Loving and Learning a Lot from Trip to Lisbon — The Narrative

By Edward M. Bury. APR (aka The PRDude)

Must say it was a challenge to get back into the home-school-work routine this week.

The view from Sao Jorge Castle encapsulates the old and new. The Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge is in the distance.

That’s because Susan and I recently returned home from seven wonderful days and nights in Lisbon. So, what was the draw to visit Portugal’s biggest city and the western-most capital on the European continent?

Well, the reasons are many:

  1. We’ve never been to Lisbon.
  2. We read there were lots of cool things to see and do.
  3. We wanted memories we could not get by visiting anyplace in the continental U.S.
  4. We were told Portugal offers great value for your visitor dollar.
  5. And, we needed and deserved a vacation.

So, here’s the first of a two-part report: A narrative of what we loved and learned from the excursion to a city and nation steeped in history, culture and charm.

Loved This About Lisbon

  • Seamless Merger of Old and New.  Founded in pre-Roman times, Lisbon still retains its character and heart while embracing the 21st Century. The often hilly cobblestone streets are maddeningly

    Somehow, Lisbon has kept its soul while embracing the modern world.

    confusing; grand buildings and modest homes are decorated with tiles, or azulejos.  The Moorish San Jorge Castle can be seen from many parts of town. Yet, from our hotel room, I could counted eight construction cranes — all on the site of a reconstruction project, not a modern development.  Yes, there are modern office towers and malls, but they’re far from the city center. And, yes, they have Starbucks. And, on the streets of hip places like Barrio Alto and Baixa, we encountered elderly natives who were still part of the urban fabric.

  • Genuine Warmth of the People. Following our arrival at the Lisbon airport, our shuttle driver navigated the “scenic route” past iconic landmarks (the Campo Pequeno Bullfighting Arena, for example) and exuded friendliness and pride in his city. Upon entering our modern hotel, the BessaHotel Liberdade, Filippe the doorman greeted us as if we were long-standing friends.  Maria, a waitress at the Bambu Feed Your Spirit kiosk, engaged me in a lively conversation about pending gentrification. We encountered this kind of graciousness from the Lisbon people throughout our visit.
  • The Continental Atmosphere. Here’s something you can’t find in American cities: Kiosks on boulevards and in squares selling delicious sandwiches, salads, cappuccino, jamon and melon, fresh pastries, beer, gin and tonics and of course, wine. People linger at these outdoor gathering places in a genteel fashion; there’s no rush, no sales push to buy more or move on.  I could have spent an entire afternoon at one and not be bored.

Learned This About Lisbon

  • Pride in City and Culture. “I’m Portuguese,” Filippe proclaimed during a conversation. Other natives we encountered in restaurants, on public transportation or at places of interestdemonstrated that same sometimes quiet, always unequivocal sense of pride. Another point of reference: Virtually everyone (except for one rather gruff policeman) spoke English and were more than willing to offer directions, which we needed frequently.  (Our Portuguese was limited to “hello” and “thank you.”)
  • Overlooked by Americans. Clearly, Lisbon is an

    Wish there were places like this in my Chicago neighborhood.

    international city that attracts visitors from many European nations and other parts of the world. But from a clearly anecdotal perspective, I don’t think many Americans visit the city. The only Americans we encountered were a group of Texans near the beach on our day trip to Cascais, a delightful town a 45-mnute train ride way. We heard people speaking Spanish, French, Italian and (naturally) Portuguese, and British-sounding English. But American accents were rare.

  • Transit That Works. As a transit guy, I was especially anxious to ride Lisbon’s modern Metro, ride the famous trams and even venture up a hill on a funicular. I engaged in all these public transit modes, plus road the bus and ventured across the Tagus River on the ferry. In short, all modes were modern, efficient and cheap. Even the famous electric trams, which precipitously navigate narrow thoroughfares, were retrofitted with a digital fare card reader.

Now, this is what I consider a “food court!” It’s the Time Out Market, full of great food and wine, as well as a market for seafood and produce.

And, one more thought: The food — especially the fresh seafood — and wine — both reds and whites — were delicious and reasonably priced and available in cafes and kiosks on busy thoroughfares and tucked away in the city’s historic and always fascinating side streets that seemed to defy logic yet kept us always taking steps further up steep hills and around corners to see more.

Up next: The Lisbon Travelogue of photos and extended captions.