For the past 6 days I’ve been wondering aimlessly (more or less) on the streets of Lisbon. I planned this journey together with my best friend (Petru) at the beginning of this year. The main reason we wanted to go there, was because we really wanted to see Radiohead. Their concert was part of a 3 days festival which has been held in Lisbon for the past 6 years. But we’ll get to that soon. Patience!
So, here we go. Thursday, 5:00 am. Yes, that means 5 in the morning. We woke up too late so we had to hurry so as not to miss the plane.. That meant no proper breakfast. I did manage to grab a bite to eat, but that wasn’t a proper breakfast and I love proper breakfast. We managed not to miss the plane! 4 hours of flying, 4 hours of trying to sleep but not really making it, 4 hours of eagerness, excitement and listening to The Rural Alberta Advantage on my mp3 player, imagining what Lisbon is like. I saw many photographs of the city and I read the guide which I bought a few days before leaving for Lisbon, but anyone who travels knows that no photos and no guide can prepare you for what’s to come.
Finally we get to Lisbon. After going through all the tiresome airport routine, which probably most of you are already familiar with, we stopped outside the airport for a cigarette and a cup of coffee. While Petru enjoys his cigarette and coffee, I enjoy my coffee and the windy, scented air. Break over. Let’s go! We get a taxi and manage to make ourselves understood by the taxi driver so as to take us to the small apartment we rented for our Portuguese vacation. About the apartment… you know that you always think to yourself “I don’t need to stay in a fancy place. I just need a place to sleep and maybe take a shower once in a while. Most of the time I’ll spend it outside, visiting, taking long walks, being mesmerized”. You are right. That’s what I think too. But, holy crap, it’s painstakingly good to stay for six days in a cozy, well equipped apartment, decorated with great taste, that only an interior decorator can manage, with a view of river Tejo that literally takes your breath away. I found this apartment on HouseTrip, a site with the help of which you can rent apartments in Lisbon, New York, London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Vienna and many other cities. I was a little reluctant first, because, on this site, you have to pay the whole amount before-hand, but everything turned out to be OK. The apartment was great, the owner, Helena, an interior decorator, was very nice in a non-intrusive way (the best way to be with tourists renting your apartment), and, like I mentioned before, the view, mesmerizing. To think: only a couple of days ago, I drank my morning coffee on the terrace looking at Lisboa from above. Somehow I felt bigger, however strange that may sound.
So, we left our luggage at the apartment and off we went walking on the streets of Lisbon. A sunny, windy Lisbon. (About the wind, I told Petru that now I understand why Portugal is such a good place to surf, at which he replied: “I, on the other hand, understand why the Portuguese people were such good navigators!” Good point!) We just walk around the Belém Tower (a curious building with naval motifs that define the so-called Manueline style of architecture named after Dom Manuel I) and we got to see a few abandoned houses, a cultural center with an interesting and modern architecture, I got to soak my feet in river Tejo. Then we just walked around the area with our eyes wide opened afraid to blink so as not to miss anything.
From an architectural point of view, Lisbon is, what some may call, the “Cinderella city” of Europe: much neglected, constantly abused. Many buildings looked abandoned, and so they were.
About Bairro Alto, with its restaurants and hectic life, with its mix of trendy locals, is, apparently, a classic residential area that, seems to have grown gradually over some years with no official intervention. We ate at one of these local restaurants. Imagine a small local cheap-looking restaurant, having a small window that gives the passers-by the possibility to see in the kitchen and witness how the fish is prepared. Yum! That is actually what made us choose this restaurant – when we saw the mouthwatering fish being grilled right there in front of our eyes and felt the fishy smell, we decided, right then and there, that this is the right place to have our dinner. So we did and it was delicious. Cheap too, only 19 euros.
The next day, all rested and with a boost of energy that only traveling can give you, we went out again to visit the Oceanarium. The ticket price was a little steep (16 euros) but it was worth it. Inhabited by, what I found out to be, 16.000 animals and plants representing over 450 different species, the Oceanarium was an enchanting experience and I also found out some information that made me think “Why is it that we don’t take more care of our oceans, being so amazing as they are?” After the Oceanarium we walked around Lisbon some more. I could tell you more, but as cliché as this may sound, a picture is worth a 1000 words. And we did take pictures (both me and Petru). Boy did we ever!
About the festival, Optimus Alive – a festival sponsored by what it seems to be a Portuguese mobile operator – it was crowded, it lacked a good organization, Robert Smith is too old to be doing concerts and Radiohead blew my mind. That is why it was worth it. Thom Yorke’s haunting voice, the incredibly creative use of instruments and the recreation of every sound in songs you know by heart, the Radiohead concert is one of the best live experiences one could have, no matter the musical genre one might prefer. Dancing like a man possessed, Thom Yorke and the rest of the band managed to give the people more than their money’s worth. Everything indeed was in its right place with this concert. Michele (the 23 year-old Italian wanderer who lived for the past year in Barcelona, first to study, then to work, and was planning to stay for a couple of days in Lisbon and then to go stay in a little Portuguese town to do… whatever) shouted at us, during the concert, while one of the band’s member played the guitar with a violin bow: “To play the guitar… Anybody can do that, right?”. No. Not anybody can do that. Not like that. And when you listen to such a concert, you can’t help but ask yourself: how can others have the courage to even bother trying? I’ll tell how: because of bands like Radiohead who, they themselves promote new bands, such as Caribou, who usually open for them in concerts. That is how.
So, Radiohead concert – everything that could have been, was.
Lisbon – a fascinating city that leaves you wanting more. You want to be able to smell its fragrance once more; to be able to walk in the sun with the wind blowing the heat away, a little while longer; to watch the children in the Oceanarium or in the park for just a few more moments; to stare at their elders who seem to be just like the abandoned houses you stumble upon in all the parts of the city: colorful, fascinating, elegant houses… that once were.
Just have a look at some of the photos :
We also manage to find time to go to the beach in Carcavelos. It’s a 20 minutes train ride from Lisbon. It was crowded, and a little smaller than I imagined and full of Portuguese teenagers showing off their perfect bodies. I went into the ocean two times, it was just enough to cool down. To go in once more would have meant freezing my ass off, as the water was numbingly cold. So I didn’t. And that was the last day in Portugal. Obrigado, Portugal! Multo obrigado, Lisaboa!