I can’t remember how many times I’ve been to Lisbon. Six? Seven? Yesterday I came back after yet another trip to the city and, as usual, it broke my heart to leave. Because Lisbon makes me happy. It gives me sunshine, food, the ocean, picturesque streets, and a rhythm of life I crave for – slower, sensual, contemplative. Separation from this city feels like a separation from myself.
*** HOME ***
This time I had Alehandra and Nico as travel companions. We booked the same apartment in Príncipe Real where I stayed a couple of years ago and to me, it felt like home. I could have spent my whole time on the balcony overlooking the terracotta rooftops, pastel-coloured houses and, in the distance, the river and the bridge, and I would have been happy.
*** PRINCIPE REAL ***
Príncipe Real is by far my favourite neighbourhood in Lisbon. Its uphill location makes the view from every window nothing short of amazing. There are so many places to go out for food or drinks, it’s hard to choose. What I like most, however, is to watch the sunrise at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, grab a cup of specialty coffee at Copenhagen Coffee Lab, go for late dinners at Largo ao Tacho, and relax at Praça das Flores – a truly magical place where all my visits to Lisbon begin and end. This time, we stopped at the square a few hours before departure to write postcards.
*** ALFAMA ***
If I’m in Lisbon over the weekend, I leave Alfama for Sunday. There is something about Sundays in Alfama: the sound of church bells echoing along cobblestone streets, the fresh laundry drying out in the sun, the smell of home-cooked food coming through the open windows. Alehandra’s wish was to have lunch in an old-fashioned bodega in Lisbon and it easily came true in Alfama. We ordered a cheese plate, octopus salad, and sardines, followed by coffee and pastel de nata. The gentleman running the place, although he didn’t speak our language and we didn’t speak his, showed us how to eat the food Portuguese style and urged us to have a glass of ginjinha at the end of the meal. How could we refuse?
*** LARGO DE SAO PAULO ***
Largo de São Paulo is one of the many squares in the city where people gather to enjoy the sun, a book, or the company of others. These squares, an invitation to connection and conviviality, are one of the reasons why I like Lisbon so much. Nico and I sat on a terrace sipping lemonade, while a group of young men lay down on the fountain steps. Tourists in the city, like us, we bemusedly ran into each other several times that day, first at Praça das Flores, then at Jardim da Estrela, and here, at Largo de São Paulo. Nico thought the guys were killing time before the flight back home, but that proved to be wrong because we ran into each other again the following day when it was us killing time before heading back to the airport.
It started there. The first sunshine of the year. The laid-back visitors lounging on the monument at Largo de São Paulo, while Nico and I sipped on lemonades at the terrace in the square – stone, people, birds, and sun. Ships floating on silver waters. Pastel coloured neighbourhoods looking down from the top of the hills. Under the skin, I felt my blood getting warmer, boiling and circulating these sensations all throughout my body. A feeling so familiar, like falling in love. I took it home with me. It was the closest to myself I had been in a long time. It has stayed with me ever since.
*** CAIS DO SODRE ***
The waterfront at Cais do Sodré is where I like to go on late afternoons with good weather to have a glass of wine. Lisboetas come here to listen to street music, cycle, jog, or simply hang around until the sunset turns everything to gold – the river, the bridge, the people. We lay down at the more quiet end of the docks, just the three of us, the smell of algae in our lungs and the sun on our skin. Alehandra soon fell asleep.
*** ESTRELA ***
If I bring myself to climb the hill up to Estrela neighbourhood it’s because I want to visit Jardim da Estrela, one of Lisbon’s most beautiful gardens. To someone living in Northern Europe, like me, the plants and trees in this park appear as so charmingly exotic, and the water wells carved into stone as such a romantic detail. Oh, the sweet life of Lisbon!
*** LAPA ***
The first time I’ve ever seen Lapa, its hilly streets flanked by colourful houses going all the way down to the shimmering river, I was instantly in love with this part of Lisbon. Lapa is the city’s most affluent neighbourhood and it is easy to see why. It was Nico’s first time here, so we walked along Rua da Bela Vista à Lapa, then Rua Lapa, until we reached the three streets running in parallel down the hill, in my opinion, some of the most picturesque in whole Lisbon: Rua São João da Mata, Rua dos Remédios à Lapa, and Rua de São Félix. Just pronouncing their names makes me happy. For Nico, too, Lapa was love at first sight. We sat down on the steps of Rua dos Remédios à Lapa, lighted a cigarette, and gazed at the movement of the light into the water. A perfect moment!
*** BAIXA ***
In Baixa we went for food. We had brunch at Tartine, stocked up on pastel de nata at Manteigaria, and almost became regulars at Barrio do Avillez, where we dined at Cantina Peruana one evening and returned for lunch at Taberna soon after. Regardless of the place, Alehandra had octopus every day, while I (as vegetarian) was happy with various tapas dishes. Nico chose the best wines and had no interest in dessert – except for pastel de nata, obviously!
*** INTENDENTE ***
A Vida Portuguesa put Intendente on my Lisbon map. This is the shop to buy traditional Portuguese brands, from soap to marmalade, stationary to homeware. We got in and forgot about the world. My obsession so far has been Benamôr, the cosmetics brand dating to 1925, with deliciously perfumed, skin smoothing cremes based on natural ingredients and packaged in pretty art deco tubes. I get one of their hand or face creams whenever in Lisbon, and made no exception this time. We left the shop – and Intendente – one hour later, content with our purchases.
These are the highlights of our four-day trip to Lisbon, one I am for sure going to remember in a most pleasant way.
Why “Love in Lisbon”? Because love is the first thing that comes to my mind when in this city. It’s what I feel when I’m there. It’s why I always return and dream of a longer stay – someday.