Lisbon: The San Francisco of Europe

Jan 31st, 2019.

Never having visited Portugal before, I was ecstatic to see Lisbon first-hand.

Safe to say, I fell in love. The multicolored buildings, gorgeous tiles, and bluer than blue sky made Lisbon an aesthetic dream.

The weather cooperated just as well as I do when i’m hungry: which is saying it didn’t. Torrential downpours, tornado winds, and brilliant sun rotated about every three minutes as we roamed the city.

The people and overall atmosphere were welcoming and calm. There was a type of calm rush on every street corner and railway route that made this place the perfect blend between city and town.

Day 1

A delayed flight after school put us in Lisbon around 9 pm. We were greeted with a down pouring of rain and some intense wind, but the warmer temperatures put us in high hopes.

We climbed into the back of an Uber and headed towards our lodging: the highly reviewed Brother’s Rooms Hostel in central Lisbon.

We pushed open the suspicious door of the building and stepped over the towels that were keeping the cracking floor dry. To put it positively: the hostel didn’t live up to the expectations. Our “private triple room” turned out to be a public four-bed room with a broken lock about a foot from the main door to the building. I won’t even mention the communal bathroom.

I’m really not one to be bothered by ‘roughing it,’ I can deal with gross, but with the safety concerns of three girls, there wasn’t a chance we were spending the night here. A quick Airbnb iPhone search later and we abandoned Brother’s Rooms about 20 ish minutes after checking in.

Moral of the story: Hostels can catfish too.

We got settled into our beautiful airbnb after a night full of emotional highs and lows (and some shameful McDonald’s).

Day 2

We woke up to a brilliant blue Lisbon sky, a color you won’t be able to comprehend from just pictures.

Feeling hopeful after stepping outside our light-yellow colored building, we hopped on the city bus towards Praça do Comércio.

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Dead-ending into the ocean, the historical plaza area is framed by pale yellow buildings with the Arco da Rua August leading into the main shopping street.

We tried to take in the whole scene (and often ended up spinning in circles). The sky, the architecture, and the sea all demand attention. We were quick to learn that all of Lisbon has this characteristic.

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We wandered down to the water (directly across from the plaza) and enjoyed the sea breeze and sun before heading off to breakfast.

Brunch Café (yes, that IS the name) offered a delicious first meal in Lisbon with its cozy interior.

Unsuspectingly, we glanced outside to see rain coming down in buckets. The blue sky had vanished, and a cold wind blew in. Having been completely unprepared, we ran to buy umbrellas for the rest of our day. En route to a shop, literally five minutes later, the clouds disappeared completely and the sun came blaring back.

Confused but happy, we bought our umbrellas just in case (a SMART move looking back) and wandered up the hilly streets to Castillo de Sant Jordi d’Alfama, needing breaks to take in the views.

The fortress, dating back to the Roman municipality in 48 BC, sits on top of Lisbon offering stunning views of the colored roofs.

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We wandered the stone walls and gardens before the rain came rumbling back in with lightening speed. We took shelter for about two minutes as it subsided.

Although I didn’t get any pictures of the erratic weather changes, the sun, intense wind, and rain drop remains can all be seen here:

Among the other sites, we met some other friends while wandering the castle grounds, stirring the age old question: Are peacocks native to Portugal?

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After about ten sun/rain cycles, we walked down the narrow streets to the Alfama district (a must see) to check out the famous Portas Do Sol lookout. From here we had breathtaking views of the vivid blue sky and the classic red roofs of Lisbon.

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Being completely exposed at the lookout, rain scared us off a little to quickly and we settled for exploring more around Alfama.

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With the sun beginning to peak out again, we ran (quite literally) back up to Portas Do Sol to catch a quick glass of wine with a view before the weather turned.

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Luckily with the next weather switch, we were able to hop on one of the famous yellow cable cars and ride out the rain back towards Comércio plaza.

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This time we explored past the arch into the shopping district, stopping at a cafe for coffee and traditional Portuguese pastry (and to let our rain-soaked clothes dry).

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The Barrio Alta district was our next stop. With some new found warmth we kept our eyes open for the tiled buildings that this area of Lisbon is famous for. It didn’t disappoint.

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Dinner was at the Time Out Market, a classy ‘food court’ style eatery with delicious Portuguese food at every vendor (think octopus, salted cod, and pork). It was so fun to explore the different options at every stall, I would highly recommend for a more laid-back dinner atmosphere with amazing food.

From there we headed to an organized pub crawl with some other friends in the IES program in Barcelona, a very fun way to quickly catch a glimpse of Lisbon’s night-life.

Day 3

Feira da Ladra, or better known as the ‘market of thieves,’ was our first stop bright and early on Saturday morning. Best known for random knick-knacks, hand made tiles, and vintage jewelry, the market was truly a hodge-podge of junk and great finds (and sometimes a little bit of both). We had fun wandering the tents and seeing the interesting collections.

We had made plans for today to visit the Pena Palace in Sintra (a quick town away) so we quickly finalized our purchases and moved on.

Coffee and chocolate rolls from a near-by cafe fueled us up before our journey, we sat in the sun and people watched as the market buzzed around us.

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After disembarking the 45 minute train we were met with the first views of Sintra, a landscape we all agreed that belonged in Shrek (or another Disney fairytale). Sweeping hills surround the town with a dramatic cliff side looking towards Cabo Da Roca- the Westernmost point of Europe.

Somehow starving, we scoured yelp and discovered a cliff side lunch place with just about the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Granted, I never eat burgers, but the mushrooms and brie cheese on this one made it 5 star worthy.

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We were recommended by a friend to take a Tuk Tuk up to the castle rather than the bus. I was a bit skeptical, as I don’t love the major turist-y stuff, but I can honestly say it was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Our driver was enthusiastic, kind, and a little crazy. His driving was comparable to mine, which is a nicer way of saying that it was terrifying. We sped along narrow roads winding up the mountain, barely missing pedestrians, bikers, and cars as we weaved past the sparse traffic.

We all laughed and held on for dear life as the open aired car whizzed around corners and made some suspicious sounds as we changed gears.

The views from the mountain itself would’ve been worth it, but the Pena Palace was a gorgeous addition. The two different colors used (yellow and red) symbolize the dominant religions in the time period it was build. The architecture, grounds, and ornate details were amazing.

This is an absolute must-see for anyone spending more than a day in Lisbon, the castle was like something I had never seen before. Sappy to say, but pictures don’t do it justice (they can try, of course).

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After exploring to our hearts’ content we bussed back down the mountain just in time for some rain to hit.

Dinner back in Lisbon was at Needle in a Haystack (Agulha No Palheiro), a top-secret restaurant boasting some of Lisbon’s best food. The building is unmarked, dark, and you have to be let inside by a server since the door is hidden. Such a fun and local experience.

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Day 4

A little embarrassing to say, but we actually returned to our beloved brunch place again on Sunday morning, being unable to get the cravings to go away. Brunch Café didn’t disappoint, we were all grossly fun and satisfied as we left.

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For the last remaining hour in town, we went back down to the docks across from Praça do Comércio to soak up some warm sun.

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Here we walked the beach, listened to the calming guitar music being played by locals, and dreaded going home.

Lisbon will be one of those places that I won’t ever forget.

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