Lisbon. A city of hills and cobblestones, where crumbling facades and bricked-up windows whisper of a wild and colourful history. Many have staked their claim on the city over the centuries, including Mother Earth herself when, in 1755, she shrugged and stretched, and took nearly the entire city down with her.
We’re staying in the Alfama district, Lisbon’s old town, an area mostly untouched by the earthquake. It is a maze of impossibly narrow alleyways that wind their way between lofty buildings and connect via steep stone steps that put our fitness to the test. We duck under drying lines full of laundry that dangles limply beneath every window.
Our apartment sits a stone’s throw from Rua dos Remédios, where mournful fado melodies undulate through the narrow streets. Tables jostle for space outside the late-night restaurants, and it’s hard to tell which seat belongs to which venue. Around every corner we find leather-faced ladies offering Ginjinha shots in chocolate cups for a Euro. Late-night revellers holler with Portuguese passion as they make their way to their merriments. It’s true that Lisbon never sleeps.
The iconic tram 28 rattles down the hill towards Bairro Alto, where a different kind of bustle rules the street. Tourists wobble in groups across Praça do Comércio, mingling with buskers, painters, and stylish locals. Beyond, the mighty Tagus opens up, wide as any sea, lined by the hills of Almada across the water.
I revel in the sheer newness of it all. The warm, rolling air that always carries the faint scent of fresh pastries and pastéis de natas. The signs and street names, the spongy Portuguese consonants that bounce around us. While autumn rages back home, here the sun beats down on exotic plants that thrive in the easy weather. From the treetops we can hear unfamiliar birdsong, and the sound of their tropical twitters envelops us in a titillating feeling of being someplace new.
We take the ferry across the Tagus and wander aimlessly through the forgotten streets of Almada. Lisbon looks different from here – smaller, unassuming. We climb the cliffs and see what landmarks we can identify, from Belém Tower somewhere to the west, all the way to São Jorge Castle that sits nestled among its verdant gardens, right in the heart of Alfama.
We leave Lisbon with tummies full of pastries and midnight dinners, Sagres and Ginjinha, our minds enlightened by niche museums and our legs strengthened by all the uphill rambles. With everything we’ve experienced, our five-day visit has felt more like two weeks, a giddy time of marvel, exploration, and wonder.
Tchau Lisboa, até mais.