My observations about Portugal in general: If the two Iberian countries are sisters, Portugal is the younger sister that always got the hand-me-downs and grew up in Spain’s shadow. They’re both beautiful, and smart, but in their own way. Portugal definitely got more beat up and teased than Spain did. However, Portugal is more self-aware, self-confident and proud of who she is, whereas Spain has been plagued by insecurity and stuck in an identity crisis for a long, long time.
Having said that, Portugal needs a better marketing team. It’s a country with a fascinating culture, great architecture and natural beauty, but I would feel confident in saying that most U.S. Americans know hardly anything about it. For example: Did you know there’s an instrument called the Portuguese guitar? If you have heard about it, kudos. It’s an amazing instrument that produces a great sound, and yet, it’s completely been overshadowed by the Spanish guitar. I suppose I might have to attribute this, in part, to the country’s size — Portugal has a population of about 10.7 million people. Spain’s population is over 47 million. I guess it’s only natural that the one with a larger population will receive more attention (other examples: Canada/USA; New Zealand/Australia).
As for Lisboa (or Lisbon, in English): it’s a lovely city, situated right on a bay, but it looks a bit worn down. It’s like your favorite pair of jeans that are frayed and have patches on the knees and need to be restitched in places. I would love to see this city with some new life breathed into it, but it’s beautiful either way. I have to say that Lisboa has some of the best street art I have seen in the Iberian peninsula. I highly recommend a visit; Lisboa is worth seeing and I’m glad I did!
I also got to practice my Portuguese, which was one of the things I was most looking forward to. However, Brazilian Portuguese, as it turns out, sounds really different. I was able to read and communicate effectively, but understanding the fast-speaking Portuguese was a bit of a challenge! But that whole challenge of communicating with someone who speaks a different language is one of my favorite experiences in this world. I love everything about it: the patience and creativity you need to have, the frustration when you can’t seem to figure out how to communicate a relatively simple idea, the exaggerated body language and hand gestures (it’s like a real-world version of charades!), the excitement when you finally understand each other, the sense of camaraderie that’s formed when they realize you are making an effort to speak their language and understand their culture… I love all of it! Of course, there’s some people who will just treat you like crap no matter what, but I suspect they treat just about everybody that way.
Thursday we spent traveling by bus from Sevilla to Lisboa. It was about a 6- or 7-hour-long trip. As we crossed the border, my friend Ian whipped out his guitar and the whole bus sang a rendition of “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” by Michel Teló (Watch the video here!). Sooo it’s Brazilian, but since we didn’t know any songs from Portugal we figured it was close enough.
That night we arrived in Lisboa, wandered around, and enjoyed pizza for dinner. We found a place that was about to close (the Portuguese eat dinner earlier than the Spaniards), but they were really accommodating, and served up some great pizza! Afterwards we just hung out in the hotel. We wanted to save our energy for Friday night!
Friday, after a GLORIOUS hotel breakfast buffet, all day was spent on a bus touring the city. We saw the most famous spots, which included a beautiful Cathedral and an impressive monument dedicated to those who discovered the New World and funded their voyages.
We then visited two other nearby towns: coastal Cascais (we went to the beach and then the Boca do Inferno or “Mouth of Hell”) and charming Sintra in the mountains.
Friday night we went out to a traditional Portuguese restaurant to try the local cuisine (I enjoyed Caldo Verde (green soup) and Bacalhãu à Brás (a mix of cod, eggs, and thinly-sliced crispy french fries)).
Then, after taking an hour to figure out the Lisboa metro system and deciding what we wanted to do, we partied it up in the Bairro Alto — a giant grid in the city completely dedicated to getting people intoxicated. It’s street after street after street of bars and clubs. Have I mentioned that everything is legal in Portugal? Well, it is. All drugs are legal there, and the country is doing fine. So if you wanna party, the Bairro Alto is for you (and the name is definitely not a misnomer— we had to make our way up a steep hill to reach it)! Another observation: they guys in Portugal are taller and broader than the Spaniards. And much more flirtatious than the guys in Sevilla. Sevillanos, y’all have gotta step up your game! You don’t wanna be shown up by the Portuguese do you?
Sunday: That’s the one anecdote I have from Lisboa that deserves its very own individual post. Here’s a preview: tears of despair and abandonment were involved.