48 Hours In Lisbon: In Search Of Coffee, Tiles And Sun


All truth be told, Lisbon was never a city I had given any thought to. In fact, I couldn’t even come up with anything linked to it. Give me a list of other European cities and there was at least one or two things that came to mind.

Stockholm: Old Town and the archipelago.

Paris: croissants, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

London: pubs, fish and chips and Big Ben.

Venice: canals, gelato and carnival.

But Lisbon? My inability to come up with anything symbolic of the Portuguese capital was embarrassing.

Come to think of it, it wasn’t just embarrassing; it was a little odd. For centuries, Portugal was a powerhouse, conquering remote parts of the world from Brazil to Timor (even today, seven of Portugal’s former colonies still have Portuguese as their official language), bringing back exotic luxuries that would later become European staples – chocolate and coffee come to mind. And yet here I was unable to come up with a connection to Portugal whatsoever. It was obviously time to improve my cultural understanding.

Enter the 48-hour trip – like a quick dip into the sea, the kind of thing that sort of gets you acquainted, but really just leaves you wanting more.Although it’s the capital of Portugal, it only has around 550,000 habitants. This makes it the kind of city that feels like a city, but still small enough, with plenty of animated neighborhoods, that it’s manageable enough to explore.

Sitting on Portugal’s west coast, Lisbon is Europe’s westernmost capital city, and with the meeting of the Atlantic Ocean and the Tagus River, water is a central part of the city’s history and identity. The smell of saltwater and a cool ocean breeze is never far.

“Ah, the San Francisco of Europe,” said a friend when I told her I was going. She was right, the mix of bridges (one looks almost exactly like the Golden Gate), colorful buildings, streetcars, an artsy vibe and proximity to the ocean makes the two cities feel very similar.

%Gallery-188160%

Lisbon has an organic feel. It certainly isn’t rural, but it’s one of those amazing places that manages to seamlessly combine the natural world with the urban one. Maybe it’s the lack of overly tall buildings in the center of town, or the fact that it has a more Mediterranean climate than other cities, but this is a place where there are trees and foliage everywhere. Restaurants have gardens with trees growing in the middle, and if you leave your window open, you’ll be woken up by birds chirping.

We were staying near Bairro Alto, a neighborhood known for its nightlife. Right on the outskirts we were close enough to be within walking distance of the city center, but far enough that it felt like we were living like locals – for 48 hours at least.

That’s the key when traveling: immersing yourself, even for just a hot minute.

That meant ordering a morning cafe and pastel del nata at the corner kiosk in the park one block away, picnicking at the waterfront and not taking the yellow streetcar (although you can be sure I snapped a picture of myself in front of it).

Forget public transportation cards and days inside of museums. With only 48 hours, sunny Lisbon was beckoning me to explore it on foot for as long as my body put up with.

We kicked things off the first evening with the season’s first OutJazz concert – a summer-long series that features outdoor concerts in Lisbon’s public parks and gardens. When you’ve lived in Portland for over five years, you think you know what hipsters look like. But then again, you’ve never hung with the European hipster crowd. Twenty-somethings and 30-somethings scattered all over the park on blankets, drinking wine out of bottles and smoking the obligatory cigarette. The combination of outdoor music, percentage of Ray-Ban wearers and skinny jeans were proof that we were in a city that likes to be hip, and a budget-friendly evening picnic with free bands was a place that we could certainly fit in. It was the beginning of the summer season. There was a noticeable buzz in the air.

That’s what I found in Lisbon: a city that feels very much alive and vibrant. A city that despite its old roots is moving. It’s a hub of Portuguese design. A city that mixes together old and new – classic yet cutting edge all at the same time.

Walking down narrow alleyways, plenty of laundry hanging out to dry in the warm air, it’s hard to not notice the colors that make Lisbon unique. Almost every building, new and old, is covered in bright tiles. The older and non-restored ones are dingier, yet still colorful, the glory of their bygone days showing through. There are so many patterns and colors you can almost believe that you could traverse the city without finding two of the same kind. They are buildings with stories to tell, something I was reminded of while at a flea market in Belem, just outside of Lisbon. There a man sold tiles, chipped and clean ones alike, with a sign atop the table stating, “before you buy a tile, know its history.” Noted.

