernando II e Glória sailed 100,000 nautical miles before being put out to nautical pasture.

Then there was the old Catholic church on the main street. Simple and the color of the Lisbon sky on the outside, the interior of Our Lady of Bom Sucesso was astonishing – paneled its entire length in classic blue and white azulejos depicting scenes from the life of Christ, some of the tiles survivors of the 1755 earthquake.

Church tiles

Note the palm tree Mary is passing with the baby Jesus. One of the characteristics of Portuguese tile work is melding the familiar with the exotic.

The contemporary pièce de résistance was the waterfront and the ruins that line it all the way to lunch.
Insert coin
For maybe a kilometer, the quay is lined with what were once factories, warehouses, elegant homes, stores and other relics of prosperity. Today, they are all ruins – stone and brick shells of former industry and grandeur, some still clinging to the last tiles of their glory, all now serving as a running canvas for kaleidoscopic graffiti.

Grafitti sea wall

Once upon a distant time, this was obviously a club of some sort

Big face

Louis graf

Ruined tiles

The tiled exterior is another giveaway that this stretch of Cacilhas once prospered

On the crumbling stone docks, tourists take selfies, and fishermen trail lines into the river, Lisbon shimmering on its seven hills in the background.
Our host had told us to walk walk walk even when it seemed there could be nothing beyond, and we would finally come upon two restaurants: Atira-te au Rio and Ponto Final. Ponto Final is closed on Tuesdays so Atira-te it was. In other seasons, the turquoise tables and chairs on the on the water must be filled. On a brisk December afternoon, the diners were all indoors. Lucky for us, a  premier window table was waiting.

Window table 2

Add us and food, and the setting is perfect

It was chilly inside, too. A glowing space heater warmed the cook, but the wait staff of two wore scarves and heavy sweaters. Guests warmed themselves on the food and wine. Grilled octopus salad and grouper on shrimp rice, washed down with crisp Portuguese wine wine, did it for us.

Like nearly everyone we meet anywhere around Lisbon, our waiter spoke excellent English. (Note to anyone considering Portugal but daunted by the prospect of navigating Portuguese: One of our more startling discoveries is how widely and well English is spoken. Of all the European cities where we travel, only in the Netherlands is it as widely and fluently used.) We asked about the ruins and how such an excellent restaurant ended up in such a forsaken-feeling location.

Even though he has spent his whole life in the area, the waiter did not know the story behind the ruins. “They were here when I was born,” he said. He believed they might have been sardine factories that had been closed and abandoned along with the homes and services that once flourished around them. Periodically, there is talk of restoring the waterfront, possessing as it does waterfront, spectacular views of the city and cheap, reliable transportation, but nothing ever comes of it, he said.

Meanwhile, the owner of Atira-te au Rio thrives. Twenty-five years ago, when there was even less traffic to Cacilhas than there is today, he opened a bar for one and only one reason: the views, according to the waiter. As time went on and traffic grew, Atira-te grew, slowly, quietly and successfully. Now the restaurant is open 10 or 12 hours a day, depending on the season, 364 days a year, mostly patronized by tourists who find it in the restaurant reviews and day trippers like our host, Carlos, from Lisbon. The waiter says there are people who have spent their entire lives nearby and have no idea Atira-te and Pont Final exist.

There was actually still more to see. Perhaps a five-minute walk beyond lunch, a skyscraping elevator soars to the 900-foot-tall Sanctuary of Christ the King monument, inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil.

We left the Sanctuary for another lunchtime beyond the ruins of Cacilhas and ferried back to Lisbon under a setting sun.

Golden gate

The locals consider the red suspension bridge on the horizon their Golden Gate. That’s the Christ the Redeemer monument rising at its left end.

In the rear-view mirror:
•       Reunion weekend: Brian Kelly and Louis started working together in 1971 and were reunited, briefly, in 2014, when Louis was in London on his last documentary assignment for CBC. Bryan and his wife, Caroline, flew in to share the weekend with us.
Foursome•       Nata and queijadas de sapa: Portugal is a land of bakeries. Nata is an egg custard treat native to Lisboa (left). Queijadas de sapa is a miracle of almonds and marzipan local to fairy-tale Sintra, 15 miles away. Resistance is futile.

