In the backlight of the sun, the facade of the XVIIIth century Basilica imposes itself over the square of Estrela. The yellow buses and trams passing by from time to time, bring some colour to the otherwise grey-looking roads. Around them grow the elegant blocks of buildings, and the lush dark-green treetops of the fantastic garden across the road. Today, the unusual sunny morning allowed many to go out for a stroll, although under the shade the wind feels a bit chilly.
The entrance of Jardim da Estrela presents a charming image: by the gates, a smoking chestnut roaster under a green sun hat treats the passerby to the smell of salty treats. Past the gates, the trails show traces of the heavy rain of the day before. Old leaves scatter about, the floor and the plants are still wet; but most striking are the gardens, growing immediately and immensely, a landscape of green that surrounds everything. The ambiance is very fresh, appeasing and invigorating, and attracts many.
Around the many trails and lawns, there are those who do some jogging or exercise, at the sound of some pumping music. A few are practicing ioga, others playing football instead. The benches by the hedges and tree trunks are often taken by people taking some time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. Then, behind a series of trees, I spot an arts and crafts market, put together with small stands covered by white canvas, in case the approaching clouds start dripping. Drizzles do come and go, but nothing that can distract the visitors, checking each stand with curiosity.
Traversing the garden, the sounds with the most presence are the brushing of leaves on the wind and the quacking of greyish ducks, meandering about some of the hedges. It adds much to the lush ambiance of huge trees and snaking branches. Occasionally popping out from the vegetation, spread throughout, quietly sits the statuary. Jardim da Estrela really manages to keep our mind away from the surrounding town. But my hike takes me further up, across the north entrance and through Avenida Álvares Cabral. By now the sky has become covered in clouds, and its evident that the rain will come soon.
Along the avenue's sidewalks I come about the João de Deus museum and school, the huge Pedro Nunes high school, and a long row of big residencies, whose ground floors hold pastry shops, cafes, and a variety of stores. The wintery sky makes the street somewhat dull; the dry leaves of skinny trees invade the pale colours of each facade, the threatening sky covers the whole avenue in a lifeless grey. When I reach Largo do Rato, the rain pours down, and the cold turns harsh. Nothing that can stop the busyness of the square though. It is an obvious central spot in Lisboa, with every street leading here behaving in the same manner: cloging and uncloging rythmically in waves of vehicles.
These surrounding streets define the square completely, like it was designed solely for a quick passage. Mostly roadway, there are only a few portions of cobblestone, just big enough for bus stops. Its edges hold stores of various kinds, in front of which people quickly walk by. The housing varies greatly, from smaller, two-to-three-stories-high buildings, to big mansions and the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. Here and there are some trees, easily unnoticeable.
After a moment of rain, the sun timidly begins to show, irregular behind the clouds. Looking above the everyday movement unfolding in the streets, the silhouette of Lisboa grows. The neighbourhoods get taller looking up, and accompany the falling hill to the south, leading to Príncipe Real - my next destination!
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