Portugal

Misses in Lisbon, Portugal

When you have limited time in a city, there are bound to be attractions and experiences you missed out on. Even though I lived in Seville, Spain for four months while I studied there, there were still items of interest I missed out on. Here is a list of my four “misses” from my recent trip to Lisbon, Portugal.

1.) I didn’t ride on any of Lisbon’s historic trams and funiculars. I have to admit that prior to traveling there, I became a bit leery of the city’s iconic modes of transportation since I read that they attracted droves of thieves whose mission was to empty a tourist’s pockets as he was otherwise engaged, admiring the city and taking pictures. On our first day there we passed by the famous Tram 28 while walking. It was completely packed, both seats and aisles, and so while it didn’t exactly look inviting to me, I wish I had had more time to ride on one when I wasn’t armed with my large travel tote bag which I used to carry around my new and somewhat bulky camera. On our last day in Lisbon, I did have every intention of riding a funicular from the Barrio Alto down to Avenida da Liberade in the Praca Restauradores but just as we arrived at the top of the street where one boards the funicular, we noticed that it was stopped about 500 feet short of the top. What we presumed to be its passengers were hiking to the top of the street. I felt bad as one passenger ended up having to cart an extremely heavy looking suitcase the rest of the way. (I had enough difficulty when just hiking myself; I couldn’t imagine doing it when loaded down with luggage.) We waited about five minutes hoping that it would start to move again but soon realized that it wasn’t going anywhere and proceeded to walk down the street(hill). As we passed by the funicular, we noticed a mechanic on board. Coupled with the somewhat antiquated models used to transport people every day and the fact that it was going up an incredibly steep hill, I surmised that this probably happened quite often.

2.) Before traveling to Portugal, I had made a list of restaurants I wanted to try when in Lisbon. While we made it to two of them, the famous Cervejaria Trindade, a beer hall located in the Barrio Alto, and Casa Alentejo, a restaurant located in an 18th century Moorish style house that serves food from the country’s Alentejo region, we never made it to the ones I really wanted to try. These restaurants featured the cuisine of the country’s former colonies including such exotic locales as Goa (India), Mozambique, Angola, Macau and the Cape Verde Islands. Unfortunately, none of them were as near to our hotel as the two that we did dine at, which is most likely why we “missed out.” Zambeze, a restaurant serving African cuisine (think Angola and Mozambique, two of Portugal’s largest colonies in Africa), is located on the top floor of the Old Market Chao do Loureiro. After visiting the Castelo de Sao Jorge, we somehow ended up going the opposite way of how we had originally gotten to the “top.” As we were somewhat turned around, we passed by a building on our left that was incredibly light and open. When I saw the sign Zambeze, I immediately realized that this was the restaurant I had wanted to try. Although I would have liked to have stopped right there and then, I had promised D we would eat at the beer hall that night and so we continued on our way. As it was located in the Alfama, a neighborhood we didn’t visit again after our first day there, I never got to try my ethnic dining of Portuguese-African food.

3.) What I feel most sad about missing out on was not seeing a fado performance. Fado is Portugal’s answer to flamenco, although fado is strictly singing. It is a form of music characterized by melancholic tunes and lyrics incorporated with feelings of resignation and fatefulness. The problem with fado was that I didn’t want to go to a tourist trap establishment, those places that cater to mass tour groups and offer anything but an authentic experience. I read that the most authentic fado experiences were in the Alfama, Lisbon’s former Moorish quarter and home to endless amounts of windy and narrow streets. To provide you with a parallel, it was very similar to the streets in Paris’ Montmartre area or Seville’s Barrio Santa Cruz (minus the hills). After finishing up at the Castelo, we got momentarily turned around in the Alfama, mostly traversing through the neighborhood’s more residential streets, ones that I wouldn’t describe as being on the “tourist path.”At one point however, we entered an area where it was just houses, no businesses and no one around. I got slightly spooked as I had read that muggings often occurred on streets like this since they can be deserted even though it’s the middle of the day. We turned around immediately and thankfully found our way but I couldn’t imagine heading to the Alfama at night, especially since like in Spain, nightlife doesn’t really get going until 10 PM or later. My guidebooks had recommended simply calling a taxi and yet, as we don’t have cell phones with international coverage, I didn’t want to take the chance on hoping the fado establishment would let us use a phone. I’m hardly one to be “spooked” by a city; I have been to Mexico City countless times, all without incident, even though it’s attained a reputation as being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. However, after my many years of traveling abroad to different corners of the world, I’ve come to trust my general instinct.

4.) I’m a librarian. I’m a bibliophile. So yes, I adore books. I’m going to be moving next month and the amount of books (plus D’s) that have to be packed up is mind boggling. Although I neither have children nor am a children’s librarian, I love children’s books. Some years ago I started collecting children’s books in Spanish and when I traveled to Brussels, Belgium I actually purchased a French children’s book, Tintin au Congo-Tintin in the Congo) even though my French is limited at best and I would need a dictionary to read it. And so I had all of these grandiose plans to go to a livraria (bookstore) in Lisbon and find a great children’s book in Portuguese to add to my collection. Did I? Of course not…

I have no doubt that one day I will return to Portugal (it’s one of the closest European destinations which is always a plus when flying trans-Atlantic) and so in addition to visiting new areas (Porto, the Algarve, the Douro Valley), I will make sure to do those things I missed out on trying on my first visit there. Maybe when I do return I’ll speak somewhat proficient Portuguese and also have a cell phone with international coverage, so calling a taxi will be no problema.

Maybe next time I’ll ride on one of the city’s famous trams…

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