Our arrival in Lisboa was a vibrant one, and began lively like a funny movie. Our Uber driver (yes, you can order Uber at the airport in Lisboa!), Thiago, zoomed up to us and popped out of his little white Hyundai wearing bright pink polarized sunglasses. He was full of the vibrancy you see all around the city and we realized we could communicate in Spanish together. Although, at some point he switched back to Portuguese, but we still had a largely, mutually comprehensible conversation with him speaking Portuguese and us speaking Spanish. This was much the case throughout our trip. Portuguese in Portugal sounds very different from Portuguese in Brazil, I have to say. It's much harder, and oft sounds like they're speaking Russian or German. It was strange and a little confusing, but if they spoke slow enough I could understand them.
We stayed in Alfama, the Old Town, and he couldn't actually drop us off in front of our Airbnb, so he got us as close as possible, dropping us off at Portas do Sol, a spot with a breathtaking view over looking orange tiled rooftops and out onto the river. There was a giant cruise ship docked in the river and it made it feel all the more like vacation had arrived. Then we walked down several flights of winding stairs until we we were greeted by a woman yelling down the alley way in a wretched voice that echoed between the centuries old walls and I thought she was crying and screaming at someone. When I turned my head to look at who she was yelling at, I realized she was just greeting her friend. Loud, and I mean LOUD fado music bellowed from her windows and I thought, "we made it!" This is Lisboa! A loud bellowing woman!
I picked the spot particularly for the old town charm, and there's certainly no shortage of charm here. The stairs and buildings are colorfully picturesque, with pretty paintings on random walls, and sometimes random paintings on random walls, football team flags hanging from windows, clothing hanging out windows, and on our street in particular, colorful streams lined the alley above our heads as if they were preparing for a large quinceñera or parade. You never know with old European towns, because you could just wind up in a dark, crumbling alley that smells like piss. Thankfully, I've not had that pleasure. So, we've been really fortunate with our Airbnb stays. It's also nice, because we like to stay in each city for at least a minimum of five days, we feel like we become part of the city and live a little like the locals.
Alfama reminds me of the Gothic center in Barcelona--you never know which each street is going to take you, and what you might stumble upon...sometimes literally, so be careful walking the cobble stone roads. I highly recommend bringing good shoes, because you'll walk a lot of hills, stairs, and cobble stone roads. I oft bring and wear my wedges when traveling because they look nice and they're comfy to walk in, even all day. However, I did not once touch my wedges on this trip. After realizing how uneven the streets were, and never knowing what we'd encounter, I opted for safety. Also, bring shoes or sandals with good grip on the soles if you can, because a lot of the cobble stone can be slippery. I was quite careful when I walked.
The guy who let us into the building walked up a few minutes later looking like Jesus got a bad haircut and was a character himself. He was also named Thiago. After we settled into our quaint studio apartment, we walked down to the grocery store located in a train station and picked up some basics like water, cheese, saucisson, chips, and cherries. Again, we really like to settle in and make each city our home for the few days we're there. It's actually really great for budget travel, not just because the accommodations are cheaper. We then also don't have to eat out for every meal. Eating out for every meal gets heavy and sometimes after a long day of sightseeing you just want to put your feet up and have a light meal.
Our first evening I made a reservation for us at Sr. Fado to help fully immerse ourselves into Lisboa culture. Alfama is like the center of Fado where there are loads of places you can dine at and enjoy a taste of Portuguese and Lisboa culture--literally and figuratively.
That was a full evening. We arrived at the restaurant at 19h30, as soon as they opened, because after 15 minutes you risk losing your table and left around 23h30. It's a very quaint space, family style. The whole experience is much like dining in someone's living room, and what I loved about it was that there were guests from all over the world--Poland, Germany, Sweden, Australia, France, Iraq, the States. As soon as you arrive, a basket of soft fluffy bread sits on the table next to a tray of cheese and charcuterie. This is all included in the menu, unlike regular Portuguese restaurants where they charge you even for bread. The cheese gave off an unpleasant odor which made me question how I was going to enjoy the long night, but then it was so delicious I soon forgot the smell. The second course was seafood heaven! It was a big pot of baccalau, shrimp, clams, and squid all stewed together and we ate it over rice. The dessert was very interesting. We were both anticipating one of Portugal's famed pastries, so what we received was a bit underwhelming--a plate of strawberries, whipped cream, and something that looked like thinly shredded cheese. It was not cheese though. It turns out it was actually egg yolk, that they somehow made look like shredded cheese, and it was sweetened. It tasted lovely, and the strawberries were so fresh and delicious, they came straight from the family's farm. I suppose it was a good choice for dessert because it wasn't too heavy. Finally, around ten past ten the Fado started. Fado reminds me of the lyrical storytelling of classic country songs like that of Hank Williams, it has the power and soulfulness of Etta James' voice, and sometimes sounds like Russian folk music. It's certainly comparable to the blues, as it's very poetic and sad, but it moves through you like a particular energy that only music can create. The melody is led by the 12 string Portuguese guitar and it's a beautiful experience. Make sure to experience fado when you're in Lisboa. For us, it was the perfect introduction to the city, which like the music, is like a sexy old woman...neglected, but as alive as ever. My friend describes Lisboa as a beautiful old woman, like an opera singer. That's a much prettier description, and just as accurate.
Keep in mind, Portugal is quite a poor country. The gap between the wealthy and poor is great. We did see some nicer neighborhoods outside the center, and our apartment was nicely renovated; but in general, the infrastructure is not well maintained, and the working wage is low. Chris and I noted, that the city reminds us of a mixture of Barcelona and Tijuana--which we enjoy both. It's great fun and a wonder, and it is becoming more and more popular a destination.
If you get the chance, we highly recommend it. Stay tuned for more on our experience in Lisboa.
BIG LOVE & HUGS