Lisbon, The Effervescent Capital

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The sunny Portuguese capital is a splash of color. The mid-sized buildings glowing in either chalk white or vibrant pastels occupy the undulating cobbled streets. Sprawling across hills and slopes in steep narrow alleys and stone stairs, Lisbon is one big village. Although it could be an arduous walk, being on the slopes however, gives the city countless vantage points where one can view its ancient skyline filled with a sea of blood orange tiled roofs ending at the tranquil banks of the great River Tagus. In particular, views from the ruins of the São George Castle fortress are breathtaking from almost every angle.

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The Bairro Alto is a region bustling with commerce and famous for its nightlife. You can find practically any themed bar to your liking – from punk to hip, to classic and even traditional Fado, a Portuguese beloved melancholic music. It is a dynamic neighborhood full of life – parties and bars at night, café culture under the sun and endless shopping by day. Nearby Baixa, Lisbon’s downtown, with its characteristic tiled streets and earthquake-resistant buildings and open-air cafés offer also a charming ambience.

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A little isolated to the west of the city is the famous Belém district where the main monuments of Portugal are found, ode to its glorious history in navigation and exploration. Used to be a country which owned almost half of the world, Portugal is now reduced to a strip at the west end of Europe after giving up its colonies; however, its influence, especially in terms of sea voyage and exploration is undoubtedly vast. The famous Jéronimos monastery and Bélem tower are all situated in this sprawling area by the river. These monuments are epic symbols of not only history but of Portuguese architecture. They are designed in Portuguese Manueline design, quite like an interface between renaissance and gothic which means, “less-pointy” gothic for the general public.

Of course, you cannot leave Lisbon without trying the cuisine. The famous Portuguese dessert pastel de nata is sold everywhere but the best for me can be found in Bélem. Branded “pastel de Bélem”, it looks exactly like a normal pastel de nata but with a crunchy outer layer – perfect to enjoy with a shot of bica (espresso). Bifanas are a typical street food. These are thin pork or beef steaks stuffed in bread, so basically a steak sandwich. It is perfect to accompany an ice cold beer while basking under the sun in one of the many squares in Lisbon. A typical dish in Portugal is served with potatoes and salad and often rice as well. On average, they come really cheap. Bacalhau or salted codfish is a national favorite. I personally like it although it is not an easy-to-love dish per se but when cooked well, it could be heaven. It’s worth a try nonetheless.

The capital is really just the tip of what is beyond the amazing country. I am very vocal about my love for Portugal, its friendly hospitable people, sunny yet chill atmosphere, amazing landscapes and Lisbon offers a taste of all this. There is more beyond the capital though and I really encourage people to explore more of this humble underrated country.

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