Lisbon captured my heart as soon as I stepped off that airplane and made my way into its city center. To this day, it remains one of my favorite places to have ever visited in Europe, and it surprises me that not too many people whom I know outside of traveling would consider it a top destination to go see.
…well, I’m here to tell you that you should definitely go to Lisbon, let alone the country of Portugal. Expect this post to convince you, since it’ll basically be me getting stupidly excited reliving my stay from last February’s vacances…and with gorgeous photos to boot, of course (including the one above^).
With my short, two-night stay in Madrid over and out, I took the flight over to Lisbon and arrived close to noon. After some slight confusion on how to get to the city center from the airport (fyi by local train, apparently), I eventually made my way over, getting off at the Santa Apolónia train station.
Funny enough, my first impressions of Lisbon were gloomy, even slightly rainy: it was drizzling a bit from outside of my airplane window the ride over, and I was feeling a bit disappointed, since Barcelona and Madrid had been rather overcast, too, when I visited.
However, my opinion changed as drastically as the weather itself: as soon as I stepped out of that train station and made my way over to my hostel, the clouds had cleared away and I was left with nothing but sunny, blue skies. The sun, oh my god…just like the first day in Barcelona, I almost cried tears of joy from the warmth and beauty of it all; the sun was absolutely heavenly and much-needed, casting light upon the vibrant, patterned buildings in the Alfama district, the old, historical quarter of Lisbon and also where my hostel was located. Even though I got lost trying to find the hostel in the winding, narrow (and hilly) streets and even asking an elderly local (who didn’t know much English) for directions, I didn’t mind, because the weather was just so damn nice.
I made it to my hostel, located on top of one of the many hills of the city. From what I’ve been told, Lisbon is apparently known as “the city of seven hills,” and it’s true that it is so; during the three nights I was there, I’m pretty sure that my calves got an incredible workout! Checked into the hostel, dropped my belongings off, and headed out again to soak up much of the afternoon sun.
Again, my hostel was situated in the Alfama district, so I just followed the tram tracks up to the Church of São Vicente de Fora. Behind the church, there was a lookout point, or miradouro. It was one of many in Lisbon, for the city is famous for them (in all of Portugal, for that matter), and I spent my entire visit going from miradouro to miradouro to find the best one. However, I couldn’t, since all of them were jaw-dropping gorgeous! The red roof-blue sky/ocean contrast was the stuff of postcards and I really felt like I was in some kind of paradise fantasy. Again, I love Lisbon.
One of my favorite miradouros was that of the Santa Luzia, located near the Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral). What made it so lovely was that there was this cute patio, with a sparkling swimming pool and a terraced restaurant that was the stuff of a romantic’s dream. It was too good for me to leave, as I’m pretty sure that I spent at least half an hour just admiring the views from the top.
Passing through the Alfama district, I eventually made my way over to the Baixa district, which is the heart of Lisbon with its wide-open Praça do Comercio and the Rua Augusta arch towering overhead, beckoning tourists to enter its shopping/eating/super-touristy district. Beautiful nonetheless!
Despite its tourist-trap kind of vibe, I passed under the Rua Augusta arch and walked along the wide pedestrian street, making sure not to get sucked into one of the souvenir shops or restaurants (after all, it was only my first day there; I wasn’t ready to drop a lot of money on food and trinkets just yet!). From there, I decided to head up to see the Santa Justa lift, a massive elevator which gives apparently one of the best miradouros from the top as well. Again, another tiring hill; I made it to the base of the lift, but I wasn’t going to pay to go up it. Instead, I took the stairs behind it and weaved my way through the winding streets before making it to the top and capturing more red-rooftop views. I admit, they were pretty, but I think the miradouro de Santa Luzia was my favorite since it wasn’t as touristy.
Afterwards, I decided to make a loop back to my hostel; another assistante with whom I would be traveling in Portugal was arriving in during the latter half of the afternoon, so I wanted to meet her at the hostel, where she would be staying as well. I headed back, passing by the Lisbon Cathedral and miradouro de Santa Luzia.
The assistante entered the hostel around 16h30, looking utterly exhausted. Not only that, but she’d fallen ill the day prior, so she wasn’t feeling the best for exploring Lisbon after checking into the hostel. I offered her some Advil to help her out, and she took them and proceeded to sleep off the sickness.
Later that evening, I headed out again to see if I could find a restaurant opened for the night. Apparently, Mondays are the “rest days” for the Portuguese (sort of like Sundays in other parts of the world), so most of the local restaurants and shops would be closed that day. I’d arrived on a Monday and considering that my hostel was in the Alfama district (again, the old, historical district with less things happening than, say, the Baixa district), my options were quite limited. However, I managed to find one opened not too far from my hostel; I was starving by 18h00, but the place wouldn’t be opened until 19h00. Again, quite similar to “Spanish time” when it comes to dining! I decided to wander around the Church of São Vicente de Fora again, passing by a small bakery that sold the famous pastel de nata (egg custard tart). I bought two of them and went over to the church to sit on the steps and eat one of them (the other I saved for the assistante, who was still sleeping off her sickness- poor thing!).
Now, I’ve had the pastel de nata before, growing up in a Chinese household. In fact, they are a common thing found in dim sum restaurants, since Macau (located near Hong Kong) used to be under Portuguese rule until the late-20th century. That influence manifested in the cuisine itself, and so I grew up eating tons of the egg custard tart whenever I went out to dim sum on weekends with my family. It was interesting comparing the Chinese version to that Portuguese one: I’m going to be honest and say that I still prefer the former, since I grew up eating and knowing its familiar taste. While the Portuguese version is sweeter with a crustier crust, the Chinese one is more custard-like with a flaky crust. Don’t get me wrong, I very much liked the Portuguese one, but again, the Chinese version remains my favorite.
Any case, I headed back to the restaurant as soon as it opened for business at 19h00. I got a seat and after milling through the menu (all in Portuguese, by the way, so of course I understood none of it. Thankfully, I’d researched beforehand which dishes were worth trying in Portugal, so just searching for those on the menu saved me), the waiter proceeded to take my order. It was funny, because the waiter didn’t speak English and instead spoke to me in Portuguese, as if expecting me to understand what he was saying even though I obviously looked like a tourist. Even when I responded to him in English, he continued to speak in Portuguese! Yet somehow, it all worked, and I eventually got my meal of bacalhau (codfish) and a massive pint of beer (500 mL, and only 2,50 euros!). The codfish itself was big as well, basically, the entire fish- bones and all! It was rather salty and although I usually don’t like overly-salty food, it worked in this case! I very much enjoyed it, for the fish was tender and not overcooked. Paired with the beer, it was hearty and super satisfying.
Once dinner was finished, I headed back to the hostel. The assistante was already awake, looking a bit better than a few hours before. I gave her the other pastel de nata, and we decided to take a small walk around the district at night, although when we did, we ended up just turning around after 15 minutes since there was literally nothing to do in the Alfama district and the Baixa was too far for us to head down to. We were also tired and decided to turn in for the night; we would officially begin our adventures the next day after feeling well-rested.
Even though I’ve only recounted my first day in Lisbon, I’ll save the rest of my adventures for the next post, since I don’t want this one to go on for too long. Until then!