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From flight delays to Pope delays… May 15, 2010

Posted by Becky Byler in Travel Log.
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Our view of "o Papa Bento XVI" as he passed through the streets of Lisbon

I arrived in Lisbon late Monday night due to flight delays from the volcanic ash, but couldn’t have been happier, even if the flight was almost four hours late! The timing was perfect- we flew over the Tagus River just as the sun was setting, and the sun’s reflection off the water made for a gorgeous backdrop. The quick taxi ride to our hostel (Lisbon Calling) took us right through the main parts of town, so my first glimpse of Lisbon from the ground was dominated by bright streetlights and honking taxis as we drove up and down the hilly city.

Our hostel is positively gorgeous. I don’t know how we found this place, since it is literally a hole-in-the-wall, but we are very lucky to have done so! There are a ton of bright colors, and the staff here is so nice and helpful.

Our first day in Lisbon was essentially an introduction to Portugal: we went over transportation, useful words, culture, and safety (among other things), and then spent the day walking around the city. However, the most exciting thing was Pope Benedict’s visit to Portugal that night! While we only saw him briefly, he is actually visiting Portugal for a total of four days.

Seeing the pope was amazing. Obviously, Portugal is an intensely Catholic country, but I was almost overcome by the excitement that was reverberating throughout the city all day. It only seemed to grow as the pope got closer and closer to Lisbon, and, by about an hour before his arrival time, the streets were so full we could barely walk! Talk about some serious congestion that stopped just about all traffic into and out of the city…

The next morning was not as crowded, as the pope had left the area, so we traveled to Belém to see the Torre de Belém and the Mosteiro de Jerónimos.  It was a great introduction to the history of Portugal, since I learned a lot about its period of exploration and wealth, as well as the importance of religion in its national history. My favorite part of these two buildings was being able to walk through them just as they were centuries ago, and I can proudly say that I am now able to distinguish between the different building styles seen throughout Portugal: Islamic, Manueline, Neo-Manualine, and Romantic.

One of the best parts of the day, however, was completely impromptu: a visit to the Museu Colecção Berardo during our lunch break. I would never have imagined visiting this museum given the limited time we had to explore this part of the city, but I am so glad I took the time to do so as Joana Vasconcelos, perhaps one of the most important modern artists in Portugal, had a huge exhibit in the museum! Another artist who I had not heard of before, Pierre Coulibeuf, also had an excellent exhibit as well.

Contaminação (Contaminated) by Joana Vasconcelos

Both exhibits were positively gorgeous, however I was more in awe of Joana’s exhibit mainly because of her subject matter and the messages she conveyed through each piece of her exhibit. Joana is extremely contemporary, turning everyday objects into art, and the coolest piece of artwork she had on display in her Sem Redes (Netless) exhibit, in my opinion, was a 200-foot piece of artwork that took her over two years to complete: Contaminação. It’s bright colors and array of shiny and glittery objects carefully sewn together made for one of the most color and tangible exhibits I had had ever seen. And, this piece of artwork used illness as a metaphor for general global malaise, which caused me to think about the effects of globalization on our world today.

It was hard to drag myself away from this exhibit back to the rest of the group, but I hope I have the opportunity to see more of her work in the future. She truly is one of Portugal’s new-age wonders.



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