Close encounters of the marvelous kind

David Hockney’s Image Emphasizing Stillness at the Museo Colaceo Berardo in Lisbon, Portugal.

When the world gives you rain, it also gives you museums.

Who wants to be inside when the weather is glorious, no matter how glorious the weather inside? The interior of a building looks pretty much the same anywhere in the world.

But if the choice is between wandering around in the dry insides, or enjoying traffic splash runoff rainwater on you as it passes, go inside. That’s what we did on our first day in Lisbon, given a steady drizzle, not that it deterred us from walking the 3.6 miles from our rental to the Museu Colecao Berardo in the city’s Belem neighborhood.

Along that route, we tripped on the recurrent leitmotif of our visit. This city, gorgeous though it be with the monuments and rococco ornamental insitutional edifices, apparently lacks the ability to provide public restrooms.

So we wander on with cranked and cranking bladders, constantly on the lookout. We had walked and walked and walked, and my wife was feeling the need (doing, as we say, the St. Vitus dance). We came to an opening in a wall and there was this jumble of shipping containers stacked adjacent to and on top of each other. It was a concept community called the Village Underground Lisboa, and looked well worth exploring, but was closed.

Mostly. The initials WC caught my eye. I told my wife, poining her to an open door. “Go for it,” I said.

She did, and was relieved to find it open. A private enterprise comes to the relief of the bladder-challenged visitor. Its cousin, the restaurant or clothing store where a desperate traveler stumbles in and asks, plaintively, for “el bano” or “servicios,” and the weary and reluctant proprietors accede to human desperation.

Why can so many cities, destinations and beneficiaries of millions in tourist dollars, not provide somewhat deliberately and evenly spaced public facilities? And when they do provide such facilities, maintain them? And keep the doors open? Wandering the Jardim de Estrela opposite the Basillica da Estrela, on a busy Easter Sunday afternoon, we found restrooms — closed, a rank puddle of urine soaking the garden plants adjacent to the locked door. One goes where one must.

For those not in search of a restroom, the innards of the Berardo Museum deliver visitors a richly varied modern art collection compiled — and later donated — by mining and banking magnate Jose Manuel Rodrigues Berardo. The restrooms lie behind the firewall of paid admission. Good luck finding replacement fluid at a drinking fountain.

The time inside paid a nice return on investment — sunshine, and drier skies when we were done with a rich but uneven collection from the 20th century, mostly. Stellar work hung next to stuff that left you scratching your head.

Tired and done with all that, we walked briefly to an Internet discovery — Enoteca de Belem, Travessa do Marta Pinto n. 10, 351-218-879-093.

Our server provided a link to another encounter the following day (see next post). A charming, multi-lingual native, he offered us tastes of three white wines before we chose our preferences and our meals arrived.

That coincided with the arrival at an adjacent table of five young people from all points on the globe who had met while bunking at a local hostel, and teamed up to tackle the fun. Listening to them laugh reminded me of similar bonding on a much earlier trip of my own. No nostalgia for the hostel experience, but without it, how could I forswear a voluntary repeat of such an experience?

Continuing on toward our temporary home, and to note an exception to the rule, we found facilities in the Jardim Alonso de Albuquerque.

Not to beat a dead sardine, but after all our bladder battles and frustrations, we found irony galore when we settled into our seats on the train south from Lisbon to Lagos. We were in the last seats on the last car — right next to two restrooms. Unlocked. Functional. Free (except for the price of the train fare).

Inside the TimeOut public market.

Inside the TimeOut dining hall. Options and quality abound.

On our walk to the Berardo, we stumbled upon the TimeOut dining hall. It features sit-down options — some with Michelin-starred chefs — or take-out stands full of fine cheeses, cured hams, and beverages galore. Have I mentioned that wine prices go as high as your ego needs, but you can get a perfectly drinkable bottle just about anywhere for 4 Euros? Why drink water when wine is more affordable?

Just ignore the cost of airfare, which blows your average bottle cost out of the water.