Five weeks can seem like an eternity or it can fly past in a blink of an eye. For us, it seems like yesterday when we arrived at the Santa Apalonia station in Lisbon and yet we felt very comfortable there, almost as if we have lived there for much longer. As we settle into our new lifestyle hopefully we will look back on each of our homes with such positive memories.
This was the first time in many years that we lived in a large city and we weren’t quite sure how we would feel about it as we love open space, nature and relative peace and quiet. Lisbon seems to have been a good choice though and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We will miss many things about this fascinating city.
We loved our apartment and will miss the views of the Tagus river, the streets below us and the sounds of people going about their lives around us. Watching the various ships pass by on the river with a glass of wine was always a great way to spend an afternoon. We will miss the local mini mercados, pastelarias and cafes and their friendly owners.
We enjoyed the ease of getting around the city and even to the outer areas such as Cascais and Sintra. The buses, Metro and commuter trains were all efficient and inexpensive. The only exception was our local 735 route which was a little erratic. We always felt comfortable and safe getting anywhere we wanted to go.
Wandering the streets was our favorite pastime. The contrast of colours, the blend of old and new and the discovery of what lay around the next corner is captivating. No matter which neighbourhood we ventured into we always felt welcome and completely at ease.
The people of Lisbon we met were always gracious if not the most outgoing. We were treated with courtesy and respect and more often than not our hola or bom dia was returned with a smile. Our limited Portuguese got us by quite adequately, although as always we would love to be able to converse more freely. Courtesy, friendliness and an honest attempt to use some phrases always goes a long way in a new country.
We can’t say enough about the wine. Whether it was the the €2 bottle from the local Pingo Doce (one of the grocery store chains) or a more expensive €5 bottle they were all very pleasant. Too much so perhaps!
Overall we found the cost of living to be very reasonable. Groceries were very affordable, wine and beer very inexpensive, fresh bread and pastries are available everywhere at a low price and as we mentioned, public transportation is well priced.
We didn’t eat out a lot, but when we did we were always able to find a decent meal for under €10 each. There were plenty of higher priced options and we expect the meals would have been even better. Our son and a friend joined us for two weeks and we enjoyed showing them around and introducing them to some of our favorites spots.
The street art and graffiti were favorites of ours. We aren’t sure of the laws surrounding them but from what we have seen it is pretty common across Europe. Almost all available space is covered ranging from political statements, modern art and the more familiar tags.
The miradouros, or viewpoints, are spectacular and popular in Lisbon. They are generally well known and marked but you can stumble across some wonderful ones by chance. Some of our favorites were Portas do Sol, Miradouro de Graca, Nossa Senhora do Monte, the terrace of the National Pantheon and of course the Castelo de Sao Jorge. You may have to jostle your way to some but for the most part there is plenty of room and you will find a mixture of locals and tourists vying for the best camera angle and the attention of the selfie stick vendors.
A short bus or tram ride away from the central city, Belem has a lot to offer and we loved the boardwalk, the parks and the Belem Cultural Centre. This is also the location of the Jeronimos Monestary, Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower. On one of our visits we took in a fantastic show there by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
There is free admission on the first Sunday of each month at both the Jeronimos Monestary and Belem Tower but not surprisingly there are long lines of people taking advantage of the savings. On the plus side, there are terrific markets at the Cultural Centre and in the park on that day.
We never tired of watching the cars drive the narrow streets and parallel park. North Americans could certainly take lessons as it is amazing how many cars can be parked along the sides of the streets.
If you add in the construction, the trolleys and the buses, and just watching how people get around the city it is a great way to spend time. There are hundreds of small cafes and pastelarias dotting the sidewalks as well as many parks so you always have a place to rest your feet.
We had to return to the weekly flea market, Feira de Ladra, and would recommend it for anyone who visits Lisbon. It operates on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
As for other stereotypical activities we did manage to see some local fado and we did eat sardines. Most of the fado is late in the evening and quite expensive but we found a small cafe/bar in our neighbourhood where amateurs performed on Saturday afternoons and it was excellent. We only rode the trolley once and enjoyed it, but it was more fun watching them trundle past overflowing with tourists with cameras and selfie sticks popping out the windows.
The Praca do Comercio and Baixa are the tourist hubs in central Lisbon. When the cruise ships are in they can be quite crowded but the buildings and setting is impressive. Inevitably there will be vendors and street performers, most of whom were not too aggressive. You will be approached to buy selfie sticks and sunglasses which often is a front for other less legal products.
There was very little that we did not enjoy about Lisbon. Dog owners and people in general did seem careless about waste and in the local areas you could see the results on the sidewalks. This seems strange as there are garbage receptacles everywhere, and many city employees sweeping, tidying up and even watching you – seeming to dare you to throw something on the street.
This all contributes to the charm of Lisbon that we felt. It is not pretentious at all, it feels very safe and we did not feel any resentment towards visitors which we have encountered in other places. The central part of the city is compact enough that you can access most everything you want on foot although be prepared for hills. With the addition of the transit system, including the trolleys and funiculars there wasn’t anywhere that we couldn’t easily reach.
Overall it was a wonderful five weeks in which we gained a great introduction to Portuguese culture and peered through a small window into life in a European city. We explored and experienced a lot but there remains much to discover as we continue to move along in our nomadic lifestyle. In our next post we will still be in Portugal as we are now in Lagos in the Algarve.