I hate Portugal. Both Lisbon and Porto has insufferable slopes to climb, uneven cobble pavements and narrow alleys that just killed my legs, butt and lower back.
However, this actually adds to the magic of the cities because once my muscle pain wears out (soon I hope), what’s left in my memory would be the breathtaking viewpoints from the mountains, the hospitable locals who actually speaks English, the affordable and extremely delicious food with variety, the culture and literature that nurtured the cities (Jose Saramango guys!!) and the charming yet safe neighborhoods.
I had high expectation coming here, and unlike Paris (which was voted most disappointing city), both Lisbon and Porto still managed to exceed my imagination somehow and I didn’t even visit during its best season (summer)! So here I present to you the 8 reasons why I fell in love with the underrated country of Portugal! And no, Christiano Ronaldo, you’re not making the list.
1)Charm: Quick historical fact, it may be obvious that Athens is the oldest capital in Europe, but did you know which city comes second? If you’re following my logic here, you’re right, it’s Lisbon!
The reason why Lisbon is so well maintained throughout the years, is because they sold their tungsten (some metal for making weapons) very smartly during WWI. They declared neutrality and worked with both the Allies and Axis in supplying metals to make weapons. Or rather, they get paid for “not supplying” metals to one side of the war and get money as well for still selling it under the table. Portugal and Switzerland were the only two countries that came out of the war richer than before. Not to mention they got a lot of gold from Brazil back in the colonial days!
Lisbon and Porto held quite different personalities in my opinion though nonetheless equally captivating. Lisbon is more colorful, slightly posh and with shinier tiles; really got this presence of a capital city while still keeping that quaint little Tram 28. Porto on the other hand is more of a rugged and unpolished city with authenticity carved on the stone walls and bricks.
A bit more about my tram28 experience. I was told it gets so crowded and touristy during the day you can never get a seat. Since I was jet lagged anyways, I ventured out at 7am before the sunrise to make sure I get on the empty tram and I succeeded. I held on to my day pass and waited at the first stop bubbling with excitements. When I boarded, there was an old man behind me who’s apparently local as the driver knew him. As we ride up and down the narrow slopes of Lisbon, couples that looked probably as old as the tram came on and off the tram, sharing small chats with one another.
It was a completely different experience than what I’ve expected and even though I am clearly the outsider, the local passengers attempted to include me into their daily routines by nodding and smiling at me. No other gesture or physical movement is as universally kind as a genuine smile. As I stood at the back of the tram watching objects fade out backwards outside the windows, I realized everything I saw was what I have already passed by. The thing about trams is that once started, it can only go forward and such is life as well. Nonetheless, it is always tempting and reassuring to look back once in awhile at that beautiful scenery that you’ve passed by at some point in time. May be it’s a scene so far gone that you can’t be sure if it was real or an illusion anymore, but at the end of the day, does that even matter?
2)The weather: Even though I came in their coldest months, it was still a bearable and even comfortable 5-15 degrees, at least when the wind is not blowing. My friend used to tell me, just follow where grapes flourish, and you’ll get good weather. So no surprise, Portugal made the cut as they’re well known for their Port! Fun fact: The reason why 1)Port is so sweet 2)stronger in alcohol % and 3)different from red wine is that brandy is added to kill the yeasts and stop the leftover sugar from turning into alcohol. Basically putting a halt to the fermentation process, therefore, it is the spirit that spiked up alcohol content, and the leftover sugar gives it that lovely sweetness.
3)The people: I guess it’s not politically correct to stereotype, but I think I can be forgiven for generalizing in the positive direction right? Almost everyone I’ve met here in Portugal are really polite and friendly who love their city and are open to foreigners. I was told that is because they have a history of embracing different religions and people, namely the Moors and the Jews even during the Spanish inquisition. Instead of banishing the jews, they asked them to convert to Catholicism. At least that’s the case until crisis came. That’s why you see Arabian themed rooms in the Bolsa Palace, and also the style to build tiles on houses!
4) Architecture: Need I stay more? Apparently most tiles are traditionally painted blue and white to honor their royal colors (back in the days it wasn’t Red and Green) and they are used everywhere from residential buildings to churches and the vibrant paints just make Portugal that much more special 🙂
So here’s my elevator pitch on Portugal that I’ve practiced with my fluffy friend over breakfast on a warm sunny morning:
Unlike it’s neighboring country that is notorious for theft ahem *Barcelona* ahem, I felt perfectly comfortable roaming the streets at night by myself or venturing out early in the morning just to see the streets at dawn. It is a perfect mesh of old town and urban life. Unlike other ancient cities such as in Central Europe where they have super old metro and escalators, here the airport and public transport are all so modern and well maintained. Points of interests are well within reach, typically 15-30 mins walking distance which makes it the ideal weekend getaway. But let me warn you, Portugal will definitely sneak into a special place in your heart, leaving you wanting for more 🙂
Part 2 is coming soon.