Portugal is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, full of culture, architecture, food and a vast coast. Yet it’s often passed over by tourists in lieu of more famous locales.
After a short six hour flight, our plane neared the coast of Lisbon on a strikingly clear day; I gasped at the beauty. Even from above, the winding coast, the jewel blue sea, and the white and yellow homes covered with tile roofs were breathtaking.
Lisbon is comprised of two parts: young and old. Built on seven hills, each neighborhood rests on either a hill or in a valley. This makes for an easily navigated city by map, but a difficult one by foot (excellent exercise routine: move to Lisbon). A violent earthquake in 1755 destroyed much of the city, which they rebuilt in a more nineteenth century fashion. This newer “valley” neighborhood is now known as Baixa, reminiscent of most other European cities, with large boulevards and expansive city squares. Alfama and Castelo are some of the oldest areas of Lisbon; winding, steep cobblestone roads that survived the earthquake because of their bedrock foundation. It’s magical weaving under arches and down stone steps, descending and ascending (and sliding — wear shoes with traction!) past buildings of yellows, blues, and greens, decorated by intricately painted tiles called azalejos. Decidedly older inhabitants make it even more charming, a step back in time.
Chiado, up the hill from Baixa, is by far the trendiest neighborhood, full of local art galleries, cafes, and bookstores. Lisbon’s culture is incredibly rich, with a beautiful local art scene and a love of literature — nearly every block of the city had a bookstore — not to mention home to the oldest bookstore ever, Bertrand, built in 1732. New restaurants are sandwiched between historical cafes, all still retaining the colorful architecture that makes Lisbon unique.
The way they take their coffee is unique as well. Not too big, not too small — “the Portuguese way,” as they call it. They prefer an espresso, always. Ask for um caffe, a coffee, etc., and you shall receive espresso. Unlike the Italian single shot, the Portuguese espresso is served in a larger cup, giving you a little more to savor.
Portuguese people drink coffee all the time. I mean — All. The. Time. It is part of their daily routine to have a coffee every few hours, up to ten cups a day. Every meal ends with um bica — the Lisbon name for an espresso, an acronym for the typical espresso machine.