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Published: September 16th 2019
This was my first visit to Europe in ten years. I had forgotten how many tourists come to Europe. It might be another ten years until I return... I can appreciate even better now how recent terrorist attacks in cities like Paris can have such a significant impact on a city's economy. I was also interested in getting a first-hand view of the impact of the Financial Crisis from ten years ago. That event is still raw for many Lisboetas. With a minimum wage of €700/mth and rents running the same, more and more Portuguese struggle to get ahead. There was certainly animosity towards the EU when talking to the locals.
Two things struck me by surprise. One was the amount of English spoken by the Portuguese. However, in Europe, it is pretty tough to survive on only one language unless it is English, German, Spanish, or Italian. While Portuguese and Spanish are similar on paper, they sound quite different. Fortunately, we didn't have to use much Portuguese. The other thing that surprised me was the picture-perfect weather. Every day was hot, dry, and cloudless. I had more nice weather here than I did in my home town of
Edmonton all summer. It was a great backdrop for picture taking. Lisbon
I was a bit worried about keeping busy for nine days in a city of 500,000 (greater Lisbon is 2,300,000) people, but we had no problem with that. We spent six nights in Lisbon and three nights in Almada. We tried an Airbnb Experience (walking tour) for the first time and knew that could also be used to fill any downtime we might have on this trip.
A lot can be said for the cities of Europe that were not damaged during WWII. Lisbon's old city is so quaint with its hilly terrain, windy cobblestone streets, and historic trams. If it weren't for all of the graffiti, it would be postcard perfect. The graffiti here was actually sad to see and on par with what we saw in Bogota a couple of years ago. Old Lisbon is almost like a bubble. Most of the tourists congregate in this area, and English seems as prevalent as any other language. We were amazed at how many of the people we met in the service industry, who were from Brazil and other European countries. We were told that Portuguese
don't typically fill these jobs because of their relatively low pay.
Our trip followed a familiar pattern: sightseeing from the late morning to late afternoon, siesta, and then a late-night dinner. Our dinners are always the event of the evening and typically running three to four hours.
As I learned more about Portugal's history, I wanted to know why it took so long for their colonies to become independent. As I found out, it was the Portuguese Colonial War from 1961 to 1974 that was the catalyst for the overthrow of the dictatorship in Portugal. We visited an old prison in Lisbon that highlighted much of the atrocities during this rule.
On our last day in Lisbon, we made a day trip to Sintra, which reminded me of the Newport, Rhode Island. Because the hills of Sintra are much higher than those in Lisbon, the temperature is also much cooler. In a world before air conditioners, that meant Portugal's ruling class and wealthy had homes up there. Some of them can even be described as palaces. Much of the coastline can also be seen from here which made it a strategic location over the centuries. When visiting
the Palace of Pena, I came in contact first hand with how tourism can completely overrun a site. The crowds here were suffocating. It was a challenge just to get up and down to the palace because of the narrow and windy road. We actually just walked back down from the hills back to Sintra instead of taking the bus. Almada
For our last three days, we decided to pop the Lisbon bubble and try something less touristy in Almada, which is just across the river. While the tourists make their way over during the day, it is pretty well void of tourists overnight. Both Lisbon and Almada share a similar history, but Almada is grittier and less authentic. It is also much cheaper! We actually really enjoyed our stay here as we were better able to connect with the locals or even find them for that matter.
On our last day, we headed to Costa da Capricano, which was a short Uber ride from Almada. Portugal is famous for its beaches, and we weren't disappointed. While the air temperature was very comfortable at 30c, the same couldn't be said for the water temperature. There was
a reason all of the surfers had full-length wetsuits on. Cost da Capricano is also Europe's longest beach at 24kms.
While I can say I have never eaten at a Nepalese restaurant, there were a number of them in greater Lisbon. I am not sure why but we did check out a very popular one in Almada. For the most part, the cuisine appears to be very similar to Indian outside a few regional dishes. Summary
All in all, it was a nice visit to Lisbon. I am glad I went, but I am not sure I will be headed back to Western Europe anytime soon. The developing world has more to offer for what I am looking for with better value. Video of photos from the trip.
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