Beyond exploring the city streets I was on a mission for good coffee. Coming from Paris where the coffee is less than desirable, and the price always way more than any decent human being wants to pay, it doesn’t take much to impress me. Our Airbnb host Joana insisted on us stopping by A Carioca to pick up some infused beans. Open since 1924, you get the feeling that not much has changed since its first days, old French presses and grinders covering the walls, and the smell of coffee so strong that if you’re a coffee addict, you’re in love within one step of entering. We grab a 100-gram of hazelnut coffee for good measure.


The other “must” was a pastel de nata, the typical Portuguese pastry made with custard. “You can get the classic ones in Belem, but I think the place down the street is better,” said Joana as she handed over one of the specialties as a welcome present on our first night. It was still warm from the oven.

She was right. Check out any Lisbon list and it will tell you to stop off at Pasteis de Belem a little further out of town to get the really classic ones, but if you don’t go snag a half dozen of the ones at Nata, right at the edge of Bairro Alto and near the center of town, you’ll be missing out. They’re 1€ a pop, there’s certainly no point in restraining yourself.

We wrapped up the weekend with a trip to Belém – certainly worth a visit given its historical importance. Here is where you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage site Torre de Belém as well as the Jerónimos Monastery. Go on a Sunday and you’ll score the flea market, full of tourists and locals alike.

When it was time to head back, there was a quick dash to the clean and efficient metro (after coffee at the corner kiosk of course) and soon enough we were on a plane out of Lisbon. That’s how 48-hour trips go after all; they offer mere doses of cities that get you immediately planning your next trip back. As we pulled away from the city I couldn’t help but think about how it’s the places that you don’t know anything about that are often the best to discover.

Here’s to the beauty of the unknown, and always wanting to learn more.

A few budget friendly Lisbon recommendations for when you go:

Terra – In need of vegetarian food? Terra does an incredible vegetarian buffet (they also have a menu of good organic teas and wines) and serves it up in their beautiful garden space behind the restaurant. The lunch menu at 12.50€ is an excellent deal for stocking up midday and eating a lighter meal in the evening.

Lost N – Inspired by India, List In is both a store and a restaurant/bar. Head to the terrace in the early evening for a comfortable spot to grab a drink.

Torre de Belem – at only 5€ to get into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, you get to explore a beautiful monument, and if you make it all the way up to the top, a fantastic view of the city. It’s definitely worth your while.

The Most Useful Useless Phrasebook Phrases

broken heartI’ve frequently touted Lonely Planet’s Phrasebooks on Gadling (about as often as I’ve truthfully stated that I receive no kickbacks from them). They’ve saved my butt countless times, helping me do everything from getting on the right train platform to finding out what obscure ingredient is in a dish.

There’s another reason I love these indispensible travel companions, however, and that’s for their entertainment value. Like all LP books, the personality and preferences (and sometimes the nationality) of the authors shine through, although the content is consistent. Whether Czech, Hmong, or Mexican Spanish, you’ll find the layout and categories the same, barring cultural or geographical improbabilities: don’t expect to learn how to get your car tuned up in a Karen hill tribe dialect, for example.

I confess I’ve used my phrasebooks as icebreakers on more than one occasion because they make the ideal bar prop or conversation starter. Whip one out of your daypack, and I guarantee within minutes you’ll have attracted the attention of someone…so wield and use their power carefully.

The following are some of my favorite useful useless phrases culled from my collection. Disclaimer alert: May be offensive (or just plain stupid) to some readers. Also note that phrasebooks, unless written by native-speakers, will always have some errors or inconsistencies in grammar or dialect, especially when transliterated, so I won’t vouch for the complete accuracy of the following:

French
“No, it isn’t the alcohol talking.” Non, c’est moi qui dis ça, ce n’est pas l’alcool qui parle.

“Maybe a Bloody Mary will make me feel better.” Peut-être qu’un Bloody Mary me fera du bien. Unsurprisingly, many LP phrasebooks are written by Australians.

Spanish (Spain/Basque version)
“I’m sorry, I’ve got better things to do.” Lo siento, pero tengo otras cosa más importantes que hacer. Trust me, this comes in very handy if you’re a female traveling in Latin America.

“Do you have a methadone program in this country?” ¿Hay algún programa de metadona en este pais? Because savvy travelers are always prepared for the unexpected.

womanItalian
Under a heading called “Street Life” comes this handy phrase: “What do you charge? Quanto fa pagare?

And because Italians are romantics at heart, you’ll do well to learn the following exchange:
“Would you like to come inside for a while?” Vuoi entrare per un po?
“Let’s go to bed/the bathroom.” Andiamo a letto/in bagno.
“I’d like you to use a condom.” Voglio che ti metta il preservativo.
“Would you like a cigarette?” Prendi una sigaretta?
“You can’t stay here tonight.” Non puoi restare qui stanotte.

