We were waiting to be let into our apartment rental in Lisbon. It was dark and raining. We were tired and hungry even though our flight from the UK was short. Travel tends to have that effect. Maybe it’s the air up there. Who knows.
But you know that feeling - standing on a dark street, your texts and Whatsapps aren’t going through to your contact and you start to doubt everything - is this the right street? The right apartment? Was the whole thing a scam? Can you try your phone, she asks, panic edging her voice. Restart yours while I try mine I say - what’s the number again? Oh, your phone is restarting.
So we stand in the drizzle. and wait for the phone to light up again. Is this neighborhood safe?
A dog barks, startled by the sound of a car struggling up the street - these tiny mosaic stones are slippery even when dry, so smooth they are after hundreds of years of feet passing over.
That car parking. Is it her? We get a message back - she had to turn back to get the keys for the apartment. With that message comes some relief. The phones work, she is on her way. We wait. I take off my backpack and walk down to the corner to look around.
The corner is well lit and the intersection of bigger stone pavers Lisbon is made of is cut with a curving arc of narrow gauge tram tracks that glint wetly under the street lights.
It looks like a precise scar carved by an expert hand - a surgeons perhaps. There are no trams at this hour, but above my head the electric wires cross like mesh and I can imagine the distinct sound of their crackle.
When we drove by here in our taxi, I barely noticed the blue building on the corner, and to be quite honest, I didn’t notice it while standing here waiting to be let into our apartment.
It wasn’t until we were inside and had been given the obligatory tour of the bathroom and the kitchen and the keys and the functions of our rental that our one and only Portuguese friend turned the conversation towards yet more practical matters.
She told us of an app called Moovit - Lisboans can’t live without it, apparently. It will basically show you exactly where the nearest public transportation is and how you can get there. I wish every city had an app like this, to be honest. I downloaded it right away.
Oh, she says casually. Did you see the building on the corner? It usually has people in the streets taking pictures of it. It’s quite famous. It’s the narrowest building in Lisbon.
I confessed my ignorance and promptly forgot about the whole thing until the morning when I ventured out to take a look for myself. It is indeed quite narrow. It looks a stage set in a western movie - all facade and nothing behind. Well, a parking lot is behind it, as is security booth with an armed guard who wasn’t entertaining my attempts to line up a decent photograph for you.
The internet furnished nothing of use. The building has one apartment for rent on booking.com and some guy who stayed there has a complain-y video on YouTube that I can’t bear to link to here.
So I started to ask around and to send emails acting like a reporter writing about this building for a travel magazine. And heard nothing.
We went on a tour with Culinary Backstreets and asked our guide Celia, and she mentioned land reforms with the convent, which resulted in the properties being redrawn in the neighborhood.
I googled the convent is the Convento das Trinas and as right across the street from our apartment.
You can take a tour of the building by contacting the Instituto Hidrografico, which is a division of the Portuguese Navy that offices in the building. This would account for the guard who didn’t care for my photography attempts.
I wasn’t able to get a date on the calendar to tour the place, but reportedly there are some amazing examples of the famous Portuguese tiles called azulejos inside the massive old kitchen.
I had hoped that I could turn the tour towards the land reforms and to what is reported to be the narrowest building in Lisbon, but we will have to content ourselves with the information available to us.