Four unforgettable days in Portugal’s capital
The day had not yet dawned as we rolled into Lisbon´s Estaçao do Oriente. Stumbling off the bus, rubbing the sleepiness from our eyes, we collected our backpacks from the hold and looked for somewhere serving coffee.
The early morning silence was interrupted every now and then by the footsteps of a solitary passenger looking for the right platform or the rustle of the delivery man dropping off the bread order at the bar.
We wandered around waiting for the concrete walled building to wake from its slumber and watched as the empty station slowly came to life. Waiters setting up tables, travellers looking for breakfast, newspapers on the rack showing the latest headlines… We were welcomed in by the delicious smell of toast and all things sweet.
There is magic in a galao, or at least there was in that first sip of creamy caffeinated yummyness. Excitement was beginning to build for the next few days’ adventures and as we sat there, contentedly sipping coffee, we were convinced there couldn’t be a better start to a trip.
When the metro opened at 6:30 we searched the ticket machines for the best option to get around. We settled on one that would allow us to move between metros, trams and buses freely, recharging it as needed, then hopped on the next train to the city centre.
We whizzed through the underground maze of tunnels, stopping at brightly coloured stations, walls covered in traditional styled tiles, an unofficial art gallery of its own, and came up into the sunny Praça de Rossio. We had it practically to ourselves at that early hour.
From here on we didn’t really stop. There is so much to see and do in this city, we didn’t want to miss any of it. We had a plan, but as with all the best trips, the plan slowly changed and, by the end of our time in Lisbon, as I looked back over our stay, things looked quite different from what I had originally expected. It was the best kind of different, though, born from flexibility, fun and a few surprises.
We tried to embrace the traveller spirit rather than the frantic tourist approach, and while we did visit some of the major attractions, we attempted to discover the local Lisbon as much as possible.
Some of the best insights into Portuguese culture, history and the city’s secrets came from Ricardo, our local guide on Sandeman’s Free Tour. We didn’t know it when we gathered in a slightly crowded Praça de Camões, but the tour would be one of the highlights of our trip.
Ricardo was a brilliant storyteller and he wove together the city’s history, with fun facts about the monuments and local tips. He had recommendations for where and what to eat, what to visit, where to find the best views and what wasn’t worth spending money on.
For three hours he guided us around, finally bringing his tale of Lisbon to a perfectly rounded ending at Praça do Comercio, having covered everything from the Tartessians to the Carnation Revolution.
We heard about kingdoms, empires and famous Portuguese historical figures, we learnt about the tragedy of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and how it moulded Portuguese thinking. Later, we listened as he shared the story of a peaceful revolution that brought a 48 year military dictatorship to an end. On the 25th of April, the only red those streets saw was that of red carnations. It was fascinating, listening to his knowledgeable tale, full of hope.
After spending many hours out exploring Lisbon, heading back to Brickoven Palace was always a welcome moment of the day. Not only was our accommodation located in a building which dates back to the beginning of last century, the fully renovated hostel is simply a joy to stay at.
We were welcomed warmly by the staff, who were always available to help and answer any questions, and the facilities are great, with comfortable beds, pretty good showers and bathrooms and plenty of common areas where you could just sit and relax a while.
One of my favourite parts of staying here was definitely the great feeling of community. The kitchen, bar and garden area always had people chatting, cooking or relaxing together.
Being in a place with people from all over the world, hearing different languages and watching as they try to find the commonalities between their countries, traditions or experiences in Lisbon, was a lot of fun.
I’d forgotten how beautiful Lisbon is. For me, Lisbon had most often meant airport trips and family members travelling out to visit us. But it had been a long time since I’d wandered its narrow streets, taking in the local flavours, colours and the true essence of the city.
Back home now, it’s hard to think about Lisbon’s sunny plazas, its bright yellow trams, the cobbled streets, delicious cuisine, the friendly people, and not want to return. There is much to discover in this city and much to tell about the four days we spent there. Stay tuned, I’ ll be sharing more on that soon.
Have you ever visited Lisbon? What was your favourite part?