Allow me to preface this post by saying that I am not a travel blogger. I don’t note down the names of picturesque back streets, I forget the names and whereabouts of any and all cute local shops and I have never once stood at the edge of a cliff, back to camera, arms akimbo. So, I’m afraid this will be less a comprehensive guide to Portugal’s capital and more a gushing account of just how much I loved it.
I will bestow you with these two top tips though: 1. The Vegan Food Project cooks up a mean bifana of seitan and 2. do not, under any circumstance wear soft-soled loafers lest you end up skating along Lisbon’s polished paths like I did on the first day.
Lisbon is, as the first selection of images suggest, a riot of colour. You can’t take 20 steps without being confronted by a coral house, a green front door or that Instagrammer’s favourite: a tiled wall. It’s a veritable tile fest in Lisbon and I was all over it like a rich white girl at Coachella. There was absolutely no mistaking me for anything other than a tourist as I flitted from tiled wall to tiled wall, photographing every new pattern I spotted, risking my life every time I stepped onto one of their free-for-all roads to get the best angle. Azulejos, as google tells me they’re called, are undoubtedly the city’s defining feature but do you know what else Lisboan’s (I think I’ve made that word up) absolutely bloody love? Sardines.
So mad for sardines are they, that they have an annual sardine festival. I wasn’t there for that but I did visit O Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa; a haven for any oily fish fanatic or, indeed, lover of outrageous extravagance lavished upon the mundane.
As a vegan, I had absolutely no intention of buying any sardines to snack on but this place was hard to resist. The actual Ferris Wheel of sardine tins (!!!) in the window is what drew me in but the interior was just as wildly ostentatious. The walls were lined top to bottom with tins of sardines, each printed with a different year. Apparently a tin of sardines with your year of birth on it is a wonderful token to treasure for the rest of time. I did not purchase a 1989 tin but the sardines did, however, crown me as their Queen…
Reluctantly stepping away from sardines for the time being, most of my time was spent wandering around the steep, narrow streets saying, “ooh look at that” to my boyfriend. It’s a miracle I survived, what with the hazardously polished pavements and the precarious, unmarked roads. Roads which are shared by impatient tram drivers with tuk tuks, taxis and the local’s cars, all of which are driven with the wild abandon of someone with only 24 hours to live.
Luckily, I did survive and managed to drink in yet more of the vibrant streets and paint palette vistas. I’ve never visited anywhere quite so charming yet with a definite thread of cool running through it. It’s no Berlin or London but a smattering of indie restaurants, tucked away, eclectic boutiques and even the left wing grafitti speak to the city’s youthful undercurrent. It’s hidden below a thick layer of American and German tourists but it’s definitely there.
Unexpected pieces of art interrupt the rows of pastel buildings; little reminders of current culture and a fresh voice nestled among the classic facades and tourist spots. Of course, most of them are suitably bright so sit neatly within the city’s palette. In a completely out of character twist, my favourite happened to be the super lo-fi wire quote. ‘Don’t be mean’ ranks high on my list of most uttered phrases, so it felt like serendipity when I came across it.
Those little artistic snippets are the side dish to Lisbon’s main course, though and I am completely smitten with both facets of it. A quick stroll away from the main shopping street brought us to a row of haberdashery shops that I was completely charmed by. I kept catching them after closing time, and admired the elaborate trims and ornate buttons through the windows. When I did manage to catch them during opening hours, they seemed uniformly to be run by tiny, elderly women who didn’t speak a lick of English. A few bits here and there were on display in glass cabinets behind the counter but everything else was tucked away in battered old cardboard boxes.
In the shop I’d spent the most time lingering at the window of, the woman behind the counter gestured at me to come behind and take a look through the displays. Embarrassed by my poor attempts at Portuguese, I left after a few minutes. I had been lusting after a particular pin in the window, though, so I returned a few minutes later and eventually managed to communicate my desire for the giant safety pin with a tortoise shell-style clasp. She brought a box out from the back and I gave her the thumbs up when the shuffle of trinkets revealed the one I wanted.
My success at snagging the pin I wanted is not representative of my other shopping trips in Lisbon. Except for a fruitful venture to Feira Da Ladra, a local flea market, I was thwarted at every turn by ‘permanently closed’ notifications on google that I’d failed to notice during my pre-holiday itinerary planning.Luckily, unlike our recent trip to Berlin where temperatures dropped below zero, the weather was sunny and mild so I was content just wandering the streets and avoiding death by tuk tuk. If the locals’ get up was anything to go by – puffer jackets, hats and scarves – it was positively freezing for the acclimatised but I was perfectly happy gallivanting around in my new most-worn piece; the pink, oversized, longline jacket my parents bought me for Christmas. Except for the loafer incident on the first day, my pre-planned outfits proved to be pitch perfect for the balmy weather and I fit right into the local colour scheme. (Unlike Berlin again, where black is the uniform and I looked like a children’s entertainer by comparison.)
We stayed for three nights; the perfect amount of time given that my legs couldn’t take another day of trekking up and down steep hills, crafted mostly from polished stones with all the grip of an ice cube. The locals must have calves of steel. Still, I was sad to leave and England looked decidedly dull as we disembarked.
To sum up, 10/10, would visit again.