Coming soon: Those Romantic Portuguese

Havana in Spain

Cadiz palmsIf you missed the window for individual travel to Cuba, come to Cádiz.

Tell an Andalusian you are headed to the southernmost city of the southernmost province of the country, and chances are you will be asked if you have been to Havana. We could buy several shots of seven-year-old Havana Club rum (6€ each) at the atmospheric Habana Café on Calle Rosario if we had a nickel for every time we have been told Cádiz is the Havana of Spain.

You could blame this on James Bond.

It seems Mr Zao has lost himself in Havana, a Chinese intelligence agent tells 007 in Die Another Day. If you find him, say goodbye from us….

Bond does, of course, find Zao but – things being what they were and are again between the United States and Cuba – 007 finds Zao not in Havana but in Cádiz, where the sea wall and promenade rimming the crescent-shaped bay evoke Havana’s Malecon.

Cadiz sea wall

Cádiz sea wall and promenade

Cuba Malecon

Havana’s Malecón and promenade

That Havana beach where Halle Berry memorably emerges from the ocean in the movie? La Caleta beach in Cádiz, not Havana.

2 girls

One woman is at the beach in Havana, the other pretending to be. We leave it to you to figure out which is which.

The connection, though, is deeper than spy movies and post-card images.

According to Pablo, our Cádizfornia Tours guide (yes, Cádizfornia is a thing here, but that’s another story), the architect of the 18th century “new” cathedral in Cádiz subsequently decamped for Havana and built churches there. The ornate gas street lamps in Havana were manufactured in – and copy – the street lamps in Cádiz.

Cadiz streetlamp

A Cádiz streetlamp. If you could get to Havana, you would find its twin.

For countless sailors and colonists who set sail for the New World, including Havana, Cádiz was their last view of Spain. Maybe it’s no surprise then that the streets and homes they built throughout Latin America bear no small resemblance to the streets and homes of Cádiz.


Havana or Cádiz?

Even that connection does not seem to get to the bottom of things. José Marti was a Havana-born writer, poet and 19th-century revolutionary. He was also a symbol and martyr to Cuba’s struggle for independence. Why would the bust of a man who died trying to break Cuba away from Spain grace the seaside Alameda in Cádiz, Spain?
Marti statueThe answer will have to await our return.

We woke up on our last day in Cádiz to a storming Levante, the wind locals say can drive people mad. Our rooftop awnings were whipping and our terrace furniture rattling, as if to make sure we knew the skies of Cádiz are not always as blue as the ones we enjoyed or perhaps to tell us it was time to move on. And so we did. Today finds us in Portugal, home of fado, port and more.

In the rear-view mirror:

  • Dances with horses: A day in Jerez de la Frontera (45 minutes by train) to see the horses dance at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. This one is just warming up for the show, which is a marvel.
  • Picturesque meals: This may look like something from Disneyland, but it’s just another street corner in Cádiz.
    Scenic eating
  • Picturesque tipplers: Not so typical, but how could Louis resist a shot like this?
    Tipplers at sunset
  • Free flamenco with tapas: This is how the locals often do and enjoy the music that originated in Andalusia, not in shows with flashy costumes but in tabernas where amateurs who spend years perfecting their art find admiring audiences.
  • A tour of Miguel’s treasure room: Our host hopes to open a maritime museum someday. For now, the collection is in a storage room he opened to us.
    Processed with MOLDIV
  • Spanish solidarity: Days after the Catalonian independence drama, Spanish flags were draped from many windows and balconies throughout Andalusia.
  • The real Havana (December 2017, with Debbie and Barry): Only the real Havana has the old cars.
    Real Havana - in car

Coming soon: Lisboa in our sights

Habana sign

Cádiz or Havana? Come to Cádiz and find out for yourself!