On the Way to Portugal

Lisbon Days: My four days in Lisbon, with blogs and pictures


Sitting here in a park on one of Lisbon’s 7 hills looking out at the Tejou River far below listening to 4 Northern Chinese speaking Mandarin (in its pure form) amuses and delights me that the world shrinks daily. Besides the Chinese, I’ve seen and heard about every language and culture in this last day here in Lisbon. Everyone wants to be part of the celebration of the patron saint of Lisbon days: St. Anthony, tonight. 

The streets are full of people ready to party hearty. Street side beer bars are being set up and whole pigs are being roasted. Sardines also are a big part of this holiday I hear. 

I’ve been lying low and resting much of the day so I’d have energy tonight. My only exertion was going to find my old home yesterday. No luck, though I did find the neighborhood. 

I’ve decided to head to Ireland on Monday and have an adventure there. I was able to track down an old family friend on the internet. Not directly but though clues that led me to reach her through two avenues. I was proud of my resourcefulness and tenacity in making the connection. I’d help from many different quarters but it required going out of my comfort zone to get it. 

I like my hotel. Right in the heart of the old town where it’s all happening. Though basic I’ve plenty of room, a double bed and a great bathroom with a big tub. Interestingly the heating systems in Portugal are individual units, now popular in the US too, that mount on the wall and offer heat or air conditioning. Unlike Spain where it’s all radiator heat requiring the whole system turned on for an individual room to warm up. Now it’s so warm here I’ve gone from wanting heat on to using air conditioning. 


A Lisbon trolley. The party begins. Lisbon and our Chinese friends. Party times. Roasting the pig on St. Anthony’s. Getting close to being done. 


The city was one big party last night. Every neighborhood was packed with people enjoying food, beer and wine. Every doorway practically had a keg and a grill of sardines going (I thought of Lil), I went back to the spot where they were roasting the pig, which was just then being carved, and had some in a sandwich with another beer. I enjoyed watching the throngs of people, some groups moving from one barrio to another, others stopping to hang in one neighborhood for awhile before heading on again. There were all ages of people from children to elderly, the majority in the 20-40 age group. The Portuguese are a handsome people, easy on the eyes, and everyone was looking good for the party. 

I went back to my room for a while and then ventured out again around 11:00 and the party was going strong. It was amazing to see all those people (in various stages of intoxication) having fun with their friends and enjoying the energy of the festival. What also impressed me was the lack of violence or trouble that might come with a volatile mixture of alcohol and so many people in such close quarters (though the next day I saw two places with blood spatters). 

As the evening turned to night there were more cops around but they too seemed to be enjoying the festive mood and probably were more there to help then control. I headed back to my room about 12:00 with no sign of diminishing (I later heard it was going strong at 5:00 AM). 

Today I thought I’d explore the city and looked up tram route 28 that winds its way through the old part of town. I found the stop and waited for almost 45 minutes though it was supposed to run every 15 minutes. There were other tourists waiting too and we wondered what was happening. Finally a Portuguese woman came by and said it wasn’t coming because there was no electricity. Apparently so much trash from the night clogged the streets making it impassable for this trolley. I was able to translate for the other tourists who thought it funny that an American could understand Portuguese. While not fluent by any means I’m quickly picking up what I learned so long ago. I can get around and understand pretty much what’s being said. When speaking I have to think not to speak Spanish which is still more readily on my tongue. 

I made my way up to the Castle Sao Jorge (St. George) the remains of an old Moorish Castle that was captured by Don Alfonso Henrique the first king of Portugal in 1147 and became the seat of his kingdom thereafter. Prior to the Moors, the Romans and then the Visigoths used it as a fort for it has the highest vantage point of Lisbon’s 7 hills. 

On my way there I stopped at a couple of churches and rested from the walk and heat of the early morning. I like the quiet and meditative peace of these old sanctuaries and I find inner as well outer rest on my visits. They also had real candles! 

The route was littered with the trash of the parties the night before and only the tourists seemed to be out. As it was a holiday everyone had the day off and that with partying very hard were probably still sleeping. 

The Castelo was impressive and the views superb. I was surprised to see so many tourists it being early and getting hot already. These sightseers in Lisbon seemed a diehard group though and were taking full advantage of all Lisbon offers. Most languages I heard spoken were German, Dutch, French, then Italian, English and Spanish. The Camino represented all these but Koreans and Australians were more in the mix there. 

I was feeling a bit lonely being amongst all these connected and purposeful people, not knowing anyone and missing someone to share the sights with. Yet I still enjoyed being around them and the happy energy that folks on holiday emit. 

By the time I made back to the hotel it was getting very hot. Definitely a heat wave for Lisbon usually is much more pleasant this time of year. I stopped at a restaurant offering fresh salads made to order and enjoyed my greens. 

Resting up in the afternoon I went out to eat at 9:00. I’d seen a restaurant in my wanderings the evening before and wanted to try it. However, Lisbon’s old neighborhoods are a maze of windy streets that intersect with stairs and back alleys, so finding it again wasn’t a sure thing. Yet, with some patience I found the clues I’d set to remember and located it again. Though late I was the only dinner. I watched the World Cup with the owner and saw the Netherlands trounce Spain – a reversal of the last championship meet two years ago. I’m unsure which team the Portuguese would have rooted for. The food was delicious and very Portuguese. 

