Think of a west coast city with an earthquake that figures prominently in its history. It’s one with a lot of hilly, narrow, streets. There are quaint, vintage trolley cars and it’s a beautiful setting with fabulous sunsets over the sea. The latitude is around 38 degrees north and the average January afternoon high is in the 50s. There are funky places to grab a bite or have a drink, beautiful squares to hang out in, great stores to shop in and ferries to ride.
It might sound a lot like San Francisco, but this is the West Coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The ocean is the Atlantic and the city is Lisbon, Portugal.
At less 700,000 in population, the city is dense and compact, as things tend to be in Europe. It’s filled with historic buildings, European charm. Even with a relatively beat-up U.S. dollar on the Continent against the Euro, the relatively warm weather and low costs for dining, lodging and transportation make Lisbon one of the best bargains going in Western Europe right now.
While Lisbon’s subway system won’t get you everywhere, it is modern, clean, cheap, fast, safe and has decent reach. Beyond the metro, there is an extensive mass transit system that includes trams, trolleys, buses, shuttles, funiculars and ferries. There are also some quaint, early 20th-century trams that run on tourist routes, but it’s really not worth the premium to ride them since the regular tram routes can run you through the same areas for less. But like most cities I visit, I log most of my mileage with my shoes because that is the way to truly feel and experience things to me.
In 1755, an earthquake devastated Lisbon and the city was subsequently rebuilt. The ruins of the 14th-century Igreja do Carmo church rise above the skyline as a silent testimony to the massive quake.
Lisbon has some of the most beautiful and expansive public squares I’ve visited, punctuated by stately monuments and fountains. I instantly recognized the wave pattern in some of the stonework, since it is the same one that is used on the beachfront walkways of Rio de Janeiro. This is just one of the visible cultural ties to the large, South American, Portuguese-speaking country that Brazil is. Another could be seen in the posters for Carnaval around the central city. Mardi Gras is a big deal in New Orleans, but it’s far from an exclusive franchise.
Dining in Lisbon offers a plethora of choices from seafood and beef specialties to every type of ethnic food. Restaurants are plentiful and most are relatively cheap. While I really don’t eat at McDonald’s when I visit faraway places for fear of giving up a chance to sample the regional culture, I confess that I did go to a Chinese restaurant one evening because it just struck me as something that sounded good. It’s funny how at home a person can feel at a Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world.
Thinking about the 60-degree February weather, museums I haven’t visited, streets I would still like to walk, cozy bars and cafes still left to check out, the Fado houses I should really take in and miles of seashore that I should still explore, Lisbon is a place that will be well worth returning to.