An old city perched along steep hills, the neighborhoods are connected by bridges and trolleys, traversing centuries old intersections carrying passengers to views of the Atlantic and new world. Lisbon is one of the launching pads that discovered vast and foreign lands. It is also the center of a vibrant night life, a burgeoning food scene, and holds an abundance of charm. Our time in Lisbon was much too short, but it was a perfect way to cap off a once in a lifetime European tour.
It is a colorful city both in terms of building façade and people. The people are animated and friendly, and the buildings vary greatly in color, cleanliness, and state of repair. However grubby the city may be on the surface, under the initial layer of film lies ornate architecture, incredible scenery, and the feeling of substance and history at every turn. You can tell it is an important city whose citizens have impacted the world even though it may not be as polished and trimmed as its counterparts. In some ways the edginess of the city enamors you with it even more because its rough exterior exists in sharp contrast to its rich warmth – a reward for investigating deeper.
Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal. Its population of three million sits on Portugal’s west coast fronting the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river Tagus. It is a major economic center and one of the largest container ports in Europe. The birth of Lisbon predates the likes of London, Paris, and Rome and is known to be one of the oldest cities in the world. Since the 1100’s it has been the center of economic and political life in Portugal. Its more recent nickname “Little San Francisco” gives homage to its similarity of hills, bridges, architecture, and trolleys.
Our time with Jesse and Chelci was starting to wind down and when we arrived in Lisbon and it was their last night. We decided to cap off the trip with drinks and dinner. Our apartment was at the top of a very steep hill serviced by an iconic yellow trolley and was quite the tourist draw. By nightfall, the street in front of our apartment was packed with partygoers drinking and smoking. In Lisbon, it feels like anything goes. The nightlife occupies the bars, clubs, and the streets themselves in an unabashedly laissez-faire environment. There were police here and there and I was surprised how they pretty much kept their distance and let people do what they wanted. They seemed to be there in case of emergencies but weren’t trying to write people tickets or get in anyone’s business. It was a huge contrast in comparison to the US. By the end of the night we were exhausted and headed home, waking hours later to say our goodbyes early the next morning.
We spent our last full day in Portugal just outside of Lisbon in Sintra. Sintra is a Romanticist castle outside of town. Sitting atop a hill, it is a well known national monument in Portugal and constitutes one of the major expressions of the 19th Century Romanticism in the world. The castle was originally built in the Middle Ages as a monastery, but later redesigned in 1854 standing today a World Heritage Site. Until being turned over to the public as a museum in 1910, it served as a summer palace for the Portuguese royal family. King Ferdinand II commissioned the redesign and bought up the surrounding land. In the surrounding area he planted extensive and dense gardens that stand today and feel more like wilderness that a man’s creation. The sheer amount of what was planted actually created a microclimate,. The vast gardens stand as a reminder of how much change man can make to the surrounding environment.
Sintra is well known for its vibrant colors and varied examples of architecture. Medieval and Islamic elements mix with the likes of German castles you could find on the Rhine. This intentional mixture of eclectic styles is what Romanticism is known for. Mixing Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, and Neo-Renaissance architecture into a new eclectic identity has the intended effect of a whimsical experience that carries your imagination to past great eras in history. I have never seen a castle built in this style and its position high on a hill made for great photos and exploration of the many halls and viewpoints.
Lisbon was a highlight and a city that seems to grow in importance as time passes. For me, the memory of a place can evolve over time as you process the experience, layers of sensations and impressions left behind. Lisbon is seared into my memory as a city to be explored slowly, intensely and not at a distance. It is not the major sites, or tourist attractions that make Lisbon interesting, it is the side streets, the neighborhood bars, and the locals that my mind wanders to when thinking back. The interplay of grunge and prominence are everywhere in Lisbon, it takes just the smallest bit of scratching below the surface to reveal its enduring greatness. // Jeff