Lisbon rooftops

4 days in Lisbon

Rua do Allecrim, LisboaI was back in work for 3 days after Canada before I was packing a bag, grabbing my passport and heading out the door before dawn to catch a flight to Lisbon for a Javascript conference.

Due to be generally disorganised, I left things too late to book the conference organisers’ suggested hotel and though it would be a work expense, I thought the other hotels I looked at were either too expensive or too far away. So I turned to Airbnb.  Airbnb worked out well when the girl and I stayed in Barcelona, so I found somewhere good value and close to the conference — even though it was only a room (plus extras), rather than a whole hotel.

It was a little surreal to find myself staying with my host, plus his Dad, younger sister and younger brother, but I quickly preferred it to staying in a hotel alone.  Santiago was apparently typical of Portuguese hospitality, he would always greet me warmly when I came home, offer me meals or tell me to help myself to anything I wanted from the fridge — he also took me sightseeing in the city on my last day in Lisbon.

The Portuguese are interesting people. It occurs to me that Portugal is to Spain like Canada is to the USA and New Zealand is to Australia: they are the underdog nation to a bigger and more influential neighbour — and consider themselves to the friendlier of the two.  Like Canada/USA, perhaps, Santiago told me that Portugal and Spain have “always been neighbours but never friends”, despite sharing a peaceful border.

For about a hundred years, Portugal was a world-leading nation: in the age of discovery Portugal was one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, as well as establishing a vast empire that included Brazil.  Now the Portuguese lament that they have gone from this to being “one of the PIGS“.  As with anywhere, speaking to the locals about history can be a minefield: while one person told me proudly about the military coup in the 1970s that overthrew the country’s Fascist dictator, another told me that he thought the dictator had been Portugal’s best ruler.

Aside from having warm and hospitable people, Lisbon is a beautiful and hilly city. Nearly all of its streets are still cobbled, and many are tiled like mosaics — though when it started to rain I quickly stopped wishing London had more hills and pretty tiled streets: if you’ve ever slipped on a wet bathroom floor try to imagine a whole city feeling like that.

LisbonI must have explored most of Lisbon with my host on Sunday: going to Belém for the famous pastel de Belém, climbing the steps to the top of the Belém tower, admiring the views from the Monument to the Discoveries, and witnessing the last part of a very surreal theatrical performance in Jerónimos Monastery.  I have tried and failed to find a video clip of the play, but all I can tell you is that it featured Knights Templar (recognisable from their garments displaying the cross of St George), an angel, and a hanged man.  The gathered crowd enjoyed it very much, and I might have understood more had I seen the beginning.  I asked Santiago about it, and he didn’t know what was going on either.

Later we walked to one of the highest points in the city and looked out over the red roofs and the sun beginning to set in the distance. Lisbon really is a beautiful city and quite romantic — for obvious reasons, Portugal does have a lot in common with Spain and other countries of southern Europe, including the old winding streets, but it also has a distinct character of its own.  Though I only saw a very small part of Lisbon, I look forward to returning sometime in the near future to see more.

(see more of my pictures from Lisbon here)

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