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First impressions of Lisbon, Portugal

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Lisbon – the city of seven hills, though I am pretty sure there are more than seven – at least my glutes claim that to be so, is an European city worthy of an extended visit. In fact, CNN just wrote this article about why it could just be Europe’s coolest city!  The whole point of our #winteroadtrip from the south of France to Portugal was to spend New Years in this city by the sea and that we did. Of course there is no way in inferno that I could possibly fit everything into one post so I’d like to start with my first impressions of Lisbona and how from day one to day five my impressions really changed.

Love at second sight? 

If I am 100% honest, and let’s be honest – I always try to be as much as I can on this blog, Lisbon wasn’t a ‘love at first site’ experience for me. After a perfect holiday of perfect, sunny days previous to arriving, we hit our first day of rain as we were coming into the city and though I knew traffic and parking would be crazy, it was a little more than I expected. Considering that this is the land of extreme elevation at every turn, its hard to really see where it is you are going so we felt insanely dependent on our GPS and map which can always be a tad stressful.

Hint to future generations - learning how to read a map should be a skill worthy of adding on your linkedin profile. 

We eventually found our apartment and a parking garage just down the street, of course fitting an ‘airplane’ sized car was not exactly childsplay but what was more shocking was the price of parking. In Bairro Alto and well, this specific garage, the guy quoted upwards of 30 euros or so for a night which I just couldn’t wrap my head around, did we accidentally land in NYC?

Truth be told, I’ve lived in Italy long enough to develop an extreme aversion to feeling ripped off and immediately set about finding a cheaper parking alternative {which I thankfully we managed to do thanks to the advice of a later hotel reservation}. In fact, if you happen to have a car and can’t find parking in Lisbon – this was by far the cheapest parking we found {13 euros per day}, located not far from the harbor on calçada do combro. 

parking-cal+ºadadocombro.1

Another downside was that the sidewalk where our apartment was located was super small and super busy – not the kind of place you want to drag two suitcases along (did I mention the crazy incline?) which also didn’t help my initial ‘new place’ anxiety after being in a car for over four hours. It reminded me, when packing for a road trip – less is always more.

steep roads in Lisbon – or as I like to call it ‘the best butt blaster’

Check-in was looming quick so we rushed over to our Airbnb apartment rental which was a great deal – literally around 40 euros a night. The girl checking us definitely was going for that goth look which I can appreciate, but what surprised me more was the tiny portable heater she had brought to replace the old ‘heater’ that looked little more than a weird sort of reversible fan (actually I think it was). Despite a bit of a shaky start, everything worked just fine, including the WiFi and it proves to me yet again what a great option renting a vacation rental really is.

*Note to self, bring a wine bottle opener in your luggage during your next trip, our apartment didn’t come with one and we actually attempted to open our bottle of wine with a shoe. While this Frenchman on youtube might make it seem easy, it really isn’t. Lesson Learned. 

Situated and ready to explore, we headed out for a night in the lively Bairro alto district, famous for its nightlife and quaint small streets. First thing I noticed was that people here tended to adopt the same grab a drink and stand outside in the street mentality as in Italy and while this area is mostly dive bars, I liked the tenacity and vibe of the quarter.

I would definitely say that Bairro Alto feels 100% different from day to night {to me} and someone seeking a more quiet stay probably shouldn’t find a hotel/apartment in this area. That being said I loved my mixed berry (huge) cocktails and people watching – you really don’t know where to look first. Our first dinner was at a nice restaurant in this area that was probably one of the best during our stay (I plan on touching on food in a later post) – plus we had a cheeky waiter who cracked jokes and made fun of Spaniards.

In fact, someone had previously warned me that speaking Spanish in Portugal isn’t the best idea due to centuries-old rivalries between the two countries. I managed to really only learn the word for ‘thank you’ which is obrigado/a and we spoke a mix of English and Italian during most of our stay.

Because we spent the majority of our road trip in Lisbon, and you just can’t fit that into one post – I am planning on writing several posts about my experiences: touching on accommodation, local cuisine, a day trip to Sintra and more. Though my first impression was a bit shaky at the start, by the time got back into our Boeing 747 vehicle and headed to Bilbao 5 days later, I was truly bummed. This city really got a hold of us and I still feel to this day there was so much more I would love to explore in this dynamic place.

As always I am curious to hear from you! Have you been to Lisbon? What was your first impression like?

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  1. Susan Weckbaugh

    It’s been awhile since I visited Lisboa but was blown away when, after having exchanged money at the bank, I later that afternoon heard a knock on my hotel door, only to find the bank teller I had barely acknowledged, standing outside saying I didn’t get all my money. He thrust the escudos in my hand and I almost fainted. Double wow. The fado music is not to be missed.

  2. Drez

    Corkscrews indeed! Day 1 of our month long trip to Italy last year and we realised that Europe is still an oenological backwater (Ha! that will start something). Orstraylia has had screw tops for many years and we didn’t even think of packing a corkscrew. The purists hated the change and it detracts from the theatre of opening a bottle, but seriously, it really is the best solution for wine quality and ease of use.
    Love your blog and loved Florence to boot – esp the Segway tour we did – awesome.

  3. Jay

    I think Lisbon isn’t always love at first sight (too hilly, quite rundown, way too much graffiti, uneven cobblestones), but then it somehow manages to produce a magic spell that seduces you into loving it. You then even begin to appreciate its imperfections. It’s a very raw, authentic city, not a tourist “amusement park” like many other major cities around the world (especially in Europe), and it has a look and feel of its own.
    It’s especially seductive at the hilltop terraces that serve as lookout points (called “miradouros”), and the fact that every neighborhood has its own atmosphere only adds to the charm.
    But be very warned: No driving! It’s hell, not just for lack of parking but because of the many narrow hilly streets!
    But one thing is certain: It’s one of the most beautiful, soulful, scenic, and romantic cities in the world!

    • ggnitaly84

      Jay, I honestly couldn’t have said it better. That was exactly my experience of the city. Frightening and chaotic at first but then entrancing and unique by the end. There is just SOMETHING about this city that gets to you and you are so right about driving. We definitely learned our lesson. Plus public transportation works great there and walking ensure that you can eat whatever you want due to the steep hills etc. :)

  4. Cindy

    Nice post! I spent a week in Lisbon many years ago with my mom and some of her Spanish/Cuban friends. The food(and seafood!) was great, we prayed at the Fatima, and the Fado shows were so cool. I had just spent New Year’s (1997!!) in Florence with my friends/exchange families, so I couldn’t help but compare the two. I thought Lisbon seemed gloomier, but it could have been the winter weather. Or the fact that I am always sad when I leave Florence…

    • ggnitaly84

      The seafood really is fabulous and I can only imagine how cool it is here in the summer. I ended up leaving wishing I could have stayed a bit more but the first day definitely took a little getting used to..

  5. bakeritalia

    I have been to Lisbon twice, however, never with a car. I love, love the place however I do get lost there quite a bit and then find really cool shops so a good lost. I have had wonderful meals in the Bairro Alto area and many a good night out…and then there is Sintra, yep I love Lisbon and surrounding areas. I’m glad you found so love for it too. I haven’t been back in the past ten years sadly

  6. Christine

    It is one of my favorite cities. Whenever some one ask me about Lisbon I never know if I do it justice. Like you said, it is one of those magical cities that just takes a hold of you even if at first sight your not sure if it will. Perhaps it is the soul of the place and its people. Ahhh daydreaming of being there now.

    • ggnitaly84

      I feel a big need to go back, and explore even more, plus the rest of portugal.the people, the food, the vibe, heck even the hills were just so unique. This is a special country without a doubt..


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