My own Lisbon Story
The city is exactly how you should pronounce its name: lazy, easy going, bit nasal, with pleasure and extending the "oa" as if you were doing your morning stretch. For me it will be always the only latin city in Europe, no offense to the Spaniards who think they are latin - they are not. I love them as they are but America Latina has this little something I saw in Lisbon.
My first experience with the city was of a cinematographic kind, and big time. The movie was called "Lisbon Story" by Wim Wenders and featured the most incredible music of Madredeus. All who have seen Wenders' movies know he is not just about the story, he is about the place, the images of the place as seen by different characters and he is greatly about the music of the place and of the people. I highly recommend it as a movie, mind you it's a story that runs very slowly as the main character arrives to the city and explores it day by day. Now if you want to see the Lisbon from the movie that would be a lost cause. That Lisbon is long gone, although maybe it does exist in some parts were tourists never get to. But don't despair, the Lisbon that you will find won't disappoint you at all.
My first discovery was that if you are wandering around the city and want to go right it's very likely you will need to turn left. The streets meander as they please seemingly without any planning. You can easily get lost but then again it's a great way of getting to know the city. It will amaze you with the architecture and brilliant city vistas when you go up the hill in the Elevador da Glória - a funicular that links two Bairros and has a quite steep incline. When I visited Lisbon it still had some this rugged look that I remembered from the movie, although you had to look for it. It was beautiful and ugly at the same time or rather the beauty was in the ugliness itself.
My second discovery was of a more cultural difference kind. When you order chá de limao don't expect tea with lemon. What you get is lemon with poured over boiling water. I was sitting in Café Tofa somewhere in the center and listening to the many conversations around me without understanding much. Interestingly everybody seemed to know everybody else. They approached each other's tables, gossiped with waitresses etc. I felt as if I found myself there by mistake. With that atmosphere the place reminded me a bit of a Polish "milk bar" from the 80ties - seemingly unwashed glasses and windows smudged just so you couldn't really look out completed the picture.
The language sounded so pleasantly in my ears. Portuguese has a lot of sounds familiar to my own native tongue. It is nothing like its Brasilian cousin, bit softer and hissing.
Apart from just getting lost in the city there are few things that you might want to see. First Castelo de Sao Jorge, if you're not afraid of a little walking up the hill I recommend walking there. You will have plenty picture opportunities on the way. What you will also see are the tiles on buildings and walls - so called azulejos for their colour. There is also a museum dedicated to the art of tiles: Museu Nacional do Azulejo in the Madre de Deus Convent. But you can see them all around the city and inside many cafes. A lot of those cafes look very different to what you're used to in Europe. The ones I visited were a meander of rooms and corridors, each set up in a different style.
When you get to the sea side you have to go to Belém, you will see there a massive Monument to the Discoveries, built to celebrate Vasco da Gama's discovery of the sea route to India. It's brilliant to have a nice walk along the sea-side there. Nearby you will find the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and by the river Tagus the Torre de Belém - used to be a defensive fort although it looks more like a remainder of something much bigger taken by the sea. Since you're already in Belém you have to try the local speciality, although you can get them everywhere around Lisbon: the famous Pastéis de Belém. What would I give to eat one of them again!!!
But you have to remember, the whole experience is only done correctly if you sit down, order tea or coffee and relax eating the pastel. Look at the people around you, start a conversation with the waiter or with a stranger at the table next to you. It's all a very social ritual.
If you have some more time go on a day trip to Sintra. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site to see is the 14th century royal palace: Palácio Nacional da Pena. It may seem kitschy at first due to some unbelievable colours on the outside walls but kitsch it's not. It was my first encounter with moorish architecture and my jaw dropped when I saw the courtyards and royal apartments.
Back in Lisbon the last thing I would recommend visiting are the churches, among them the Sé de Lisboa cathedral. I'm not a church goer however I can definitely appreciate the splendour and pomp of some of them. You are allowed to travel back in time as nowhere else I have seen this kind of glamour still present in a modern temple.
All in all Lisboa is one of a kind. For a long time I was looking for a city with a character and it turned out to be so close. It's beautiful, it's ugly, it's fascinating. I want to go back.