In my European history classes, Portugal seemed to be always overshadowed by its Iberian neighbor, Spain. I learned about Portuguese explorers like Vasco De Gama for example, and their colonization of Brazil. But that was the most I knew about historic Portugal and I’d be a ‘dealer in alternative facts’ if I denied knowing about Portuguese history and culture, or that it was on the top of my European travel to do list. But with low season airline fares and being on only a six-hour flight from New York City, I booked my trip, packed my passport and new film bag (a holiday gift from my dad) and traveled across the Atlantic. Now I have a new found love for this small country hugging the rocky coast along the Atlantic Ocean.
I traveled to Lisbon, or as the natives refer to their city, Lisboa, in the middle of January, trying to escape the brutal winter of New York, and the 60 degrees sun felt amazing. Similar to other European cities, Lisbon can be overrun with tourists during the high season, but in
January it felt like besides the locals were the only ones there, and incredibly welcoming. Other than the chilly coast which didn’t allow swimming, the beaches were amazing to see; we promise to return.
One can learn so much about this history of Portugal by seeing it’s architecture. Starting with the medieval section, the Alfama, where the city streets were purposely built to be narrow, winding and confusing (as hell) to protect against foreign invaders.
Lisbon seems to be have built clinging on to the cliffs and is characterized by the 1755 earthquake which nearly leveled the city destroying most of the gothic style architecture. This is not to imply that Lisbon lack stunning architecture, because this is far from true. Lisbon boasts of baroque and medieval style buildings. Remains of Gothic architecture can still be seen however at sites, like Carmo Convent, which proved not only that gothic arches are beautiful, but are strong enough to stand the test of time.
Adding to the charm and uniqueness of Lisbon are the brightly colored tiles that decorate buildings and line the cobbled stone streets as vintage street cars travel through the city and up the very steep hills. The sweetest of charms and one that all most travelers, guides and guidebooks will tell you that you must try, and I am in total agreement, is the Portuguese egg tarts, or pastéis de nata. These palm-sized little confections were in the window of little pastelarias across the city, filled with locals drinking coffee and chatting.
Lisbon, and Portugal, has firmly planted itself high on my “must return” list, and I can’t wait to visit again… film camera in hand!
As featured in Cottage Hill