I stubbed my toes a lot in Lisbon, probably more than I have anywhere else in the world. I couldn’t stop staring up at the buildings in Old Town (Alfama) and with their steep, bumpy stoned streets it’s impossible to not trip a few times. This beautiful Airbnb tucked into the narrow, twisty alleyways of the oldest district of Lisbon was my home base, and it was perfect for exploring local cafes, restaurants and Fado houses. The streets in this neighborhood are SO hopelessly confusing, but it was okay cause I found gelato shops, beautiful churches and even a walking tour on my first day here. If I had to get lost in a big city somewhere, this is probably one of the best ones to do it in.
The time I spent here was a bit messy, and I regret that I didn’t plan out details ahead of time. As much as I travel, I still have a hard time deciphering a balance between over-ambitious agendas and wasted days abroad due to poor or no planning. Travel partners are also a crucial influence to the mood and energy of a trip. All this aside, I loved Lisbon and I definitely want to return. Here are few of the things I enjoyed the most:
The people. How locals treat visitors and each other reveal so much to me about the culture and heart of a country. Every single Portuguese person I met was earnest, respectful and kind. I’m not sure if this is normal, but this was the vibe I got. Our Airbnb host was very accommodating and helpful, emailing us PDF’s of things to do while we were in town and overloading us with restaurant suggestions. Tuxi drivers refused to let us board if we asked to go somewhere that was within walking distance, lightly kidding our requests. Small cafe owners were patient as I asked what was inside every pastry on display. People spoke pretty good English, didn’t smile much, but got shit done. It was like being in a city full of calm, mature introverts, and it was kind of nice. Next time I come, I hope to make some local friends!
Sintra. We took a day trip out to Sintra since it was only about 40 mins out via light rail. Sinta is a small fairy-tale UNESCO World Heritage Site town just outside of Lisbon, and well worth a visit. As soon as we got off the train, we followed a scenic path that led to the town center. I have to admit, all the shops and restaurants there made the area pretty damn touristy, but it’s okay cause the whole place was like being in Disneyland. I found a little Port shop where we tasted enough port to put me into bed but we trudged onwards to the Pena National Palace. I wish I had paid more attention to the history of the palace, but I was too busy taking photos.
Fado music. It’s a Portuguese thing, just like how the Flamenco is a Spanish thing. Fado is a traditional Portuguese music genre, where there is a main singer and a small ensemble. Every night we were in town, I insisted on having dinner at restaurants that would have Fado performances. It wasn’t hard since there were so many cozy, candlelit venues for Fado in Old town. The singer’s voices were haunting, strong and soulful, filling up every nook of the room. Our walking tour guide described Fado as an expression of deep longing, or unrequited love for sailors going off to sea. Everyone in the restaurants, locals and visitors alike, hushed down and let the songs captivate them. Due to how small the dining spaces were, I usually sat an arm’s length away from the singers, just sipping away at my cheap but delicious wine. Fado is unforgettably romantic and intimate. I hate to compare this, but think…Adele. I wish I had photos, but it didn’t seem appropriate. Here’s one from Google instead ?
I would return to Portugal in a heartbeat. I wasn’t as infatuated with Lisbon as I was with São Paulo, but the common Portuguese language fascinates me. I’ve been toying with learning Portuguese since last year, and now I’m inspired to get serious with it. Obrigada!