Lisbon

This trip was incredible. I’m thankful that I don’t have to pick a favorite city because I liked each one for different reasons. If you haven’t been to Portugal or Spain you must go. They’re both beautiful countries, full of history and culture that you just cannot get by reading or watching travel videos. Photos don’t do it justice. May was a perfect month—low on tourists and really good weather. We had one day of rain the entire trip; the rest of the time was spent in the 70-90 degree range. Perfect for v-neck sunburns.

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I don’t get tired of traveling. I miss pieces of home—people, my dog, events—but the idea of hanging out in and exploring new cities doesn’t get old. As long as I have access to a washing machine, living out of a backpack is my favorite way to travel. Being able to pack quickly on an early morning, carry everything over cobblestone streets, and easily toss it up into the overhead shelf on the trains are huge. I packed that way in Thailand, and I’m pretty sure I’ll do it forevermore. Unless, y’know, I need a larger wardrobe for some reason or actually buy something to bring home.

We used Airbnb for the entire trip, reserving a new apartment in every city. If you haven’t used it before, you should definitely check into it during your travels. Rooms or entire homes as cheap as or cheaper than hotel rooms, in [potentially] more centralized locations, and with more of the amenities I want [hello, washing machine]. Yeah, you don’t have someone coming in and cleaning up after you daily, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for all of the above.

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There is an Aerobus that takes you to and from the airport, and it conveniently dropped us off right in front of the Hard Rock Cafe to meet up with Gil who took us on a tour of the city by car while the apartment was being cleaned. It was a perfect way to start the trip. Being able to get your bearings in a city right from the beginning was incredibly helpful.  Gil pointed out each of the surrounding neighborhoods from a couple really high viewpoints from one of the seven hills the city is built on, and he gave us a few ideas for getting the most out of our next few days. The apartment was a tiny little thing, but perfect for what we needed. It’s right in the heart of the city, walkable to nearly everything you’d want to see, and close to Metro stations if it wasn’t. It didn’t feel touristy despite being right off a main shopping avenue. We were on a side street full of locals, markets, and cafés. It was quiet at night and glorious.

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Most days were spent walking all over the city with only a loose plan, which would prove to be the case throughout the entire trip. Cafés are abundant and being back in the land of cheap espresso was heavenly. I love Portland coffee, but there is something about a shot of espresso for one euro. If you have been following along on Instagram, you know I ate well. While I don’t know any Portuguese other than a few basics, language wasn’t a problem. The Portuguese know a lot of English. They don’t dub any [most?] English TV so they learn it through that in addition to what they learn in school. My favorite restaurant by far was our first meal, recommended to us by our friends at Radar back home. It’s called Taberna da Rua das Flores, and it’s a rustic, traditional dining experience. The chalkboard menu of the day is only written in Portuguese, and the server was kind enough to translate it for us. I had my first of many interactions with bacalhau [dried, salted cod], and it was really good–not too salty or fishy tasting. The rehydrated texture was a little tougher than I was expecting, but it works in a salad of chickpeas and hardboiled eggs. A lot of the meals were centered around grilled fresh fish, boiled or fried potatoes, and very basic salad. Simple and delicious. It was nice to not have to think too much about what I was going to eat. Menu paralysis is a thing, and I’m affected regularly. Whether it was a quiche and espresso for breakfast or a ham and cheese sandwich on a crusty roll, it was good choice. Sticking to the “Menu of the Day” is usually a wise choice, too. Most restaurants post up what they’re making that day, even if they have a full menu. Pick something off that for the freshest ingredients. I had a very basic lasagna and soup at a nondescript cafe one afternoon, and it was some of the best I’ve eaten.

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We took a day trip to Sintra by train. This place was wonderful, and absolutely worth traveling to Lisbon for. I really wish we would have stayed a night there just to spend more time checking out all of the castles and little cafes. There is so much to see out there. It seems small and unassuming, but the roads keep winding on up into the hills revealing more castles. We spent the majority of the day wandering the main parts of town and inside Quinta da Regaleira. It is a huge estate once known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire” based on someone who used to own it in 1892. It’s a totally magical space with lots of winding trails, underground caves, churches, and random lookout towers. He apparently went crazy with collecting and building all of these things to reflect his interest and ideologies. The main gate will supply you with a  giant map to help you find your way, but you can still easily get turned around. The underground caves were so cool, connecting you with other parts of the grounds. There was also this small body of water you cross by stepping stones. I felt like I was in the Labyrinth and the bog of eternal stench – so cool! Sintra is also a fine time to check out two Lisbon specialties, Ginjha [a cherry liquor traditionally served out of chocolate cups], and cheese custard pastry [pastéis de nata]. Both are as good as advertised. My grandma would have lost her mind with the cherry liquor and chocolate cups.

