We left gloomy Porto skies for an overnight stay in the oldest University town, Coimbra before making our way to Lisboa, the capital city of Portugal. I fell in love with Lisboa (Lisbon) on my first visit on an unexpectedly warm January weekend, knowing nothing about the city. This time around I was eager to hear my brother’s perspective, hoping he would enjoy it as much as me or enough to want to stay. After Porto he wasn’t so sure about Portugal.
We arrived by bus in the late afternoon and after a short metro ride, we were at our hostel- above a beautiful train station. I know you’re curious- it was quiet and we never heard the trains, only people on the streets when the windows were open. Our hostel offered daily activities and I couldn’t turn down the Fado tour. We signed ourselves up, and then headed outside to see a bit of Lisboa before returning for a night of traditional Portuguese music at a restaurant in the Alfama district, built by the Romans and later the Jewish quarter in the 15th century. Fado is believed to orginate in the 1800’s in Lisbon, where women sang mournful songs hoping sailors would return from sea and about life of the poor with the accompaniment of the guitar.
Walking up the steep hills, there was a lot of colorful decorations streamers strung from balcony to balcony in honor of St. Anthony’s day. Sadly, we missed the festival by a day, where the streets of Alfama are packed with people drinking and enjoying themselves and eating fresh grilled sardines from the many bbq’s. During our stay, restaurants continued to bbq and serve of Sangria and Vino Verde, a green wine typical to Portugal.
I was happy to be back in this beautiful city and I felt at home, likely because Lisbon seems to be the sister city to San Francisco with steep hills, mustard yellow cable cars, gorgeous vistas and their very own “Golden Gate Bridge.” I was surprised the first time. My brother was quick to notice the similarities before even seeing the Bridge the following day. “This place is like San Francisco, no wonder you like it,” he said. Perceptive, that brother of mine.
The next day we enjoyed sunshine and cool breeze in the air as we roamed, beginning in Plaça de Pedro IV but everyone refers to it as Rossio (plaza).
Then we headed towards Rua Augusta to the biggest plaza known as Praça do Comércio, which was filled with garden veggies and trees for a big event called the PicNic, hosted every year by a big grocery chain.
After trying to figure out the bus and subway system and where the above ground subway would pick up, which isn’t as obvious as it should be. (And if you buy your tickets on board, it’s almost double the price than buying them at a kiosk or metro station). We headed to the Tower of Belen and the famous Pasterlia known for the ubiquitous Portuguese pastry, Pastel de Nata- a sweet custard desert.
We made our way back just in time for a Pancho walking tour at 6pm that took us throughout the city center and Alfama district of narrow streets that help keep homes cool during the summer and warm in winter. Alfama is a word from the Moors meaning Springs from the Hot Springs that were once in the area. and learned a lot of little facts, historical tidbits and random info that I seem to retain for a few minutes. Our guide was brilliant, full of energy and telling us info as if it was the very first time.
Three hours later I was tired and hungry. Time for dinner and then nightlife in Barrio Alto where the streets flood with people and alcohol until it’s time to hit the dance clubs at 3am. My body was tired from a day of sightseeing and I called it a night at 2:30am, early by Portuguese standards.Thankfully my brother hung out with some folks from our tour, including our guide who spontaneously took them on a Nightclub tour with free entry to every spot until 7am.
The following day we both felt beat and we mustered just a bit of energy to grab lunch and then go to the look out Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântaro (Lookout point) before chilling in a park. Some days the best days on the road are just relaxing and people watching. Three elder women sat on a bench and chatted for long while until they burst into songs. Songs they sang with glee and I wondered if they were singing youthful songs to relive happy moments from childhood.
After a 4 day stay in Lisbon, I was ready to hit the beach and make our way South. Little did I know that Faro would be a low key town (which I’d learn from other backpackers) and Lagos, the beach party spot. I didn’t expect either but then again, the road is full of surprises.
P.S. My brother enjoyed Lisbon!
Have you been to Lisbon? What did you think? What is your favorite spot?