“¿Hay mash bolshas?” I asked tentatively at the supermarket checkout. The cashier’s response– a mere look of bemusement rather than any actual words –suggested I had got something wrong. She dug another bag out from beneath her counter and threw it to me apathetically. Of course I’d got something wrong. People speak Portuguese in Portugal, not this bizarre, Sean Connery-like Spanish that I had suddenly started spewing. What was wrong with me? Quickly filling up the extra bag with Muesli and cherry jam, both of which I was quietly excited about, and collected my receipt. “Graciash”.
This was worrying.
Unless I count two or three fortnight-long family holidays in the Algarve in my prepubescent years– which I don’t –I had never been to Portugal before. And if I did count those occasions then I still wouldn’t be able to say I’d been to Lisbon– somewhere I’d been desperate to visit for as long as I have lived in Spain.
We spent four days, taking our time and properly getting to know the place; any less than three and you just don’t get the full package. That first day, save for a few more Sean Connery Spanish outbursts and (cough) a tense hour spent watching football in an Irish pub (cough), went rather well.
Lisbon’s central train station and metro stop sits by the coastline at the foot of Bairro Alto, and was just one stop away from ours in the Alcântara area. Moseying along the promenade towards the enormous and tourist-brimming Plaza del Comercio was a perfect way to get things started. And then the first of what were to be many, many pastry feeding frenzies and a wander up to the gothic Santa Justa Elevator was the perfect way to round the afternoon off.
(Note: there is nearly always a huge queue to ride the elevator to the very top, which costs €5, but entrance is free to the slightly lower caged section if you make the 15-minute uphill walk.)
We spent our next day exploring the magnificent Sintra, a national park area dotted with 19th-century Roman architecture and gorgeous royal retreats. Hop over to Cheeky Jaunt to read all about it.
Back in Lisbon, we set out to find some of the epic street art we had seen pictures of prior to the trip. Fortunately, we had stumbled upon a very useful blog post that included a Google Maps screenshot of the best areas to find street art marked on it. This, however, turned out not to be as accurate as previously thought, after two hours of fruitless searching. Eventually though, our persistence paid off and we were rewarded with works from Os Gemeos, Vhils and various other urban artists scattered around the city.
Our AirBnB rented apartment was a stone’s throw from the famous April 25 bridge of the Alcântara neighbourhood, so-called after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, which came to a head on April 25 . Just beyond this bridge is a long wall, covered in street art referencing the revolution. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and the adage certainly holds true here; each image was incredibly powerful, and way more poignant than anything else we had seen, either in Lisbon or Granada.
Given that we happened to be visiting the capital less than a week before the 40 year anniversary of the revolution, the wall was probably more suggestive of past hardships than it normally is.
There is only one place to go in Lisbon if you’re looking for an authentic taste of its nightlife: Bairro Alto. It’s a bit of a climb if you’re not already staying there (most of the hostels on Hostelworld and HostelBookers seem to be located here) but well worth the legwork.
There are easily over a hundred bars and restaurants battling for space in this cramped barrio of the city, and plenty of boutiques in between. The atmosphere is buzzing and prices are generally more tourist friendly the further up you go; we found plenty of familiar looking ‘Erasmus’ bars flogging suspect mojitos and large draft beers at €1.50 each, though we plumped for posh dark beer and minty fresh mojitos at more stylish bars like Majong and Pensão Amor (the old whorehouse– emphasis on old) towards the lower end.
Since it is legal to drink in the street in Lisbon, providing it is from a plastic cup, Bairro Alto is never particularly quiet nor clean at night, though it was always cleaned up by the morning when we were there. We ate at several restaurants in the Bairro Alto/Baixa area but my highest recommendation– if you crave curries as much as I do –would be Restaurant Natraj on Rua dos Sapateiros. Reasonable prices, generous portions and speedy service, though they call Rogan Josh ‘Rogan Gosh’ here for some reason. Wasn’t happy, but I still had it, and it was delicious.
There is a much more cosmopolitain feel to Lisbon than what we are used to in Granada, where I have begun to tire a little of the provincial attitude. As a holiday destination, it might just be unbeatable. Could I live there? That depends if I can swap snowboarding for surfing– something I’ll be hopefully getting to grips with in Valencia this weekend.
Vamosh a ver…
Have you visited Lisbon? What did you think?