Lisbon – The City for Making Friends!

This week has been my first time visiting Lisbon, Portugal and I have to say, it is one of the friendliest cities I have traveled to. Not only are the locals warm and fun, but there are tons of people from all over the world visiting and living here. In just three days of walking around the city, and one of those days I actually spent half the day working, I met cafe owners, hostel staff, visitors from Paris, Venice, and Amsterdam, locals born and raised here, and a ton of musicians from all over Europe. While everyone is friendly and helpful like most of the other European cities I have visited, what is the best part about Lisbon is that all these people I’m meeting here are quickly becoming friends! At this point, it looks like I’m going to stay another day or possibly two just to hang out with these new friends…

So on day one I arrived in Lisbon after a few hours on a bus from Badajoz, Spain. Tugging along my somewhat heavy yet efficient luggage on wheels and carrying my office-in-a-bag on my shoulder, I began my next part of the journey that required riding two metros to get near my friend’s place in the center. And yes, visiting Lisbon did start out for me with a friend already there. Diego and I met on a plane from Frankfurt to Denver last January. He’s living in Tel-Aviv but spending a couple of months working in Lisbon. This means getting to see a friend and having a place to stay in a new city! But getting back to my grand arrival in Lisbon…

After two metros I realized that with the steep cobblestone streets and not really knowing how to find the cafe that was my meeting point, I needed to just get a taxi for the last portion. And what taxi driver did I end up with? A little old man with a fedora hat who didn’t speak a word of English. I pointed out the name of the cafe and the address, tried to talk in some Spanish which is somewhat similar to Portuguese, and then just gave in to his insisting that he could get me to my destination. Sitting in the front seat I figured that I was in for a good adventure since on his radio I saw the name of who was singing the current song – AMALIA. And everywhere I go here and everyone I meet brings it up…yep, my name is Amalia, the same as the famous Portuguese Fado singer and actress, Amália Rodrigues. If you haven’t heard of her, you should look her up. The locals here love her and no wonder, since she sang beautifully and is still to this day known as the Rainha do Fado (“Queen of Fado”). Fado is the popular Portuguese music that has been around since the 1820’s. Amália also used her success to give back to her neighborhood here in Lisbon and has been an example to many of “rising up from the ashes” as they say, since she achieved her success even from her beginnings in an almost destitute family.

Well…the taxi ride…it turned out that the dear little old driver didn’t know where the cafe was. Even without knowing quite where I was or where to go, I enjoyed seeing how beautiful Lisbon is…the weather was gorgeous blue skies and prefect temperatures. As we climbed higher up the winding streets, vistas began appearing from open marble-floored squares and overlooks that looked out onto red Spanish-tiled roofs, white walls, flowers, the river, and church steeples and castle walls. After stopping three times to ask people about this cafe we were in search of, I simply said I would get out at our current location. As much as I was loving the hollering at each other jokingly and laughing our heads off, I had seen at this last stop a cafe that said internet in big bold letters down the side of the door and I figured it would be a good place to get my bearings. It was a good place…it turned out to be the cafe that I was looking for and where I needed to wait for Diego to meet me when he got done from work. From there…the making friends began.

I met and had a great time talking to a couple, Nunu and Rita, who are the owners of the Cafe Marcelino Pao y Vino. It’s right across the street from where I’m staying and I learned that the reason no one knew where they were is because they have only been open about three months! They are now one of my new favorite cafes in Lisbon. They have free WiFi, great wines, coffee, cocktails, and amazing food! Their gazpacho soup is the most beautiful gazpacho I’ve ever had and one of the most delicious with a new flair, at least for me – a fried egg, freshly warm and floating on the top with croutons bobbing around. Since then, I’ve made a point to go back for good beer or red wine and to take some of the new friends I’ve been making. I love introducing friends, old and new alike, to my favorite places, because I like places where the people working there are friendly and good to those who come in through the door. And Nunu and Rita were friendly and kind to me from the minute I walked up to their little outdoor front patio, lugged my heavy duffel onto their step, and asked for a glass of red wine. Not only did they take great care of me while I was there, but they talked with me and were open and sharing about themselves. Their cafe is good stuff and great service. They even gave me a gift! A beautiful large white shell with their cafe’s contact information written on it…this is pretty special to me since recently I’ve been contemplating backpacking El Camino de Santiago next year and part of that experience is having a large white shell hanging from your pack as you travel this route along northern Spain. Now I have my shell to use for that trip…perhaps a it is a sign…?

