Said to be older than Rome, Lisbon is a new discovery for me as I finally got the chance to visit. Did I like it? Let’s just say nothing quite prepared me for the adventures that laid ahead. 

Posted by Pinky

I come from a tribe of travellers. Several, in fact, and I had always known this even before I started looking into my family history.

First of all, my country’s an archipelago. An island group. Of over 7,100 islands at that! Which alone would have required my native ancestors to jump across the water just to see how the folks “next door” were faring. An exaggeration, sure, yet it remains to be a fascinating albeit, I can imagine, sometimes dangerous natural consequence given our geographic situation.

Then add to the mix traders from nearby foreign shores and those from much further afield who followed and travelled to our part of the world after our islands were “discovered” by the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, in the name of Spain. (Whether or not our native ancestors needed “discovering” is, of course, another story.)

Now how is this about Lisbon, you might ask?

Two words. Itchy. Feet. Figuratively, of course, and which I blame purely on my DNA (can’t help it!). These itchy feet of mine led me to Portugal’s capital city for the very first time as a final stop before flying back home to Manila. 

Ready to explore it following the recommended itinerary outlined by Powee, my blog partner Jennie’s son, I thought his guide offered an efficient way to explore Lisbon on a short first visit

The many faces of Belém. And the best time to catch them is early morning before everyone else gets there. Look, no lines to grab some of those popular Pastéis de Belém!

Another way I had hoped to experience the city while travelling alone on a limited time was with a local friend. Sadly, a friend in Lisbon I did not have. Nope, not a single one. But no matter. I simply did the next best thing. 

Find a Local Guide 

This time I didn’t want to have the usual expert guide. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’ve got absolutely nothing against them. In fact, they’re some of the best ways to get to know a city.

I just felt that in keeping with the spirit of this particular trip I was on, what I needed was more of a regular local – a gal pal, if you will – who happened to know a lot about her city’s history.

And a gal pal I found in Leonor, who kindly accommodated me even though she had an early flight the next day. 

I have to say, though, the promise of finding a gal pal and actually finding one can be a little tricky. 

That’s part of hiring any guide, I suppose, but perhaps slightly more so through Withlocals. What makes their guides unique and interesting may not be for everyone. Like a box of chocolates, even after scouring through all the reviews, you never really know what you’re gonna get.

I sensed this initially with Leonor, this uncertainty of whether it was going to work out or not. An elegant, well-travelled artist who had lived in Asia while growing up and returned to work there as an adult, Leonor somehow shared this East-West connection with me and we had found a common ground. 

It was about an hour into our walking tour, however, when I finally felt that we had made a genuine connection and got our groove in synch.

So in synch, in fact, that I eventually had the pleasure of meeting her equally-elegant mother (who was heading a symposium at the Lisbon Geographical Society), braved through a street party full of British football fans celebrating a win (we know how much fun those can get!), had a few drinks of ginjinha and vinho verde in the fado district of Alfama, and talked all the way till after dinner in LX Factory, a hip area in the warehouse district of Lisbon that I probably wouldn’t have ventured to without a friend. Not because I was afraid, but only because it seemed more fun to go there with a friend. And I was right!

These few hours truly rounded out my visit to Lisbon, and to Leonor, muita obrigada!

Who knew, San Antonio?

And by this, I mean Saint Anthony of Padua.

My parents had taken us years ago on a pilgrimage to his shrine in Padova, Italy; hence, I naturally assumed that he was Italian. So imagine my confusion when my father suggested that I visit St Anthony’s local shrine in Lisbon. Well, as it turns out, he was actually Portuguese and was born in Lisbon. 

So on my last full day in the city, I made sure I heard Mass and paid my respects to Anthony of Lisbon, patron saint of lost and stolen articles. 

Little did I know that I would need him later in the day…..

And I thought we islanders knew how to cook seafood! These guys in Ramiro prepared it so well, I finished every single morsel. Even the buttered bread to sop up all that delicious seafood goodness was yum!
A Meal with Soul

Alma. Latin for “soul”. I decided to treat myself to a fine meal on my last evening in Lisbon and made a reservation at Chef Henrique Sá Pessoa’s famed restaurant called exactly that, Alma

Out on a last-minute retail frenzy for Portuguese goodies in the big A Vida Portuguesa store on Largo do Intendente, I loaded my shopping bags into an Uber and dashed straight to the restaurant to catch my dinner reservation.

For all things Portuguese under one roof, this branch of A Vida Portuguesa on this lovely little square is definitely worth a stop.

Now this was a rare treat for me as I don’t usually seek out Michelin-star chefs or restaurants. Heck, after I turned 50, granted I still can’t get myself to pay the extra cash to travel on Business Class but I most certainly make sure I eat well on a trip. 

To be honest, though, do you know what I think sucks the most about travelling alone? Eating a great meal and no one to share the experience with. No one to gush about it with or, heaven forbid should things turn sour, diss it with. 

Fortunately, gushing about the food, the excellent wine pairings, the lovely interiors and warm ambience, and the terrific service I received were the only things I needed to share about Alma that evening. 

First, I chose the tasting menu, which I understood to have 4 courses, along with the optional wine pairings (an option I naturally went for as well). But somewhere along the way, the number of dishes I was expecting stretched as more and more food – one deliciously exquisite offering after another – were brought to my table, compliments of the chef. 

From these excellent starters…
All the way to these delicious mains and desserts, perfection at Alma!

It must have been my lucky day because, amateur writer that I am, I don’t really tell people I write a blog. So that couldn’t have been a factor.

While waiting for a next dish, Alma’s sommelier, Gonçalo, then showed me Chef Sá Pessoa’s book, which I decided to buy. Asked if I’d like to have the book signed by the chef, I said yes, thinking they’d bring it over to him in the kitchen to sign.

But no. Chef Sá Pessoa came over to my table to say hello and signed my book. Fantastic, right? Got no photos to show for it, though. Why? Someone didn’t have time for a touch-up after the mad rush to get to the restaurant and wasn’t sure if the state she was in was worthy of a photo (oh, vanity vanity… lame, I know.) 

But wait, could my sorry state have been the reason they kept feeding me?!... Well, I’m certainly not complaining.

After a wonderful 3-hour adventure of a meal – and now I totally understand why Alma is one of Lisbon’s top restaurants – alas, it was time to go. I settled my bill and lugged my shopping bags to a waiting Uber, which Gonçalo kindly made sure would find its way to the restaurant to take me back to my hotel.

As I got to my room, however, to my horror I couldn’t find my phone! I figured it must have slipped as I gathered all the bags out of the car. 

Thoughts of St Anthony suddenly went through my panicked Catholic head, then I remembered: I had my iPad inside my hotel room – with the Uber app installed in it!

I immediately messaged Uber, which quickly replied to say that they would look into it. Minutes later (which seemed like hours, if you can imagine), they sent another message to say that Joaquim, the driver, did find my phone – and that he was on his way back to my hotel!

Holy sweet Anthony of Lisbon, thank you! Or should I say, obrigado!

A Siren Call

Though my journey to Lisbon began with the simple goal of ticking off items on a list of must-sees and must-dos, the city clearly had other plans for me. 

Lisbon may not have the glitz or in-your-face glamour that other capital cities do, but walking through its weathered streets, feeling its raw energy and a certain melancholy that stems perhaps from having a once-powerful past, Lisbon is certainly no less alluring. And I found myself slowly surrendering to its quirky, unconventional charm. 

And now? Well, now I simply long to return…..

My hotel room with a lovely view of Lisbon’s Rossio Square