A Hidden Gem In The European Crown

At the waterfront, seated on a perch watching the setting sun, and a cotton candy sky, wondering about my timing in coming into this city – an hour late, and this spectacle wouldn’t have existed. The air was light with thin music playing from a man’s guitar seated some distance away, all seeping into the beauty of this Lisbon evening. My mind was set on the sun, carrying out a grand scheme of things inside while the eyes gazed at the beauty in front, wondering how less appreciative we are to the skies, busy on our plastic screens. I sat around, the sound of waves gushing through my ears, as the colourful sky slowly faded away, giving rise to an inevitable darkness; but darkness this evening rather gave me a sense of freedom, an unexplainable energy to try out this new city and push the limits of exploring within me. It was time to get out from the sunset slumber and start this journey. It was to be my time in Lisbon, alone.

There’s nothing touristy about Lisbon; you could easily get around and feel more like a local here, all within a few hours of exploring around. It’s pretty easy to get around in Lisbon and it’s even possible to visit all major spots on foot, though there is a good network of public transport, not too fancy, it gets you to places you want. Still, I’m more of a foot traveller. Only the pickpocket culprits pose problems for walking travellers, but if you don’t carry a wallet what the hell will they pick? Bad joke, but beware of them, especially in crowded places or if you are part of a larger group in the centre of the city, and trams are places they are said to frequent. Oh, and there are trams, yes! They are cheap and represent the easiest mode of transport around Lisbon.

Downtown Lisbon

The main city centre is actually in a valley, and many of those other important spots like the castle, the Alfama (is also where I’m staying) and many other places of interest are all nearby in the valley. Downtown in Lisbon is quite literally downtown, involving lots of uphill walks, climbing never-ending flights of stairs, not at all suitable for the lazy soul. For them, there is a beautiful Funicular system in place here (for those who don’t know what a funicular system is like, look below)

Elevador Da Gloria is one of the oldest funicular in Lisbon

The funicular systems run within the valley, end to end, going up and down all the time. They have artistic exteriors and a thrill that’ll last precisely ten seconds, beyond that it will transport you to points and save some of those calories thriving inside. Spending time walking around here gave me an instant sense of belonging. I found the streets often clogged, so unless you prefer spending a chunk of your time in a car, listening to all those rhythmic tunes of vehicle horns, you could always walk, and Lisbon more than welcomes walking travellers.

Famous Azulejos tiles on the carriage of The Gloria Funicular
Eating alone is never easy

My first night here went without a seated meal, as the street food seemed pretty satisfying. The night spent in an abject state of thinking, on things to be done the next day with a sense of conscious absentmindedness and a sense of abstract loneliness often strikes when I’m in a strange place. Some moments later, staring out the window looking at people walking around, getting on with their lives, made me feel like a mere tourist than a traveller. These feelings are pretty common for me and usually vanish the following morning. Time to hit the streets again.

The presence of Wi-Fi in almost all restaurants or cafes these days helps to overcome this abject loneliness, which I’ve encountered many times during previous travels. It in a way keeps me involved in some capacity. I often carry a notebook to pen down some interesting observations I might have had or something abstract enough for me to not understand on second reading. After some more exploring around different areas, someone suggested I go check out a food court place known as the Mercado da Ribeira, for one could find multiple choice and cuisines of food here. The place turned out to be a fabulous choice, with more than 30 stalls selling food ranging from regional specialities to some famous restaurants which operate in the city. The best part was of course not the food, but the idea of eating there. The tables are all set in a close range from each other, meaning even if you are to eat alone in such a place, you sure are to have the company of minimum three more people. The place buzzes around with constant chatter, and the decibel levels are always fluctuating. Who is eating alone now?

Pasteis de Nata – creamy egg tart with sweet custard, black crust and sugar powder

P.S – It’s ok to miss everything in food, but not the Pastel de Nata. It’s a custard tart, and you could call it delicious or marvellous and still, it won’t be enough praise.

Walking, walking and more walking!

You could pre-book a walking tour around Lisbon, wherein a group of people, equipped with a local guide will scour around the town, tasting some excellent food and drinking inexpensive but very good wine. The guides assigned on such tours are no professional behaving fellows, but quite the local guys with the right amount of knowledge and a charm to make you listen to them carefully. They charge a decent €30 to €40 for their services, which more than values the money spent, for the food and wine you end up consuming.

Lisbon – in a nutshell

A short trip always restricts visits to many places around, which can be utterly disappointing at times, because you don’t know when you visit this place again. But for this sort of experience, I’m sure to visit again. Maybe then I can cover all those places which I missed this time out. All in all, Lisbon is beautiful, the people are gracious and all are Cristiano Ronaldo fans, as this is where he started his professional career in Football. But to sum up, Lisbon is Europe’s best-kept secret.

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