German
“I have my own syringe.” Ich habe meine eigene Spritze. This is actually useful, but not so much in German. If you’re traveling to developing nations and have a condition such as diabetes, definitely take the time to learn this. As for carrying syringes and hypodermics in developing nations if you don’t have a pre-existing medical condition, do so at your own risk. I’ve debated it and to me, I’d rather not be caught with “drug paraphernalia” on my person.

Portuguese
“I may be in a wheelchair but I’m able to live independently!” Posso andar de cadeira de rodas mas consigo ter uma vida independente! This isn’t so much funny as it is totally random. And I like the exclamation point.

“Oh baby, don’t stop.” Nao pares, amor! Better have this memorized or you’ll defeat the purpose of looking it up when needed.

Japanese
“Sorry, I can’t sing.” Go men na sai, u tai nam des [phonetic]. Very “Lost in Translation.”
tasmania map
Australian
“I’m feeling lonely/depressed.” “Miserable as a shag on a rock.”
My favorite ‘Strine phrases – not found in the LP book; I just know a lot of Aussies – include “leg opener” (a bottle of cheap wine) and “mappa Tassie” (map of Tasmania, referring to a woman’s pubic region, although I suppose this made more sense before Brazilians became the norm).

Vietnamese
“Do you want a massage? mát-xa không? Not a cliché at all.

“You’re just using me for sex (male speaker).” Am jeé moo úhn laám ding ver eé aang toy [phonetic]. Talk about progress.

Thai: “Where can I buy some gay/lesbian magazines?” mii nang seu keh/khaai thîi nai? Emergency!

[Photo credits: heart, Flickr user Toronja Azul; woman, Flickr user http://heatherbuckley.co.uk;Tasmania, Flickr user NeilsPhotography]

Language Learning Tips

Useful foreign phrases, Part 2: how to say, “Can you write this down for me?” in 10 languages

useful foreign phrasesA post written by Chris on Tuesday reminded me of this little language series I started in March. In “Ten things Ugly Americans need to know before visiting a foreign land,” Chris recommended brushing up on the local language. He joked about dashing around Venice clutching his concierge’s handwritten note, “Do you have 220/110 plug converters for this stupid American who left his at home?”

Thanks, Chris, because I’ve had this post sitting in my queue for awhile, as I debated whether or not my phrase of choice would appear useful to readers. It’s saved my butt many a time, when a generous concierge or empathetic English-speaker would jot down crucial directions to provide to a cab driver. It’s also helped me out when I’ve embarked on long-distance journeys that require me to get off at an unscheduled stop.

I have a recurring nightmare in which I board the wrong bus or train in a developing nation, and end up in some godforsaken, f—ed up place in the wee hours. Actually, that’s happened to me more than once, except I was actually in my intended destination. So the other piece of advice I’d like to impart is: do some research ahead of time on accommodations and how to reach them as safely as possible if you’re arriving anywhere in the wee hours–especially if you’re alone, regardless of your gender.

I digress. Before your next trip to a foreign land, take the time to scribble the words, “Can you (please) write this down for me?” in your guidebook or dog-ear it in your phrasebook (you’re bringing one, right? Right?). It will serve you well, I promise you. Below, how to make this useful request in ten languages.

P.S. It bears repeating that I’m far from a polylinguist; I’m relying on phrases based on past experience or research. If I inadvertently offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section.

1. Spanish (Catalan): ?Puedes escribirlo, por favor?

2. Italian: Può ripeterlo, per favore?

useful foreign phrases3. French: Pourriez-vous, l’écrire, s’il vous plait?

4. German: Könnten Sie das bitte aufschreiben?

5. Czech: Můžete prosím napsat to pro mě?

6. Portuguese: Escreva, se faz favor.

As I noted in my Part 1, many languages, including those spoken throughout Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. For that reason, transliteration will vary, which is why the spelling or phonetics may differ. These languages are also tonal in nature, which makes them notoriously intimidating to Westerner travelers. Just smile, do your best, and have your pen and paper handy.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Ng goi nei bong ngo se dai.

8. Japanese: Anata ga shite kudasai watashi no tame ni sore o kakikomu koto ga dekimasu ka?

9. Vietnamese: Có thể bạn hãy viết ra cho tôi?

10. Moroccan Arabic: Ktebha līya.

What useful phrases have helped you on your travels? Please tell us!

