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Boa Lisboa

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So my first question is: how does anyone spend 5 or 6 days in Lisbon and say it was enough?? We've been here almost 4 days now, and it feels like we've barely scratched the surface. So many neighbourhoods to walk and explore! So many architectural details to admire! So many cute little shops to poke around in! So much to eat! And SO. MANY. THINGS. TO. PHOTOGRAPH!!! I could easily spend another week here and feel like I still needed another week. Maybe another.

Mind you. If you've seen my Facebook feed in the past few days, you know what else has been occupying us since we got here. Yes, The Exasperating Case of The Missing Luggage. To wit: we flew Air Canada from Vancouver to Montreal and transferred to TAP Portugal from Montreal to Lisbon. Our bags made it as far as Montreal … and there they still sit, lo these 4 days later. We filed a claim at the airport. We contacted Air Canada, who helpfully (ha) informed us its TAP's responsibility. We tried to contact TAP only to find out their baggage desk is closed over the weekend. We've checked the World Tracer site daily, which continues to tell us "tracing continues" (as if). Yet here's the thing. We have AirTags in both our bags. The AirTags show the exact location of the bags. The bags have not moved in 4 days. We've told everyone we've spoken to that we know where our bags are. We offered to send them screenshots of the FindMe app, which shows where the bags are. We determined the exact gate on the Montreal airport website. We offered to send them that information too. And were they like, "Thank you for being so proactive, please send us your info?" It is to laugh. No one is the least bit interested. "No," they tell us, "You can't send us photos." Excuse me? Because … ???

So I would be lying if I pretended this isn't cutting into both our time and our energy. As long as we're moving around and doing stuff (which is most of the time) we're fine – but as soon as we stop, the anxiety and frustration set in again. We are trying very hard to Be Here Now, and we're mostly succeeding. But we would be able to Be Here Now a lot better if our bags would also Be Here Now.

OK. Now that I've got that off my chest, let's move on. That's not what you're here to hear about. Lisbon! What a wonderful city! How have I never been here before?? Avi was here with Ruth 20 years ago, before Portugal was a tourist hotspot. But this is my first time, and I'm totally enthralled with it. I haven't even left yet and I'm already wondering when I can get back here.

So where are we and what have we done so far? Well, we're staying in Baixa, which might be the most touristy area in Lisbon (and boy, are there a lot of tourists here right now) – but it's also the most central and convenient to everything. We can walk to a lot of the places we want to visit, and the others are easy to reach by metro, bus, or tram. Our Airbnb is on a pedestrianized street lined with overpriced tourist-trap restaurants and shops specializing in the same tourist trinkets we see all over town (how do they all stay in business??), but it still feels charming, and it's only minutes from more "authentic" Lisbon where little old ladies in black still string laundry on lines from their upper-storey windows.

On our first day we mainly just wandered around our neighbourhood to get a sense of where we were and what it looks like. I can't tell you much about that afternoon because frankly, I was exhausted from the flight (and, y'know, the luggage thing). But we booked a walking tour for the next morning, and by 11am we were on our way to neighbouring Alfama led by our excellent guide Sara. Sara was delightful: funny, knowledgeable, opinionated, a bit salty, and full of great stories well delivered. Up and down the steep, twisty lanes of Alfama we hiked while Sara filled us in on its history (it's the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon and one of the few to survive the infamous 1755 earthquake) and regaled us with tales of local colour, making sure we understood that the old ladies of the 'hood are the heart and soul of Alfama and the main reason for its cultural resilience. Go, grannies, go!

Later that day we cruised the shopping streets of Chiado, just the other side of Baixa. Chiado is full of fun and fascinating shops, including Livraria Bertrand, the world's oldest bookstore – but we weren't shopping for fun that day. No, we were shopping for mundane things like toothpaste, emergency hair gel (hey, when you have hair like mine, the absence of hair gel IS an emergency), and a change of clothing, because see above re: luggage, and my t-shirts were starting to smell. Also, it was Erev Rosh Hashana, and Avi had booked us to attend services at the local progressive synagogue – and you just can't go to shul in a smelly t-shirt. So we picked up a couple of clean shirts (and hair gel for me!), came 'home' to change, and headed uptown to celebrate the new year with a few dozen other Members of the Tribe – some local, some expats who had moved here in the past couple of years, and a few other travellers like us. I won't say it was the most interesting or innovative service I've ever been to, but it was sweet and homely and friendly, and it was fun to get a feel for the local community. I'm glad we went. Shana tova! Happy 5784!

Avi actually decided to go back the following day for the morning service, but I hadn't had my fill of Alfama, so I made my way back to the labyrinth to see more of what there was to see, and consider how I wanted to express it through my camera. I managed to stumble my way back to a few of the spots we'd been the day before, but like I said, it's a labyrinth and it was impossible to retrace my steps. But who cares? Alfama is a delightful place to get lost, and getting lost is one of the great delights of travel. And even though it's hard to get really lost in the age of smartphones and Google Maps, you can still just follow your nose and wander wherever it takes you. So I spent a pleasant few hours doing just that, and have posted some of my photos below.

After 4 days, I've noticed some common themes in Lisbon. (1) Cod. Just about every Portuguese restaurant I've seen offers cod in some form or another (often several), and there are little shops selling pasteis de bacalhau (codfish cakes) everywhere. (2) Pastry shops abound, and every single pastry shop offers pasteis de nata (custard tarts), many of them assuring us that theirs are the best in town. (They probably aren't.) I have yet to eat one because they contain gluten, but I've bookmarked a couple of bakeries that sell gluten-free natas, and I will get one sooner or later. (3) Cork R Us! Turns out Portugal is the world's largest producer of cork (who knew?), and every souvenir shop and kiosk sells things made out of cork. Hats. Bags. Tableware. Shoes (!!). I settled for a couple of cork postcards. Now that's a novelty! (4) Ginjinha. This is a sweet (very sweet) liqueur made from sour cherries, and I don't think you're allowed to leave Lisbon without trying some. You buy it at tiny little hole-in-the-wall bars or homemade ginjinha from the Alfama grannies, drink it from tiny little cups – regular or chocolate – and then have another one. Sara said the ginjinha bars start serving it at 7am, and you should aim for 5 a day. Our daily max so far is 2. We're working on it. (5) Stairs. Many stairs. Steep stairs. Stairs everywhere. This is a city built on hills, and my calves, hips and glutes are living testament to their effect on the human body. Some streets are so steep their stairs are supplemented by actual escalators! Like, the kind you find in department stores. We are getting our exercise here, for sure.

OK, friends. This is a long post, it's been a long day, and I have to gin(jinha) myself up for a 9am call to TAP airlines to deal with the you-know-what question. Gotta go practise my sternest voice in the mirror. More soon!

A view from our lunch table on Day 1

Miradouro de Alcantara

Our second cup of ginjinha

Lisbon, city of many stairs (Alfama neighbourhood)

Alfama graffiti

A more impressionistic take on stairs of Alfama

This is what it feels like after many flights of those stairs!

Posted by AvrilAbroad 19:04 Archived in Portugal Tagged travel lisbon alfama

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Avril, Sounds like the Lisboa experiences that you and Avi have found are amazing. I loved that city so much. It is one of the few in the world that I could live!
The colours, the music. I’m sure you’ve been to the castle overlooking the city, but if not - another great walk uphill. 🤩
Thinking of you both and for the luggage universe to deliver. 💕

by Joanie

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