Monday, February 8, 2016


I need to revisit my lists of favorite cities. A couple of years have passed, and I’ve gotten to know some new cities that change things around a bit.

Lisbon is the most recent, and it definitely belongs amidst the best of its size.

It still feels European, but in different ways from the Central European stuff I am used to, even different from the Italian and Mediterranean cities that it more closely resembles. Like Rome and a lot of other places, it is built on a series of seven hills, but the way it interacts with those hills feels unique.

Where else do you have multiple elevators to get you around town? Our hotel was up on the castle walls on the side of downtown known as Alfama. The bus from the airport dropped us of downtown in Baixa, basically a valley in the heart of things. We walked the few hundred meters up what ended up being about 12 stories that first afternoon. Once we learned about the various elevators around town we used them the rest of the time. (That is how I know how many stories we were dealing with.

Alfama is amazing. It is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, decorated everywhere with freshly washed laundry hanging out to dry. Cobblestones are the norm everywhere in Lisbon, but in Alfama they are ankle-breaking. Perhaps most amazing is the old trolley cars that make their way around the maze.

Across the valley from Alfama was Barrio Alto. For those with a more modern wish (but only slightly more) this is where you find the shopping, eating, and night-life. It wasn’t our favorite, but we did stumble across the oldest bookstore in the world. Literally, truly, the oldest in the world.

Baixa itself is a pedestrian area where you will be accosted by restaurant after restaurant pressuring you to enjoy cheap, good food. But really you don’t need meals to meet you caloric goals every day. The local pastries, sort of a crème brulee torte in a flaky crust are enough to keep you energized and gaining weight.

Along the river mouth toward the Atlantic you get the amazing Belem with its museums and world heritage monastery. I always forget about the Portuguese impact on the world and history, but this trip reminded me of it, along with my childhood love of exploration. I still remember reading Magellan’s biography at the age of 10 or 11 more than most other biographies I have read since.

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