Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Day 13: Aquarium and "the future is torture"

Day 13
We'd read in a guidebook that Lisbon had the world's second biggest aquarium, and while some quick Google research now shows that isn't the case (though it is Europe's biggest in-door aquarium!), we were running with that information when we decided that we'd go there for the afternoon. The kids love a good aquarium, and really who doesn't love an opportunity to see a sunfish, right?

So, after some breakfast, we hiked down to the waterfront and sat in the shadows of a pair of towering cruise ships, waiting for our (crowded) bus to take us 15 minutes down the river front to where the aquarium sat amongst the grounds of Lisbon's '98 Worlds Fair.

After piling off our bus, the grounds surrounding the aquarium proved almost as enchanting as the aquarium itself. There was statues, water features, interactive pieces, but eventually we teared ourselves away, bought tickets and entered the aquarium.

Playing under a waterfall, one of the many fun features we ran across just getting to the aquarium.

First up was a "recommended, but not required" video about the negative effects of sound pollution on whales and other mammals in the ocean, which was notable in A) it's refreshing bluntness and B) the fact that it was in English, with Portuguese subtitles, meaning we were part of a select minority who were listening to the dialogue. After that show was over, it was on to the permanent exhibit.

The permanent exhibit was two levels of smaller tanks and exhibits, surrounding one, large, central tank, featuring the previously mentioned sunfish, sharks and a ton of rays swimming amongst schools of fish. The upper levels smaller areas featured a number of seabirds (penguins!) and mammals (otters!), and the lower -more-claustrophobic- level focused on smaller or more rarefied sea life, like jellyfish, seahorses and the like.

The sunfish makes its appearance. I mean, really, it's all about the sunfish, right?
Stella, underwater.

After a quick lunch in the aquarium's cafeteria, which looked like it was a 2001: A Space Odyssey set designed with Ikea furniture, it was on to the temporary exhibit. I've been to a number of aquariums in my days, but the idea of a "temporary exhibit" at one struck me a novel. Ever more so, was the fact that this exhibit seemed to have been designed by a Japanese artist, instead of someone with a marine science background. The conceit was "an underwater forest," with the majority of the exhibit focused around several wall-long tanks, filled mainly with underwater plants and only lightly populated with small fish.

Conceptually, he was speaking of the refreshing and fresh beauty of the natural world, and there was a gentleness to the whole exhibit, down to the ambient music which played throughout. I realized that many of the fish were the same species of fish that I'd had in my own aquarium, back in Junior High and High School. I often talk about that aquarium today as though it were a hassle and frustration, but in my time I cared for those fish and was sad when each died. All these years later, this exhibit left me feeling melancholy thinking about it in a way I hadn't in a long time.

The melancholy beauty of the Underwater Forest.

Emerging from the darkness (and my melancholy) of the exhibit to the sun and grass outside, we noticed the "telecabine," a gondola which ran along the rivers edge, for the length of the Expo grounds. Like the monorail in Seattle, it's a relic from the expo that now functionally goes nowhere, but it looked like fun and the tickets were cheap, so we took an impromptu ride down to the end and back.

"We're on the gondola to nowhere!" (Sung like David Byrne.) Note that Otto has, like, four poses: Faux sleeping (featured), faux punching, tongue out and dabbing.

After that, we caught (possibly the most comically crowded) bus (ever) back to the Alfama, to regroup at the apartment before dinner.

For dinner, Stella had her opinions, but Sarah and I were excited about the idea of going to a place we'd passed though earlier, when quasi-lost in the Alfama's maze. While there are tons of little diners, this place was a large (by Alfama standards) courtyard filled with people feasting on an array meat, which was being prepared on an open-air grill in one corner.

Stella was not into it. While Sarah, Otto and I happily feasted on the piles of bread, cheese, salad, fish and steak we had heaped in front of us, and took in the celebratory air of the whole affair; Stella refused to do little more do more than nibble on some bread and fries, while complaining about the noise, her seat and (most excessively) the smoke from the grills. At one point, a single tear running down her cheek, she announced "the future is torture."

Unfortunately, it's hard to see it, because of the umbrella covers, but this courtyard is filled with revelers who are being forced to eat grilled meat and drink wine. Totes obvious torture.

So, we ended the meal with Stella unhappy with dinner, and us unhappy with Stella. But, with one notably contrary opinion, I'd highly recommend the experience to anyone else.

(I've been trying to do 2 days an entry, but today has been a bit hectic, and I'm feeling a bit spent. So, I'll pick up again tomorrow with days 14 and 15. While I still have nearly a week of Lisbon to write about, we only have a little more than 24 hours until we are off to the Azores. We've loved Lisbon and Portugal, but will be excited for a little break from the city!)

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