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Back in Lisbon proper, the Alfama neighborhood and the Castelo de São Jorge at the top of one of the seven hills are both totally worth checking out. Alfama is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon, surrounded by Moorish city walls. It’s full of old homes, churches, and restaurants to hear Fado music. We averaged 8-10 miles on foot each day since everything was so walkable. Taking an early morning stroll through the neighborhoods meant that you had the streets to yourself. People would hang out of their windows to see what was going on in their neighborhoods or put out their laundry. While I didn’t want to spend the time waiting in line to buy the ticket to go inside the Castelo, the neighborhood surrounding it was more than worth it. You can have your fill of churches on the walk back down through Alfama. Watch out for the Segway tours.

Portuguese nightlife isn’t a joke. Bars are open super late [or early depending on how you look at it], and you really don’t eat dinner or start your evening until closer to 10pm. To be fair, we stuck to the tourist route and ate around 8 or 9pm, mostly because I couldn’t wait that long. All that walking, a girl needs to eat! The Barrio Alto neighborhood has a ton of the late night spots, and the restaurant seating spills out into the walkways up the hill. You seriously climb stair after stair and continue on up the hill. I really want to know how many people fall as the night wears on. Walking on cobbles is a skill even in the best of times. One of the nights, we ate at an Italian restaurant because it’s hard to say no to pizza, even in Portugal. The best part of the night was the pan flutist who came around playing the hits. I can’t remember now what song it was, but it was equal parts hysterical and awesome.

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One of the things we knew would happen on the trip was going to a Benfica football match. The stadium was easily accessible from the Metro, and you can’t get lost with all the fans walking around. As is the case with our previous euro football experience in Milan, getting the tickets was fun. We had to pick them up at will call which wasn’t technically at the stadium at all, and they don’t really tell you that online or on the confirmation email. Thanks to a woman at the actual ticket booth and a kind man who told us how to get there. We followed the man and his family/friends ONTO THE FREEWAY. It was bizarre and kind of awesome—groups of people walking in a makeshift line on the shoulder of the freeway, making their way around the stadium. If there was every any doubt that this was okay, there was a transit policeman standing in the grass under an overpass watching us do it. Crazy. I loved it. They don’t allow drinking in the stadium except for espresso and nonalcoholic beer so most people stay out in the parking lot until the last minute. The game itself was rather mellow since Benfica was already slated to win the league for the 33rd time no matter how they played that night, and they had the Europa league final coming up that was way more important. Regardless, it was fun. I like tucking another European football match under my belt. Gotta collect them all.

Lisbon was a great start to a great trip. From there, we took a short train ride to Porto where I would fall in love with Portugal all over again.

[Photos by Andrew, as usual]

[Recap: Porto, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona]

7 comments

  1. suki

    We usually stay in Airbnbs too, though I don’t usually take advantage of the ones that offer laundry! :-) I’ll have to mark May as a potential Portugal month. We haven’t been, and your recap is making me itch to go.

  2. Eileen

    Yay! The salt cod is especially interesting — it isn’t really that long since that’s how cod was just normally preserved, right? I bet preserving your own fish like that would be a super-interesting experiment.

    That first picture almost made me double-take to see if you took a detour to San Francisco, with all that super-bright sun and a giant suspension bridge besides. And Airbnb is definitely the best way to go anywhere, no question. :)

  3. Amy Mills

    Really liked your write up – it resonated a lot with me, and those are some pretty great photos (thanks andrew!). I agree completely about how the city didn’t feel very touristy at all, even though there WERE tourists there, and I was one of them. My friends and I were ten min away from the downtown center in winding roads in a poor-ish looking area and I swear the locals looked at us like they’ve never seen Western tourists before (obviously I’m sure they’ve seen more than quite a few in reality but it’s the feeling of it that counts, right?) I also agree about the aribnb thing – my friends and I stayed in a tiny apartment at the base of the alfama neighborhood, next to Figueira square. It really makes a difference in how you see the city.

    I didn’t really find it to have a huge nightlife, but then again I was there exclusively on weekdays AND I went right after being in barcelona, which definitely has maybe one of the biggest night lifes ever? (I was out until 7:30 am… on Easter Sunday. what city does this)

  4. Sara Kuhlman

    I thought I commented on this!! Anyway, I LOVED Lisbon. That was perhaps my favorite adventure. I loved everything about that city. Even just walking through the streets and looking at all the clothes hanging between the colorful buildings.
    Had you ever used Airbnb before? I am also a huge fan. So much more exciting and usually nicer and cheaper and more centrally located than any hotel. Love it!!

    • Michelle

      I haven’t used Airbnb before, but definitely going to use it all the time now. We went back and looked at all the amazing places we could have stayed in when we were in Thailand. It would have been incredible. Currently have a place booked for San Francisco when we head there at the end of July.

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