In early September last, my friend Julie and I packed our bags and set off to Lisbon, Portugal’s picturesque and charming capital. While Lisbon is known to be one of Europe’s hottest cities (if my facts are correct, second only to Athens), the weather was unpredictable and tempestuous throughout our week long stay. Despite intermittent showers and unusual (for Lisbon) grey skies, our spirits could not be dampened as this city surpassed our expectations in every way.
Arriving at midday on a bright Saturday, the city was bustling with activity: stalls lined the mustard yellow walls of the Praça do Comércio and tourists and locals alike sipped expressos al fresco. The day was spent aimlessly wandering – the real pleasure of holidaying, if you ask me – marching uphill through Lisbon’s rambling backstreets to assess the red-roofed city from a glorious height. At every turn, there was something modestly spectacular to photograph: clothes hanging from makeshift washing lines, strung from one window to the next; tinsel decorations left over from street parties; or green, leafy plants spilling out from open balconies; and of course, multi-coloured tiles in every shade: azure blue, jade, turquoise, terracotta.
Much of our holiday was spent like this: letting time slip sweetly away from us, soaking up the cheerful atmosphere of a city that never ceases to be welcoming. We enjoyed carafes of ruby-red sangria studded with oranges on sunshiny-terraces and rode the rusty yellow tram – the prevailing image of Lisbon – to the charming old town of Alfama. Our hostel was centrally located and only a mere few steps away from the buzzing, interlocking streets of the Bairro Alto, the city’s lively nightlife quarter. This is a city that knows how to party, and while tourists took to the place with glee, the locals were in abundance and keen to show the holiday-makers, such as us, a good time well into the early hours of the morning.
While relaxing with a glass of chilled lemonade down by the waterfront makes for a perfect Lisbon-day that is not to say there is not plenty to see and do in this colourful city. On a hot Tuesday, Julie and I caught the train (a mere half hour journey) to the gorgeous seaside town of Cascais. We swam in the glistening blue sea before retiring for a fresh seafood supper. Back in the city, Castelo de São Jorge, a Moorish castle, provided incredible views of the city, while a tram journey to the neighbourhood of Belém offered much to see and do. Here, we took a tour of the historic Jerónimos Monastery, ambled through the terrific collection of contemporary art at the Berardo, before finally indulging in a much deserved treat at the Café Pastéis de Belém, the home of Lisbon’s famous custard tart.
The name Lisbon derives from a Phoenician term meaning “safe harbour”, and indeed, Lisbon is a home away from home: warm, friendly, the city equivalent of a smile. Even now, in the cold, dark days of February, I can see Lisbon, glowing and sparkling with life, both in sunlight, and in rain.
– All photographs by Kathryn O’ Regan