“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” – Vincent Van Gogh.
Falling in love with a city…
I love to wander the streets of a city and imagine myself living there; in an apartment with a view of the city rooftops. My day consists of going out for breakfast, coffee and croissants. Then at dusk, I head to a local bar for a glass of wine and a dish of olives. In-between times I write, keyboards clicking, channelling Hemingway at his peak.
Paris is the city that tugs at my heart. Under a cerulean sky, the streets are vibrant, buzzing with life. And on those dull days, which strip out a city’s colour, Paris becomes sultry and inspiring.
As we walked through Lisbon’s city streets, with raindrops falling gently on the cobbled streets, I felt this city weaving its own spell on me. There was a lightness in my step, my mind was filled with wonder, and just as I do in Paris, I started to feel as though I belonged and imagined living here.
Shrugging off the jet lag…
The journey from New Zealand to Lisbon took about twenty-two hours. By the time we arrived, we were shattered. It was a long trek to get from the arrival gate to the immigration hall. The corridors were eerily quiet. So we were surprised to see a long queue in the hall. Thankfully the line moved quickly, and we soon exited the terminal.
Knowing that our minds would be mush when we arrived, we pre-booked transport to take us to our hotel. The temperature dial tipped over the 30 mark, the azure sky was cloudless as we got our first sighting of Lisbon. Like Auckland CBD, the area of the city we were staying in was under construction, a maze of narrow one-way streets.
We arrived mid-day on a Friday at our apartment building. The concierge at Emporium Lisbon Suites was flustered, explaining that the building had no power. She pointed to the construction site opposite the building, suggesting it was responsible for the power cut. We were welcome to go up to our suite, but she suggested leaving our bags in her office. It soon transpired that our room was on the top floor. And, the main stairwell stopped on the last floor, then we needed to climb up a fireman ladder; narrow steel steps. The view from our apartment, though, was worth the effort. We prayed that the power would soon be restored, and the lift would be back in action.
At least it gave us some downtime to shrug off the jet lag before heading out into the streets of Lisboa. First, however, we needed to get to the Correios (Post Office) before it closed. Because we were sending our post-Camino clothing off to Ivar Rekve’s luggage storage service in Santiago de Compostela.
With lack of sleep, minimal Portuguese language skills and the soaring heat finding the Correios, purchasing packing boxes, filling out Customs forms required the combined brainpower and manpower of both Chrissy and myself. Then, finally, the parcels got handed directly to the courier driver. Given this ordeal, we both doubted that we would ever see those boxes again.
We sat outside in the nearby square to recover some energy, eating our first Pastel De Nata (Portuguese Tart) – light, crisp pastry – custard not too sweet and oh so creamy – we are in food heaven and ready to explore the hillside streets of Lisboa.
Thirty-six hours in Lisbon…
We had initially planned to start the Camino Portugués on Monday morning; however, our friend’s itinerary had changed, pushing our start date to Sunday morning. Thus, reducing our tourist time to thirty-six hours.
Aside from two items on our must-do list, we were free to wander the city. Our “first must-do” was getting our Crediencial Del Peregrino’s at Cathedral Sé. The second was visiting Lisbon’s civil parish and district Belem, home to the world’s best Nata’s or Portuguese tarts.
Our friends Mike and Lisa were not arriving until Saturday midday. So Chrissy and I spent the afternoon exploring the streets. First, we found Cathedral Sé, then roamed around the side streets on the hillside above our hotel searching for a restaurant that appealed to go to dinner. Once ticked off the list, we headed back down and found the fashion shopping quarter.
After a few hours of roaming this quarter, we both wished we had not bought any clothes with us. Not only did we think the range of clothing was fantastic, but the cost was a fraction of the price we pay here in New Zealand and Australia. So, so cruel that we could not purchase.
Walking back to our hotel, the hilly streets, with the tram cars, yelled San Francisco.
While the mustard buildings with crisp white trim and the drifting sounds of Fado music whispered Cuba. It was as though Lisbon wanted its travellers to savour her atmosphere, slow down their gait and match the local’s non-harried pace. We did.
That is until on Saturday when the four of us took a tuk-tuk to get our Camino Credencial’s from Basílica dos Mártires in Chiado, as Cathedral Sé had run out of stock. The tuk-tuk sped up and down the steep, narrow roads, almost leaning into corners. I hung on to the side, trying not to scream. Suffice to say, we returned in a taxi. So if you like couch travel, or if like me, you’re in lockdown, then head over to my blog post “Sixteen-hour food feast” in Lisbon and enjoy what was a day that memories, food and friendship, were made.
When falling in love with a city, one needs to walk around the streets at night. Lisbon, like Paris, comes alive, the cooler air making it pleasant to walk the narrow cobbled streets. Although people eat late in Spain, the laneways were still busy at dusk, and the outdoor cafes were full of people eating, drinking, and talking. Music wafted from bars and Fado clubs and mingled with the sultry evening air.
We farewelled Lisbon on Sunday morning. It was too soon. And while we were pumped to begin the Camino Portuguese, we all wished we had been able to stay longer. Walking out of Lisbon, we bypassed partygoers going home to sleep off a big night out.
Originally published in October 2016 – rewritten and republished October 2021, during Covid restrictions.