I set foot in Lisbon back in 2001 after 9/11, and how refreshing not to understand a word as I went from café to café drinking galão, with TVs blaring in the background. I overheard an eager tourist trying to sum up this city as he scrunched his eyes under the vivid Atlantic light and scanned his vocabulary for words that fit. Faded elegance, he said.
I worked as an English teacher, moved to the Bairro Alto, opened a café, wrote two books, closed the café, and now I’m writing a third and learning to surf. For me, Lisbon is a living city. She’s female, she’s choosey, she’s testing, but if she likes you she’ll open up and share her secrets. Best thing to do is leave the guide book at home and take to the streets with an open mind. It still amazes me how people here so easily strike up conversations, and they’ll happily tell you their life story in a nutshell before giving you directions.
Lisbon is a small city, but so rich in nooks and crannies that, after almost seven years, I’m still upturning new stones. Here are two of my favourites:
Rua da Escola Politecnica 58 in Principe Real. Trees from all over the world, a family of squawking parrots, tiny terrapins, leafy shade, abandoned observatory and boundless inspiration.
Guarded secret even the Lisboetas don’t know about. Beautiful grounds and palace peeling pink paint, with an incredible cactus garden and a setting for a picnic you usually only see in films. Take the 28 tram to Prazeres.
Pink painted Palace &Tapada das Necessidades