We’ve been in Lisbon the past two days, hanging out at a very cool hostel on the second floor of the train station. Although the hostel is extremely comfortable (well equipped kitchen, free flow coffee, hammocks, pool table, etc.) we did manage to drag ourselves out to have a look around town a bit.
The city doesn’t have as many grand old buildings as we expected it would. This is because Lisbon was hit by a huge earthquake (measuring 9 on the Richter scale) on the 1st of November 1755. The earthquake (and the fires and tsunami that followed) not only destroyed almost all of the buildings, but also killed about half of the town’s population.
In any case, we like Lisbon. It has a gritty, working class feel to it, and if you forget about the pickpockets for a while (but not for too long), it’s really quite a laid back place.
And since we’re here, we thought we’d might as well look up Alfonso de Albuquerque, the archetypal swashbuckling Portuguese male, who in any case, was much more of a man than the famous Portuguese of our times, the saloon-tanned, ballet-dancing, ball-juggling Christiano Ronaldo. While the latter is good with balls, the former was a scholar and a military genius.
Our little search for traces of Alfonso (his friends probably just called him “Al”) brought us to the Maritime Museum in Belem, 6km out of Lisbon, which houses the proud exploits of Portuguese seafarers from the time of Vasco da Gama up till today.
Regardless of what the Malaysian high school text books tell you, the era of Portuguese exploration and conquest had tremendous bearing on the the world we know today. The brief Portuguese rule in Malacca in particular, forever changed the political landscape of the Malay Peninsula. It cemented the downfall of the Malaccan empire and the establishment of the Perak and Johor sultanates, as well as introduced of a lot of useful items and concepts (as well as new words) into the lives of the natives, such as chairs (kerusi), cupboards (almari), forks (garpu), butter (mentega), soap (sabun), fire brigades (bomba) and party (pesta).
Although on the whole the museum was impressive, we were somewhat disappointed that there was not a lot on the life and times of Alfonso, nor on the conquest of Malacca. We were also a bit disappointed that the Museum did not have anything on Enrique of Malacca, Magellan’s Malay interpreter who was among the first persons to circumnavigate the globe after Magellan met his fate in the Philippines (OK it’s probably because this was a Spanish expedition, but still, Magellan was Portuguese).
We did however manage to get our hands on the famed Portuguese egg tarts from a bakery in Belem that opened for business almost 200 years ago.