[Photo credits: pencil, Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography; tourist, Flickr user Esteban Manchado]

Useful foreign phrases, Part 1: how to say, “I’m just looking” in 10 languages

useful foreign phrasesI’ve frequently pimped Lonely Planet’s Phrasebooks on this site, but I swear I don’t get kickbacks from the company. It’s just that I’m a big believer in not being a). A Tourist (although, let’s face it, if I’m not at home, I am indeed A Tourist) and b). helpless.

Even if you’re the biggest xenophobe on earth–which would make foreign travel a really weird and pointless pastime you might want to reconsider– it’s hard to dispute the importance of knowing how ask “Where’s the bathroom?” in certain urgent circumstances.

It’s with such experiences in mind that I came up with this fun little series. There are a handful of phrases I’ve cultivated in various languages that have served me well, in situations both good and bad. Not only are they inscribed on the dog-eared inner covers of my trusty Phrasebooks; they’re etched into my mind, so I can summon them at will. Whether you need to ward off annoying vendors, personal humiliation, potential suitors, or would-be attackers, it pays to be prepared and know what to say, when. Since things like “Yes, No, Thank you, Please, Hello,” etc. are generally not too challenging, for the purposes of this series, I’ll leave them out. That doesn’t mean they’re not very important to learn, however.

This week’s lesson: “I’m just looking.” Invaluable for politely but firmly stating your desire to see with your eyes, not your wallet. It may not stop persistent hawkers from trying to close a deal, but at least you’re showing respect by speaking in their native tongue (or an approximation thereof). And who knows? If you change your mind, that alone may help you score a better bargain.

P.S. I don’t claim to be polylingual: I’m compiling phrases based on past experience or research. If I offend anyone’s native tongue, please provide a correction in the “Comments” section. Be nice!

1. Spanish: Solo estoy mirando.

2. Italian: Sto solo guardando.

3. French: Je regarde.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Gerry Balding]useful foreign phrases4. German: Nur schauen.

5. Czech: Jen se dívám.

6. Portuguese: Estou só a olhar.

Many languages, especially those spoken in Asia and the Middle East, use written characters. Transliteration will vary, depending upon the guidebook/translator, which is why the spelling or phonetics below may be different from other sources. Since these languages are largely tonal (and may require accents or characters not available on a Western computer), look at this way: odds are you’re going to mangle the pronunciation anyway, so just do your best! It’s the thought that counts.

7. Chinese (Cantonese): Tái haa.

8. Japanese: Watashi ga mite iru dakedesu (here’s to Japan getting back on its feet and attracting travelers soon!) To make a Red Cross donation, click here.

9. Vietnamese: Tôi chỉ xem thôi.

14. Moroccan Arabic: Ghir kanshuf.

What’s the most useful phrase you’ve ever learned in a foreign language? How has it helped your travels? We want to hear from you!

[Photo credit: Flickr user wanderer_by_trade]


The many languages of Suriname

If you’ve been following any of the recent language controversy in Philadelphia, you begin to see that a country’s language is a constantly evolving mix of the cultures, customs and the people who use it. Here at home, this interplay is at often work between our country’s de facto official language, English, and an increasingly populous minority of Spanish-speaking immigrants. Now imagine this same language debate among as many as ten languages, and you begin to get a picture of the small South American nation of Suriname as featured in this article.

Suriname is a former Dutch colony on the northern coast of South America. Due to the country’s colonial heritage, the official language is Dutch. But continuous waves of immigrants have left a unique mark on the country’s language culture. This includes a recent influx Brazilians, who speak mostly Portuguese, a small population of Chinese-speakers from the Far East and Indonesian residents of Suriname who speak Javanese. Add to this mix a local language called Sranan Tongo, a dialect passed down from West Africa by many of the former colony’s African slaves, and local indigenous languages like Arawak and Carib. AND, on top of all this, politicians in Suriname are urging the government to adopt English or Spanish as the new national language, hoping to create closer ties to with neighboring countries. Sound confusing? I’m with you.

It remains to be seen how this complicated language issue will play out in Suriname, but it raises some interesting questions. What factors should determine a country’s official language? The U.S. for instance, will always speak English, but what concessions, if any, should be made as our country becomes increasingly multi-lingual? Should we base our decision on economic circumstances? Political? Cultural? It seems to me it’s some combination of the three. What do you think?

[Via the New York Times]