Lisbon is a city of confusion and amazement

by admin

The past couple trips I took to France, I wrote a lot of “Things I learned in Paris” posts, which included daily comedic occurrences, important lessons, interesting facts, and insider tips… I’m doing it a little different this time, but hopefully it’s just as entertaining to read, so here’s what I’ve learned so far in beautiful Lisboa.

Lisbon is confusing. It’s confusing as Hell….. And I love it.

View from my apartment, looking up at the Alfama district

 Imagine a city with the history and architecture of Paris, the climate of the south of France, the hills, trams, and iconic red bridge of San Francisco, and the shopping of New York. This is Lisbon in the best way I can describe it at the moment. 

Lisbon is tough to describe, because it doesn’t make sense. At all.

The weather definitely has multiple personality disorder. You will be walking down the street on a bright and sunny day… The sun shining down on you, basking in the warm air. Then you’ll walk across the road, 10 minutes will go by, and it’s cold all of a sudden. You need to put on a jacket. Five minutes after that, you’re too hot. Gotta take off the jacket. Then there’s a light sprinkle of rain. Then it’s cold again, then warm again, repeat for the entire day. Overall, the Lisbon climate is amazing, but on a daily basis, it just can’t make up its mind. You’re best bet is to wear layers to remove or put on as needed, carry a bag to keep them in.

If you’ve even been to Lisbon, you’ve gotten lost at some point, and if you haven’t gotten lost in Lisbon, then you probably didn’t walk more than 20 feet.

The Baixa area (central downtown) is the only area to be laid out in a grid pattern, as we’re used to in most major North American cities. In 1755, there was a legendary earthquake that destroyed most of the city, and it was rebuilt in that fashion to signal in a new era. The Baixa is quite tourist heavy and filled with shops and restaurants. Great for walking around if you don’t mind navigating through the occasional crowd, but definitely a must see area, as the Baixa is the heart of Lisbon.

Tracks of the funicular on Rua Bica de Duarte Belo

 In contrast, the rest of Lisbon is all over the place. Streets go in every which direction, with no apparent reason, but that’s not even what makes it so confusing. Lisbon is layered. The huge number of hills throughout the city mean that you’re walking up a hill, then down another one, then up and around, back down, turn the corner, go up again, walk up steps to the next level. Walk around, down an alley, more steps, a lift of some kind, another alley…. confused yet? It’s pretty much walking through a 3D MC Escher drawing.

The Alfama neighbourhood, the oldest in Lisbon, is the biggest culprit of this confusion. That’s what’s so amazing about it though! You WILL get lost in Alfama, and just let it happen.  You’ll discover the most amazing things by doing this. In Alama, there is no sense of direction, and it’s totally filled with little becos, or alleyways, that are fully functional walk-throughs filled with shops, restaurants and bars at every turn. Lisbon is definitely a city of hidden discoveries. 

In fact, one of my favourite restaurant that’ve found so far, was not only in a beco, but it’s also called “O Beco”. It can be found in an alleyway that’s about only 60 feet long, and it’s very easy to miss, but find the right door, and you’re taken into a little tasca, with two older women cooking in a 15 sq ft open kitchen, putting out some of the most amazing traditional Portuguese dishes dishes, in the most unpretentious way…. And it completely reached in… deep down, and wrapped around my soul, creating the feeling you get when you can’t even really describe the event to anyone else properly. It was a “your just had to be there” moment. That is the food I want to cook, and plan to cook. It’s not fancy, but it’s done well, and imprints the fondest of memories in the mind. Anyone visiting Lisbon, you definitely have to go to O Beco…. and anyone in Toronto, I will try my best to recreate a similar experience for you.

Manueline cloisters of Mosterio dos Jeronimos

 In only two days, I’ve learned quite a bit abut Lisbon… Really too much to put into one post, but here’s a few other things to note:

Portugal is famous for azulejos, the detailed hand-painted tiles. I knew this already, and I knew I’d see them, but I didn’t quite grasp just how important and how involved tile work is to Lisbon. The city is COVERED in them. Every other building has its facade covered top to botto, with different coloured azulejos tiles. Some buildings are blue, some are yellow, some are white, some are free, some are patterned and multi-coloured. It’s just an amazing sight to see!

The sidewalks and road are also tiled! Or so it seems, at least. We’ve seen the famous cobblestone roads of cities like Paris, London, Rome…. but the roads in Lisbon aren’t just cobblestone, they are irregularly cut, tile-looking stones placed erratically, but somehow it works. This also goes for the sidewalks. Not just some sidewalks, ALL the sidewalks. Covered in stone or ceramic, small tiles (or as I call them), going up and down and around every corner. To make it even more amazing, many of them are decoratively patterned. The painstakingly detailed work that has gone into this is absolutely amazing.

A few other very quick lessons of the day…..

Lisboetas love tinned seafood, good coffee can be found pretty much anywhere, the bookstores are awesome, the food is awesome, and the vintage trams and funiculars that are weaving through the city and up and down its hills, creates a charm that is so unique to this coastal capital.

I’m going to cut this post off here, but there’s so much more to stay, but also so much more to learn.


Wall of tinned fish at Conserveira de Lisboa


Lisbon has some amazing, and VERY old booksotres like Bertrand Liveiros


1 comment

carol stevenson March 28, 2015 - 12:58 am

i’m already in love….


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