Lisbon: Oceanarium, Museum, and More
Barring an unexpected cancellation of my flight tomorrow, today is the last full day of my first visit to Portugal. I spent it at the Lisbon Oceanarium, in a museum, and wandering around.
Tomorrow, I head to the airport at the crack of about three hours after dawn, so this will probably be my last entry on this trip.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard the term “oceanarium” before seeing the Lisbon Oceanarium in a guidebook. I assumed it was a faux word fabricated by a marketer.
But, on the off-chance I was wrong, I checked a dictionary. I don’t know why I thought there was only an off-chance I was wrong. History suggests otherwise.
Sure enough, oceanarium is a real world. Colour me embarrassed. And ignorant. Although, an iota less ignorant after consulting the dictionary. Dictionaries are our friends.
According to the dictionary that comes with my computer, an oceanarium is “a large seawater aquarium in which marine animals are kept for study and public exhibit.”
So, there you go. Am I the only person in the world who didn’t know that?
In my defence, I’ve been to similar attractions in other cities. They all called themselves aquariums, not oceanariums. The one that comes to mind for me, because it’s the one I visited most recently, is the Genoa Aquarium.
Speaking of that, when I was in Genoa, I read that its aquarium is the largest in Europe. Here, I read that Lisbon’s is the largest oceanarium in Europe. Both have large seawater aquariums. So I think both would be entitled to call them oceanariums. But I guess if they each use a different term for their facility, they can both call themselves the largest.
Apropos of a paragraph or two ago, now that I think of it, maybe it’s the location that determines the designation of the facilities. The Genoa Aquarium is right beside the Mediterranean Sea. “Sea,” not “Ocean.” See the difference?
The Lisbon Oceanarium, on the other hand, is right beside the … Tagus River. Oh. Never mind.
To be fair, it’s close to the mouth of the Tagus, so it’s almost at the Atlantic Ocean.
It isn’t at all surprising that Lisbon has a large aquarium/oceanarium. Fish and seafood are a huge component of menus here. They’ve got to source it somewhere. (Just kidding. I think.)
(The Lisbon Oceanarium website is here. But if, like me, you don’t speak Portuguese, you’ll need to use the translate function of your browser. I couldn’t find an English version on the site. I might have just missed it. Or they might add one before you look. Good luck.)
Oh, yeah. The oceanarium. You probably want to hear about that. Or not. If not, feel free to scroll past this section. It’s a free internet.
The oceanarium was nice.
Just nice, you ask. As I alluded to in my entry on the Genoa Aquarium, I tend to judge aquariums (and now oceanariums) on their jellyfish tanks. Jellyfish are my favourite.
The Lisbon Oceanarium has only two small tanks of jellyfish. Each tank contains a different type. And the two tanks didn’t contain the most attractive varieties. I don’t mean to hurt the jellyfishes’ feelings, but I’ve seen better.
A large salt-water aquarium sits at the center of the Lisbon Oceanarium. The prescribed and well-channelled path through the aquarium took me around that tank twice, first on the top of two levels, then on the bottom. On both levels, the large viewing windows are well below the water surface. But the different levels allowed me to see the fish that spend most of their time near the top and those that spend most of their time near the bottom.
Looking in through the various viewing windows, the center aquarium doesn’t look like a single tank. The oceanarium created separate environments, such as rocky areas and a small, underwater cave, within the one tank. Different fish concentrate in the different areas.
On the lower level, educational exhibits and small aquariums sit on the other side of the hallway from the main tank. That’s where the jellyfish are. It is also home to sea dragons, anemones, small fish, and more. One of the anemone tanks contains anemones of a wide variety of colours. They were very festive.
Another separate tank contains a couple of octopuses. Or is that octopi? Whatever. Octopuses/octopi are strange and wonderful creatures in a somewhat ugly way. Watching the one that was front and centre while I was there lumbering around the small tank made me think, is it dinner time yet*?
On the upper level, one area on the other side of the hallway from the main tank had an above-water area with penguins and puffins.
While I was at the oceanarium, a staff member was in the tank wearing a wetsuit and goggles and breathing though a breathing tube. She was cleaning rocks. With a toothbrush. I didn’t see her use any floss on the rocks, but maybe she flossed after brushing. I didn’t stick around long enough to see.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
I have been negligent this trip. I haven’t gone to the requisite number of museums/art galleries that a tourist is legally obliged to visit while on a European trip. The guidebook I’m using said that the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is the best of the 40 museums in Lisbon. So, the Gulbenkian Museum it was.
