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Welcome to the first edition of The Small World’s city review. In this review, we revisit Lisbon, Portugal. Bordering the Atlantic ocean, Portugal is a country that is often underrated because it’s not a popular tourist destination. This places Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon at an inherent advantage of being calm because of a lack of tourists. Let’s jump in!

Date visited: June 14, 2014 & December 21, 2015

I first went to Lisbon as a cheap way to fly back to Toronto. In early June, I was staying in Madrid, Spain, scouring SkyScanner.ca for tickets back to Toronto. At the time, all the tickets to fly back to Madrid were around $300 more, compared to a small, nondescript city in Portugal called Lisbon. Laying in my hostel bed with my netbook (remember those?) on my pillow, I did a few calculations and realized that I could save half of the $300 by taking a bus to Lisbon, staying in a hostel for a few nights and then flying back to Toronto from there. Besides, this was the 10th country I had visited while in Europe. What better way to finish my trip than with a final hurrah?

Sights

One of the many charms of Lisbon is the lack of overt tourism. Unlike other major European cities like Paris, Barcelona and Amsterdam, Lisbon keeps its cards close to its chest. Are you a touristy kind of person? I’ll say it now: If you are looking for a toursity destination where you’re just another product, Lisbon is not for you. If you’re like me and you enjoy getting lost in local niceties, then Lisbon is perfect for you.

Now don’t get me wrong: Not being a popular tourist destination doesn’t mean that there’s nothing good to see. Close to the city, you can find Sintra. A one-hour drive away from Lisbon’s city centre, this area of Portugal can be placed at the top of the beautiful spectacles list. Riddled with ancient architecture inspired and crafted by the Moors. One of the views that stands out the most is The Castle of the Moors (Portuguese: Castelo dos Mouros), a gorgeous, multi-coloured castle which stands upon a hilltop.

The Castle of the Moors. Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/palace-sintra-landscape-green-1453029/

Coming back to Lisbon, you are not short of in-city sights like Belém Tower, São Jorge Castle and Praça do Comércio. To be honest though, visiting the tourist spots in Lisbon should be a formality, more than a main attraction. They are beautiful but don’t contain the essence of what makes Lisbon – or any other city for that matter – great. I have a approach to this.

Eats

Growing up in Toronto, I was surrounded by Portuguese food. Restaurants and cafes were not hard to come by, so I had this idea in my mind that this was the limit of Portuguese cuisine. I was flat out wrong. It’s not that the Portuguese bakers and chefs who immigrated to Canada were bad at cooking, it was that you simply don’t have access to all of the fresh ingredients that make Portuguese cuisine so good. That’s actually the case for many types of foreign cuisine but that’s a talk for another day.

Instead, let’s talk about Lisbon’s delicious food. Being located next to the Pacific Ocean does wonders for this town-like city. Fresh saltwater fish and a climate that promotes year-round crop growth only accentuate what is already a breadth of tantalizing recipes. My first exposure to the food in Lisbon was from the hostel I first stayed in, called Home Lisbon Hostel. I should’ve known that I was in for a treat when I saw the hostel selling their own recipe book. During a fanciful dinner with a majority of the Hostel’s guests, we were treated to basics like chicken noodle soup that was chock full of chicken breast and Caldo Verde, a soup filled with potatoes, kale, olive oil and sea salt. It was a nice way to prepare us for the main courses, like my Bacalao com Natas (creamed cod with potatoes).

By Fpenteado – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13830998

Forget the recipes for a second, and consider the ingredients I was talking about before: freshly caught cod that hasn’t seen the inside of a freezer. Potatoes grown locally and transported over small distances. Cream made from cows are farmed in small towns next next to Lisbon. Not to mention the herbs, spices and oils that are used in these dishes, or Port Wine which is created from grapes grown in neighbouring towns and bottled in those same places. All in all, you are not only short on delicious food but you also have easy access to freshly baked desserts with all of the advantages laid out above. A personal favourite of mine is Pastel de Nata, an egg custard tart with a sweet cream in the middle and a crispy, yet chewy exterior.

Pastel de nata

Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons – cc-by-sa-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t think I’ve gained weight more quickly in any other country than Portugal, but Portugal is wonderful in doses so it’s okay to go all out for a week or so. I could write an entire article on Portuguese food – and I actually might – but I’ll rest here for now. If you’re into sweet, savoury and heartwarming food that reminds you of home cooking, then look no further than Lisbon.

