We’ve now been in Lisbon for almost two weeks. While we’ve both been here before (me for two days in 2012 when I was living in Mérida, Spain and Zab for a long weekend way back in 1998!), arriving in Lisbon together this time felt like we’d come to a brand new place that was just exotic enough to feel exciting, while also being just familiar and accessible enough that we didn’t suffer much culture shock.
Now that we’ve had some time to process all the new sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Lisbon that we’ve exposed ourselves to, here (in no particular order) are some thoughts on our first impressions of the Portuguese capital.
Since I can speak and read Spanish pretty well and whenever I’ve encountered Portuguese text I’ve been pretty easily able to understand it, I assumed I’d be more easily able to understand the spoken language. Wrong! While the written language may be one of the closest relatives to Spanish, the phonology of the language is strikingly different with nasal vowels, post-alveolar fricatives and devoiced vowels. I’ve sometimes had to do a double take when overhearing locals speak as I thought for a moment I was hearing Russian or perhaps Polish!
Lisbon is known as the city of seven hills, and walking around it becomes quickly evident that hardly any streets are flat; you are almost always going up or down a hill at any given time walking around the city! The most surprising thing about this is seeing the tiny one-carriage eléctricos (trams) snaking their ways up and down the narrow, hilly streets, almost seeming as though they’re about to become unstuck and fall right off the hills! The abundance of hills also means many great places to get views over the city from the many miradouros (viewpoints).
Apparently, tuktuk tours of Lisbon are the new big thing in the city, and every tourist hotspot is crammed with several tuktuks parked in the tiny, cobbled streets. Not something I expected for a European capital!
In the city’s oldest neighbourhood of Alfama, where we’re staying, almost every single building’s façade is covered in tiles in varying states of repair. Some are beautifully maintained, seemingly new or well resorted antique originals, while others are cracked and crumbling away. The range of designs, colours and patterns is seemingly infinite, and I find myself drawn to them as some of my most common photographic subjects!
Before coming to Lisbon, I had some concerns that finding decent vegan eats here would be tricky, but after some research I found a dozen vegan and vegan-friendly eateries, and after having sampled a handful already, we have been pleasantly surprised at the quality, variety and range of places to eat. Even in places that are not specifically vegan friendly, the concept of veganism and word seem at least to be understood, and we’ve found people quite willing to accommodate us, which is reassuring. Check out our guide to eating vegan in Lisbon for all the best eats.
We’ve never been offered weed so many times in these last two weeks walking down the street anywhere else in Europe as we have in Lisbon, even compared to London where I felt it happened quite a lot. Seeing that the cultivation and selling of cannabis is illegal in Portugal, this surprised but fascinated me quite a lot.