The Gulbenkian Museum is smallish. Although, a big new building was under construction when I was there. Signage said the new building will be a contemporary art museum, so I think it’ll be a second museum on the same large site, not a replacement for the existing museum.
“Smallish” is, of course, a subjective term. If your point of reference is one of the mega-galleries/museums in the world, say the Louvre in Paris or the Prado in Lisbon, then remove the “ish” from “smallish.” Compared to them, the Gulbenkian is small. Period. However, I’ve been in smaller, but still famous museums/galleries too.
If your point of reference is a Louvre not in Paris or a Prado not in Madrid, you’re on your own. I don’t know how big those are or if they even exist.
According to the official Joel Klebanoff Taxonomy of Museum Sizes, “smallish” is perfect. To me, the ideal museum/art gallery is one that’s just small enough such that my eyes won’t glaze over and I won’t zone out before I find the exit. Any smaller and I usually think, “I schlepped all the way out here for this farshtunkena little museum?” Any larger and, well, my eyes glaze over and I zone out.
The Gulbenkian museum is pretty much in the sweet spot between too big and too small.
The first room contains ancient Egyptian art from well before the Common Era to the first few centuries of it. For example, I saw a polychromatic relief depicting Princess Meritites that was carved in limestone circa 2500 BC. Think about that. A piece of art from more than 4,500 years ago.
Ha! Renaissance art historians think they work with old stuff.
Other rooms contain pieces from Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, the Islamic East, Armenia, China, and Japan. But the bulk of the collection is European paintings from the 12th through the 19th centuries.
One small room is dedicated to paintings by Francesco Guardi (1712-1793). He must have loved Venice (who doesn’t?). He painted a lot of pictures of it. Guardi painted one of the Rialto bridge with a design that was different from the one currently crossing the canal in Venice. He also painted a few paintings with the Rialto Bridge looking pretty much as it looks today.
When I was at the Gulbenkian, the museum also presented a temporary exhibition of works by artists from former African colonies. The works spanned a number of media, including paintings, sculptures, and videos.
I did some walking around again today. In my rambles (walking, not the ramblings in this journal), I saw a few more interesting Lisbon street types, stumbled on some more vista points, saw vintage trolleys rumble by, and watched a funicular go up and descend a hill that’s also a street. (There are two funicular cars. When one goes up, the other goes down. So, no, I didn’t have to stand there too long to see funiculars go both up and down.)
My conclusion: There are a lot of places in the world I want to see, but haven’t yet seen. There are also a number of places I’ve been to that I definitely want to revisit. Lisbon, and the rest of Portugal, is certainly worth a return visit if I live long enough.
Tomorrow, it’s back to Toronto for me, Air Canada willing.
It’s funny. On the way here, as I anxiously waited for the plane to Lisbon, some movie lines played over and over in my head: “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not on it, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”
OK, I think it was “and you’re not with him,” not “and you’re not on it.” But “not with him” doesn’t work for me. And I’m not Ilsa, to whom those lines were addressed in the movie, or even a woman. And I wasn’t fleeing Nazis. Nor do I don’t know anyone named Rick, let alone a Rick who would hold a gun on Captain Renault to make sure I can get away. But still, the lines went through my head. My mind is a strange place at times. Many, many times.
I don’t think waiting for the plane back to Toronto will have the same romance for me as waiting for the plane to Lisbon.
If the previous reference is not familiar to you, rent the 1942 film “Casablanca.” You won’t regret it.
* P.S.: I’ve now finished dinner. I ordered octopus. I didn’t have dinner at the Lisbon Oceanarium. Nevertheless, the octopus tasted very fresh. Just saying.
Oceanarium. That’s a new one on me, too. Just seems to be a specialized aquarium. I so love aquariums. I was transported by those sea life photos. I enjoyed the Rembrandt and Guardi too, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never thought of changing professions, but give me a good aquarium anytime. If there were one here I would have a membership. Good choice.
May the travel gods have pity on you and spare you the pain and despair of the season. If your flight does get cancelled, may they give you a fine hotel and enough time for another full day to explore Lisbon. Good luck and safe travels. It’s been great.