After finishing dinner I wandered the neighborhood looking for some gay clubs and pubs I’d located online. I found a few and then went back to the hotel for a nap as nothing happens before midnight in Lisbon’s nightclubs. 

Even though feeling the want of company I was still happy to be in Lisbon. I liked the city and the Portuguese when I lived here 40 years ago and find that’s still true and even more so. Sadly the city’s appearance is in need of a face lift (some new paint would go a long way) and there’s a lot of graffiti everywhere but the basic underlying charm and beauty is still here. Because Portugal, like Greece and Ireland, was hit so badly in the recession, its economy is still in the dumps. However, that makes it more affordable to visit vis a vis other big European cities’ prices. 

While I really liked listening to the Spaniards speak their lyrical version of Spanish, listening to Portuguese is a whole different sensual experience. The first few days I found it awkward and funny, a bit like hearing someone speak Spanish with a mouthful of marshmallows. But after two weeks I now find it soothing and comforting; especially when I’m in a setting where the hum of conversation creates the background noise and listening to the soft muted “sh” of the “s” sound being spoken makes being here all the more enjoyable. 

Just past midnight, when the city’s magic was peaking, I went to see about Lisbon’s gay night life. The town had gotten more vibrant since I returned to the hotel earlier. After the quiet of my pilgrim’s life I was shifting gears! In large part because I wanted to connect with others. I was feeling like a bit of an island in a sea of Lisbonites. 

I retraced my earlier trek and was delighted I was starting to make sense of these medieval streets, already learning some of the shortcuts. There was a wide choice of venues from disco dancing to quiet neighborhood bars to pick from. As I wasn’t really up for loud music I opted for a quieter place. As with all bars in Lisbon most people hang out in the street around the bar and since the weather is usually pleasant it’s great to do so. 

The one I choose had a large group of people outside and after getting a beer I joined those outdoors. Though at first I simply stood about it was nice to be in the company of others, sharing their space and auras. It quickly took away that empty feeling of aloneness and I could feel my energy uplift. I struck up a conversation with a few people ending up in a long exchange with a nice fellow who I may meet again tomorrow. 


Lisbon. Decked out for St. Anthony. Holiday Fare. Lisbon’s back streets. Lisbon from St. George Castle. 


Was out late last night and tried to sleep in but was up at 8:00. Read for a while downloading a new history of the conflict for the Mediterranean Sea between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe during the 16th century. It dovetails nicely with the history the of Byzantine Empire I just finished. This tale begins with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans and the end it’s 1000 year reign. 

After breakfast I made reservations for my upcoming walk in Ireland on the Wicklow Way. (I suggest looking at a grand website if you want to follow my journey there: www.wicklowway.com.) Between hostels and B&Bs I was able to make reservations for the 6 nights of the 7 days I’ll be walking it. I have to give credit to the internet and phone for helping me get the needed information. I used a calling card and where I couldn’t connect by phone was able to use a hotel booking site to make the reservations. 

One of the great gifts of this adventure has been learning to use the available technology. Like many I’m generally tech averse but the necessity of accomplishing a task has forced me to overcome my fears and trust I can manage the “tech beast.” A big help has been asking questions on Google. Often the answer will follow. 

With my next week aligned and feeling good about having a goal again, I decided to go to the beach in Cascais, someplace I used to hang out when I was a teenager, and headed to the train station. The trains looked the same as 40 years prior but the interior and seats had been updated. A 45 minute trip I had fun watching who was going to the beach. The train made about 10 stops on its way to Cascais, the end of the line. 

The beaches were packed with locals and plenty of tourists. Colorful and vibrant. The sun was intense though and I found a shady spot with a good ocean breeze and read, wrote and people watched. I stayed till 7:00 then walked back to the next stop, Estroil, along the ocean front; the two sea side towns are connected by a lovely marble promenade. The train ride back was standing room only. All the Lisbonites were heading home. 

Though I wanted to enjoy the nightlife again and took a nap before going out to eat at 10:30 (I’m becoming a true native), but after a light meal I was simply too tired and surrendered to my body’s need to sleep long and deep. 


Estroil Beach. Colorful Cascais Beach. Views of Cascais. 

SUNDAY: My last day in Lisbon and I’m sitting in the same park where I began my Lisbon journal on Thursday. While I was initially unsure of staying 5 days in Lisbon now I’m very happy I took this time to relax and transition from the Camino. Portugal and in particular Lisbon has its own pace and it takes time to settle into its rhythm. Now I’m about there and it’s time to go. 

I have most loved walking the streets and exploring the neighborhoods. Finding little gems of culture, cuisine, music (I’m listening to a Fado player in the park as I write), history and architecture everywhere I go. The only drawback has been the heat which has limited my wanderings somewhat. 

It has been a good reunion. Lisbon and I have both grown in the last 40 years. We are both out of the closet now and equal marriage was voted in 2010. It, like me, feels much more comfortable in its skin. We both have a confidence about going forward in life by being ourselves and the future is bright. Looking back I think the 18 year old who left here to make his way in the big wide world would overall be proud of who he became and what he accomplished.


Last day in Lisbon. The plaza of the Marques de Pompal who reconstructed Lisbon after earthquake. 

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