I love Europe. Where else can you so easily spend a weekend in another country? While working on my Masters in Salamanca, Spain one summer, I had the chance to do just that. In Portugal! A word about this little brother of the Iberian Peninsula—it was not really on my list of places I HAD to go, but after a few days in Lisbon and surrounding towns, I was hooked and ready to go back for even longer. Some other teachers from my program and I arrived in Lisbon on a Friday afternoon. After settling in, we popped into a restaurant near our hotel in the center of town. As none of us knew any Portuguese, we had a fun time deciphering the menu. Once we were able to put in our order, trying to pass off our Spanish as Portuguese (do not attempt!), we were discussing our plans for the rest of the day when the waiter returned to the table with a fabulous plate of artisan cheeses. As none of us had ordered this, we just assumed it was complimentary. You know what they say about the word “assume”… After polishing off the plate, including the sampling of one cheese that was absolutely awful, we got our meals, and then proceeded to get the bill. Imagine our surprise when we saw we were charged 12€ for the cheese plate! This is a good thing to know before you sit down at a Lisbon restaurant! Needless to say, we left the cheese plates untouched at the rest of our dining stops that weekend.
Moving on from the lunch, we headed down to the neighborhood of Alfama—this is where visitors should plan to spend most of their time. Walking around the Praça do Comércio gives you a feel for Lisbon and the sites nearby like the Torre de Belém and the Cathedral give Europhiles the architecture fix they need. As someone who had not planned to visit Lisbon, I was shocked by its similarities with San Francisco, California. Hills, cable cars, and even the Ponte 25 de Abril—the twin of the Golden Gate Bridge—gave me a feeling of déjà vu. Just substitute the Tagus River for San Francisco Bay. And did I mention some of the views reminded me of Greece as well?
From the river it was impossible not to look up and notice the formidable Castelo São Jorge so we made our way up the hill (working off that cheese plate!) and were rewarded not only by magnificent views of Lisbon and the river, but also a beer festival! What luck! With roaming musicians and outdoor tables stacked with plastic mugs (a status symbol of how many beers one had had), we knew we were in the right place. As a language teacher, I became an excellent student of Portuguese learning the only two words I needed (and still remember!): cerveja and obrigada. Beer and Thank You, in that order. Repeated often. Practice makes perfect. Between the four of us there, we had a nice mug stack and made new friends. Eventually we decided it was time to make our way down the hill, stopping for dinner at Resto do Chapito at an outdoor table with more great views.
The next day brought us out of the city and heading north to the seaside resort town of Cascais. This picturesque fishing village turned beach resort made me want to return for an extended visit, but as we were with a group and only had the weekend, we moved on to the cutest village of all time: Óbidos. This romantic, preserved Medieval town perched high on a hill, surrounded by walls, is topped off with a castle that that is now an inn. Bring lots of €€€ if you want a room there. And sure, cynics will say that this town may seem kitschy, but I loved it. People I met there said that nearby Sintra is even more amazing, but we were heading back to Spain the next morning so this stop will have to be saved for the next trip. And yes, there will be a next trip. I mean, I can’t let my Portuguese skills go to waste now, can I?