Cost

Let’s not beat around the bush. Travelling costs money and not all of us have it in abundance. It’s okay. This is why cities like Lisbon exist. On a European standard, the prices are comparable to the prices of Eastern Europe. The best example I can give is of a 3-course meal I ate while I stayed at Home Lisbon Hostel. Costing a total of 10 Euro, the meal included a starting soup, a main course, a dessert and some Portuguese wine. While this is a bit lower than the standard costs of food, you can certainly find similar options for prices that are much lower than large Western European cities like Paris, London and Barcelona.

This extends beyond the cost of food as well. Public transit is a bit pricier than normal, costing around 1.90 euro for a ticket on the Metro. In fact, I would say that this is the most expensive part of Lisbon. The good news is that Lisbon is a city where amenities and entertainment can be found within walking distance of where you’re staying, assuming you’re staying close to the centre. When I stayed there, I used the metro twice – once to go to a restaurant and once to come back from said restaurant. Talking and seeing the architecture is also highly recommended so I don’t even consider transportation a cost you’ll have to consider for the most part.

Finally, lodging is also on the cheaper side. Rewinding back in time a bit to my time in Home Lisbon Hostel, it cost me a total of 12 euro a night to stay there. Keep in mind that this hostel was located very close to the centre of the city and the beds were definitely more comfortable than other hostels I’ve been to. If you’re not much of a hostel person, Airbnb is another great option because the internal

Vibe

I include this category as a catch-all feeling of a city. The vibe of a city is hard to describe, but it’s also quite necessary to include. Why go to a city if you don’t feel comfortable there? In Episode Four of the podcast, I touched a bit on this. There are some places that I’ve been to where I absolutely did not feel comfortable walking around by myself. In other places, like beach cities in Mexico, there is a vibe of complete and total relaxation. My home city of Toronto gives off a very busy vibe in the downtown core and it can sometimes make you feel rushed. You can decide on a lot just from the feeling a city gives you – it influences how you’ll spend your time in the city. Will you make friends easily like in Budapest or is it more of a slow burn like Stockholm? Will you dance in a nightclub until 6AM like in Berlin? Or will you relax in a hammock in Playa Del Carmen? Vibe is all encompassing, and it influences the kind of person you will be when you’re there.

Lisbon immediately gave me a vibe of “home.” Looking back, there were a number of characteristics that made me feel like this. The first was the pace of the people. In Lisbon, it feels like not one person is in a rush to get to their destination. The walking speed is quite leisurely, partially because of the lack of “hurry,” and partially because of the infrastructure. Portuguese pavement forced me to walk a tad bit slower to ensure that I didn’t slip.

Portuguese pavement in Lisbons city center

With a European-based architecture containing exactly zero skyscrapers, the city itself doesn’t feel overwhelming in any sense of the word. It’s also quite quiet for a capital city. Not deafeningly so, but enough that if you’re from a large capital city, it will be a nice change.

The people in the city are some of the friendliest that I’ve ever met. My personal experience interacting with locals mainly included asking for directions, talking with locals at bars and speaking with business owners. Connecting directly to the non-rush culture I mentioned above, every person I met took time to not only help me with what I was asking for, but also asked me about my life, my history, and why I was there. Completely unprompted, they even invited me to events to hang out with them at nights. Unfortunately I was only there for 5 days the first time and I didn’t get the opportunity to take them up on their request, but the notion of kindness was not lost on me.

The climate also helps with this. It makes it much easier for you to go out and meet people, because everything is within a sane distance by public transit and the consistent warmth means that going out is much less a chore. This all ties into the overall social fabric of Lisbon, and the ease at which you can become acclimated to the culture is nothing short of outstanding. It’s enough that if you are mainly introverted, you won’t be pushed to be social, but you’ll also know that the option is always there. A social butterfly like myself thrives here. There is no shortage of friends that you can make in Lisbon, and no shortage of activities.

Ends

I chose Lisbon as my first city to talk about because it’s simply my favourite city in Europe and one of my favourite cities in the world. What I’ve mentioned here doesn’t begin to explain the nuances of Lisbon. The small, family owned cafes sprawled throughout the city. The endless pastry shops that will make you gain more than a few pounds. The gorgeous architecture is designed to be subtle and non-intrusive. Things are easy to find, yet there is no overt pressure to visit shops, unlike other major tourist cities. With people who are kind and not overbearing, Lisbon is a great city whether you’re looking to relax like me in 2014, or whether you’re looking to meet new people like me in 2015. I highly recommend visiting Lisbon. It’s a little out of the way, but it’s worth the detour.