Day two I met Lorenzo de Vettor who is from Venezia and a drummer, percussionist, and music producer. He was walking down a street looking for his hostel and I was heading back to my place, contemplating a stop at Marcelino for a glass of vino. When he asked me for directions, he also asked me where I was from and…long story short, we ended up at the Marcelino Cafe to drink wine and enjoy chatting with Nunu and Rita. We then made plans to meet up the next day to go hear his friends from Paris play gypsy jazz in a nearby jazz club…check back for this blog post, coming soon.

Lorenzo to the far left, playing the guida….

The view from the patio of the “This is Lisbon” hostel

Oh! And how could I almost forget…earlier that day I enjoyed a great walking tour from Katrina at the This is Lisbon Hostel. I usually don’t do tours of any kind, but Diego highly recommended this one and payment for the tour is to tip your tour guide so a worthwhile deal. Right away I loved the hostel itself, which is located down a nice quiet residential street that is super close to the castle and along the highest hill of the city. When I arrived, they were busy welcoming two new guests from the New England area of the US and yet they invited me in promptly and offered that I could help myself to any coffee and breakfast items that were still out and available in their cozy kitchen and dinning area. But my favorite was seeing their amazing patio, which is huge! It extends along the entire backside of the hotel which is one large building of a few floors and looks out onto a fantastic view of Lisbon. There were no others that morning for the tour so I had Katrina all to myself and we connected on so many points of interests, like urban gardening and other city issues, sustainability and small business, and culture and traveling. She was a fantastic wealth of knowledge not only the history of some of the most beautiful parts of Lisbon, like the neighborhoods Alfama and Graca, but also on the current state of the country, the people and the culture. The more we walked around and the more I learned, the more I was reminded in some ways of another city I love to visit, San Francisco. Both cities have great views from certain hill tops that also contribute to the city-scape steep narrow streets bordered with tall connected buildings, and even complete with old-fashioned trolley cable cars! Yeah…they look almost identical to the ones in San Fran! And Lisbon has a large red bridge that seems to be the twin for the Golden Gate Bridge. Not kidding you.

Bench in an Urban Garden. Translation reads “This space is yours. Respect and enjoy”.

Our walking tour finished at what has now come to be another favorite cafe in Lisbon, the Cruzes Credo. It has an inviting outdoor area of tables and chairs in a small square of cobblestones and tall trees. Full of sun and shade, this little precious spot is open to the beautiful blue skies I’ve been having every day here and there is always the softest, perfectly cool breeze gently flowing through the air. Inside the place is even better. Walls of old stone and brick arches seem to be kept alive from its long history with the bright bold colors of accompanying smooth walls of red and pale yellow, retro furniture of leather in red and black, and a fun floor of stone tiles of muted colors. The people working here are nice and helpful and wear great shoes🙂 I feel I can really attest to them having delicious coffee too since I drink their americano black. Then it gets even better with the fantastic food…sandwiches, omelets, burgers, salads, fresh juices and smoothies, and tons of other goodies like pastries, wine, and beer. The final touches are great Portuguese music and free WiFi and wa-la! You have another great spot for Amalia to work from while traveling.

This cafe is where I stayed after the tour to enjoy some lunch and use the WiFi on my iPhone. While there and savoring their chicken toast for lunch (freshly grilled chicken with mozzarella, mushrooms grilled on the outside of the bread, and sprinkled atop with olive oil and basil herbs), I met another remote-worker who turns out to be a professional DJ and architect…yeah, interesting combination, huh. Guido is actually Dutch and from Amsterdam, but filled me in on how he gets to spend regular periods of time in Lisbon. He visits there frequently to perform his music and mix with his DJ partner in their group 2CV. It was great to learn from him about what cities in Europe are really popular right now for electronic music and big house music. While that genre of music is pretty new to me, I seem to be making friends who are professionals in this great world of music. Read my blog post The Best Way to Visit Milan, Italy to learn about my first European DJ friends from the group Harley & Muscle.

Whew…so this was only a day and a half in Lisbon and rather than write you an entire novel, I’ll let you have a breather and will make sure to give you the rest of the story about my first stay in Lisbon. Stay tuned for the continuation of how friendly Lisbon can be.