Lisbon blew me away. I didn’t really know what to expect heading down south to Portugal’s capital. I had heard mixed things from the past (Paul in fact had a pretty bizarre experience during his Lisbon trip two years ago involving a drugged out crazy who chased he and two of our friends down a crowded street in the middle of the day) and wasn’t sure how it would compare to where I was coming from in Northern Portugal. The city was not only extremely different from anything else in Portugal (this makes sense since it is the capital and draws the most diverse crowd) but also radically different from any other place on this trip or in neighboring Spain.
I arrived by bus and immediately met two nice Dutch travelers, Janika and Clemens, who I met at the Metro station. We shared a train ride to one of the central stations and decided to meet up later in the evening for some drinks and dinner. Clemens knew a local Lisbonite from the Netherlands, Jao, and he ended up showing us around the city and taking us to an authentic Lisbon restaurant. I’ve learned from previous cities that hole-in-the-wall restaurants without trilingual tourist menus, that are predominately occupied by locals are the places to be. I had a grilled squid dish that Jao recommended, accompanied by a local red wine.
Lisbon is larger and definitely more intricate and confusing than I had anticipated. To start, the city is built on a series of steep hills very similar to what I would imagine San Francisco is like (there are also trolley cars at every turn which furthers my comparison to San Fran). Since it is fairly far south and a port city the sun is brutal and mere 30-minute walk along the river will turn your neck lobster color if you’re not careful. This said, the city is full of beautiful sights at every turn and is a great place to wander and get lost. On a number of occasions I put the map away, headed north or south (hard to say), and hiked around till I either was truly lost or I hit a beautiful overlook of the city or river.
Since the Portuguese empire once had reaches all over the world, not just Brazil, the city of Lisbon is also one of the most diverse cities I’ve been to. Local Portuguese make up the majority, followed by immigrants from Brazil, Angola and other former colonies such as East Timor, Macau, Guinea, and Mozambique. I learned from Jao that for the most part the Portuguese welcome most immigrants from former colonies since they take many of the undesirable jobs, however, there is an overall contempt for the Roma (gypsies) coming from Eastern Europe via lackluster Spanish border. Since the recent Orange Revolution in the Ukraine there has also been a surge of Ukrainian immigrants coming to Lisbon, which, according to Jao, has raised fear and questioning from locals since unlike the other immigrants in the city Ukrainians often come educated and ultimately take the more desirable jobs. I am very interested in Diasporas and waves of migrations. It’s fascinating that of all the European countries Portugal becomes a Ukrainian hot spot or how in the Netherlands, hands down the most liberal country in the world there are large populations of Moroccans (a predominantly Muslim country hardly known for its liberalism) and finally take the city of Chicago, which at one point had more Poles than the Polish capital of Warsaw. Fascinating stuff.
Back to some sights. Lisbon’s highlights include its Praca de Comercio, which are the main gates of the city via the industrial ports (see below), the Lisbon Castle, the Torre de Belem (also seen below), and a replica of the Cristo-Rei (Christ the King) statue that is situated above Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
One the third day I visited the Oceanario de Lisbon, which has the second largest aquarium in the world. Since it had been years since I had last been to the Shed Aquarium in Chicago this was a bit of a treat to see. The third night I ended up meeting with Jao, Janika and Clemens again for drinks at some of the bars on Lisbon’s main nightlife hot spot. In Lisbon it is very common for people to drink in the streets, rather than inside the actual bars. Basically at around 2-4a.m. the streets of certain neighborhoods are flooded with people holding plastic cups of beer or mixed drinks making the area one big bar. Very cool to see. For you Indiana grads imagine if Kirkwood had no limitations on taking beverages outside and everyone walked around the street with a drink in hand. Very cool experience overall and one that I probably wouldn’t have taken part in had I not met my new friends.
On the fourth day I took a daytrip to the mystical city of Sintra, which is about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon by train. The city is known for its Moorish castle, vast forest and national park range, and a majestic mansion estate constructed by a Portuguese millionaire that makes Michael Jackson’s neverland ranch seem like a local carnival. The area is also known for its heavy fog, which I got to see firsthand. Almost once every day the fog rolls in from the coast covering the forest and castles around Sintra. It’s a sight to see but also covers much of what there is to see. I met three Brazilian girls from Sao Paulo who had been studying in Southern Spain and were in Lisbon for the weekend. We ended up spending the whole day together, which was nice, and they definitely talked highly about Brazil putting the country on my current “Must See Before I Die List.”
The night I returned from Sintra I met up with Jao, Janika and Clemens once more before Janika and Clemens headed to Spain. We had a nice dinner (I had the Bacalao, which is salted codfish, a staple food item on the Iberian peninsula) and ended up walking around the city at night taking in the nocturnal scenery. The next day I had to switch hostels since the one I was at could only have me for three nights. I ended up finding one for the same place closer to the main part of the city (might I add the new hostel also had nicer rooms and free breakfast including fresh baked homemade bread, a first for my hostel experience!). During the day I headed to the Lisbon “suburb” neighborhood of Belem, which was a 20minute tram ride away from the center. Belem is home to the Torre de Belem, featured above in the photo but also has a great archaeology museum and is famous for the pastel de belem, a doughnut like pastry sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Again, the Portuguese are suckers for pastries. Frankly I find most of them to be too sweet but still pretty tasty.
Later in the evening I met up with Pedro Dias, a local Lisbonite who Stephanie got me in touch with while we were in Turkey. Pedro is also a major player in the international Judo scene and is currently in the top 5 in Europe. I met Pedro in the Praca de comercio and we got something to eat and then went to a cool boardwalk area under one of the main bridges that is another youth hot spot. The bar was pretty cool since it was full of Portuguese, Brazilians and countless other people from other nations including some Eastern European countries. Again, a very cool experience that I would not have taken part in had I not met Pedro.
On my last day in Lisbon I took a daytrip to Evora, another city about an hour outside the city by bus. Evora is known mainly for its medieval bone church, a small church that is line with human bones on the inside. I had previously been to another far more fascinating bone chapel in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic two years ago and was interested to see how this one compared. The church in the long run ended up being the least interesting part of the Evora, a city that was full of old cathedrals, beautiful plazas and squares, and a cool little castle. The city of Evora is also another UNESCO world heritage center because of the old medieval architecture, the roman temple ruins, and an aqueduct that bisects the city. Evora was a great final taste of Portugal, the country that I truly saw the most of this trip and truly blew me away.
The next day I caught a flight from Lisbon to Dublin where I had a night layover in the Dublin airport, which is actually a surprisingly nice airport to spend a night in. The area near the car rental places in the Eastern corner of the baggage level has a very comfortable bench to sleep on that is quiet and away from the busier parts of the airport. I’ll go more into this experience in my next entry, which will be a recap of the trip remembering the best parts. I will also finally be posting some photos from my trip!!!
Until next time…