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Lisbon is a city that may not be on everyone’s international travel radar, but it should be. Located on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Coast, Portugal’s capital city is, in my mind, one of the great cities in Europe for a vacation.
I landed at the airport and quickly caught a shuttle towards the city center and my hotel, Hotel Gat Rossio, a boutique hotel tucked into the heart of the older section of the city at the end of Avenida Liberdade. I arrived in the afternoon so there was plenty of time for me to check in and enjoy the city.
After a couple of minutes walking around Lisbon I quickly realized this city was beautiful. Maybe it was the architecture, the great weather, the city’s character or maybe it was because there were pretty ladies and everyone speaking Portuguese made this the city that came closest to getting to travel to Rio. Overall it had a great aura. I left my hotel without having a real destination. I just wanted to explore. So I let myself stumble upon some great places in the city.
Coming from a city like Chicago, which is 99% flat, you’ll quickly realize how lucky you are and how much more energy it takes to walk through Lisbon. Comfortable shoes are a necessity. Hiking shoes or running shoes, or hella thick foam shoe inserts are the only way to survive. There are always tour buses and whatnot, but personally, I just have to walk. I need to experience, stumble upon and detour as I see fit.
I first topped at Praça Rossi, a large open square with a great fountain close to my hotel and Jardim de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, which offers a great view to the east of the unique architecture style characterized by use of ceramic tile patterns on the facades and brightly colored stucco. The architecture is primarily influenced by European and northern African cultures as well as colonial connections with countries like Brazil and Angola. I took a look at my map and decided to walk to Jardim da Estrela. I made my way through the neighborhood to the park then up to Praca do Marques de Polbal and Parque Eduardo VII to see the large Portuguese flag at the top of the park.
After hiking up the sloped park, I made my way back down Avenida Liberdade to my hotel to find some place to eat dinner. I ended up eating near the hotel. I had a steak which was as good as anything I’ve eaten in the States, though next time I want to make sure and find places a little outside the tourist area to enjoy more of the local flavor. A coworker who studied in Lisbon told me he would recommend some restaurants since the Portugal is known for its is fresh fish.
After dinner I suited up again to go back out for some night photography along the waterfront. I had planned to walk down to the bridge that crosses the river to Almada, I quickly realized that was a bad idea because of the long distance and it was getting late.
The next day I decided to take a travel along the waterfront to the train station and take streetcar to the neighborhood called Belem, which is Portuguese for Bethlehem. There are some really interesting sites like the Belem Cultural Center, Museu Berardo(Contemporary Art) and Museu De Marinha (Maritime Museum) and unique architecture, and I really wanted to see the Jerónimos Monastery. While there, I stumbled upon the Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Monument to the Discoveries – and took some shots of Cristo Rei (Christ the King) statue on the other side of the bay.
Before I left, I wanted to make one last trek to the Portuguese National Pavilion by Alvaro Siza at site of the Lisbon Expo in 1998. I’m an architect/urban designer, so when I visit a city there are a couple of buildings I have to experience first hand and this was one of them. Its an interesting example of using a large event as a catalyst for the redevelopment of a neighborhood. Unlike the city center, with its rugged history and charm, this neighborhood was started as a collection of civic buildings and development and was an interesting contrast between the historic and the contemporary.There’s a multi-modal transit hub, mall, casino, stadium, convention, business headquarters and other cultural facilities like the Oceanario de Lisboa (Lisbon Oceanarium) connected by a waterfront promenade.
My trip to Lisbon was brief, just two days, since I had to make my way back to London to catch my flight back to the US, but it definitely left me wanting more. I would like to spend more time in the city and visit some of the things I missed like Sao Jorge Castle and places outside the city center like the Park and National Palace of Pena. When I make my way back to Europe, Lisbon is definitely on my list of places to revisit along with Paris and London.
International travel tips: Consider getting a prepaid SIM card for your phone in case of emergencies. Also, look at your destination’s tourist website. They usually have combined packages for transit passes, maps, places to visit and more to help you get around. Make sure to safely store you’re belongings and be careful on the streets, as where there are tourists there are pickpockets. Know where your countries consulate is just in case you need to go there for any issues like a lost or stolen passport. Also ask your friends, family and research places to go, trends, and how to dress comfortably. I got some great advice on places to go from my coworkers who had lived in and traveled various parts of Europe. Use resources like tripadvisor as they have good info on food, hotels, and special itinerary.