Finding ourselves just shy of our thirties and well on our way into the “real world” -- careers, a mortgage, and various other trappings of adulthood -- my husband and I felt the need for a winter getaway. Perhaps the idea of a budget Euro-vacation struck us because its appeal lay in the evocation of younger and more carefree days. At the same time, we weren’t prepared to spend our restful week away from work hitchhiking with backpacks and passing off fake ID’s to get into youth hostels. We had a week’s vacation, and we had the means to upgrade slightly from the days of student travel. We agreed that if we could do it for the price of a Caribbean all-inclusive deal we would go. We did some reading and deemed Portugal our destination of choice.
We spent our first five nights in Lisbon, with its elegant squares, steep hills, and flamboyant Manueline architecture. Arriving in late morning we checked into our hostel near the Baixa-Chiado metro station (private room/private bath for two – 34 € /night), and used this as a base for exploring the city. We then set out to start the day as we would each day in Lisbon – with coffee and pastries.
Exploring the Baixa (lower town) between Rossio Square and the waterfront, we marveled at the tiny, niche-market shops. One sold only lace trim and another nothing but scales. The grids of narrow commercial streets have changed very little since their construction following an eighteenth-century earthquake. We certainly weren’t the only tourists, especially in the open squares and plazas, but we enjoyed shopping alongside Portuguese women and strolling amongst the lovestruck teenaged Lisbon couples who were present in droves on every sidewalk.
We relied on public transportation and were enormously surprised by the quality and straightforward nature of the Lisbon system. Major attractions are accessible by bus or metro, with tickets within one zone running 1.35 €. One of our first excursions within Lisbon was the Tram 28 ride up a steep hill to the Alfama district (1.55 €). One of my most enduring memories of this trip is of sharing a drink at the terrace café in Largo das Portas do Sol at the top of this ride. The view encompasses Castelo Sao Jorge above, thousands of quaint houses upon narrow streets below, and in the distance the River Tejo, the vast Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, and off in the mist the Cristo Rei ( a smaller scale version of Rio’s Christ statue).