I briefly rode the writing wagon. I fell off it. The last I wrote was in January, and now it’s May. I’ve scribbles, but nothing took root and blossomed. Following the start of this year, we’ve enjoyed the remainder of the Belgian Winter. Like the country’s power grid, it was nuclear — or, at least to a Texan. So, on Friday January 25th, after a few weeks’ revisions and exams, Austen and I escaped the weather for sunny Lisbon. We made our way to Porto on Monday the 28th, to Amsterdam on Thursday the 31st, and then back to Leuven on Saturday, February 2nd. We started tropical, and planned to ease ourselves back into the weather to which we’d return — instead, Porto was a wet, cold mess, but enough of one that Amsterdam was refreshingly crisp.
After Christmas with our families, and the Near Year with our friends, it was relieving to take time for ourselves. The new surroundings coupled with Lisbon’s bright pastels and warmth certainly didn’t hurt.
In fact, the first thing I noticed when disembarking our flight was the warmth and humidity. If we hadn’t been planning to shortly find ourselves in Amsterdam, I would’ve regretted most of our packing.
We caught a cab into town, watching most of golden hour from the car windows. Despite having been forewarned, I forgot to tell our cab driver that our Airbnb’s address was shared by two other buildings in very different parts of the city — so we received a veritable and accidental tour of the city.
We arrived at the apartment to our host, who offered great local recommendations. We eventually made our way back outside and walked right into Flora & Fauna for coffee and a bite, where we briefly stopped before starting our then-nighttime explorations.
Much of what we saw that first night, we would see again the next day once we had a sense of geography. Despite having been in Lisbon before in 2016, I had stayed on the opposite side of Baixa, and needed to reorient myself — I lacked any sense of geography that first night.
After making our way from our Airbnb on Rua de Esperança, west from Chiado. to Praça do Comércio, we made the way back to our bed where we promptly passed out. We awoke late the next morning — partially out of exhaustion, and partially from a complete lack of natural light reaching the bedroom. It was ideal for exhausted traveling, with the exception of wanting to make the most of available time.
We started the day with a coffee and pastel at Lénita— which I’ll confidently call the best pastelaria we visited — and then doubling back and exploring the ascent along Avenue Dom Carlos I.
From there, we stopped at the Copenhagen Coffee Lab, and then continued our way through the descending switchbacks along Travessa de Palmeira.
After eventually returning to the Avenue 24 de Julho, paralleling the waterfront, we walked a number of blocks, only to ascend into Barrio Alto by way of Rua do Alecrim, and eventually to Rua do Fanquieros and the parallel streets.
We walked these streets the previous night, but the contrast between tourists and shoppers, and late-night resellers was glaring. Lisbon’s bright pastels were significantly muted in the dark, and their beauty was much better viewed in the warm sunlight.
Once alone Fanquieros, we waited forty minutes to ascend the Elevador Santa Justa, grabbed a snack in the attached cafe, Bellalisa Elevador, and then made our way back to Praça do Comercio. I’d covered these exact stops in my first visit to Lisbon in 2016, but wanted the chance to show Austen, and I appreciated the opportunity to revisit my previous time there.
I don’t have many photos of the square from that first full day. It was unsurprisingly crowded, but surprisingly, overrun with clowns. We dodged our way through the red noses to the water, where the entire city took siesta
After an hour soaking in the sun, the clowns had finally cleared out. Walking around and snapping what I could, a sax player struck up conversation — he’s visible in the shadow in the first of these following shots. Shao is an incredibly talented photographer, and his work is absolutely worth checking out.
The sun had begun to sink, and we made out way back through Chiado before catching a tram to LX Factory, where we explored, visited Ler Devagar among other small shops, and treated ourselves to tacos at Mez Cais. On returning home that night, we passed out hard. It was a long, full day.
We started Sunday similarly to Saturday, with a pastel and espresso at the neighborhood bakery, from where we walked to a bus stop, and went the opposite direction to the Torre de Belém. With these backdrops, we couldn’t avoid a few glamour shots.
On the way from the tram stop, we detoured for the famous Pastéis de Belém, and then for a proper lunch at Este Oeste. From there, we walked to the tower. It proved cramped for shooting, particularly with a 56mm, but allowed for reasonable distanced shots.
We decided then to go to the MAAT — a much more visually interesting walk than anything the claustrophobic tower offered.
Rather than going straight from an hour’s walk to the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology, we lounged for an hour at the neighboring restaurant, enjoying frites and drinks while watching the sunset. The MAAT itself was a great experience, and is a must-see for anyone who would enjoy a design and art museum.
After the museum, we returned to the apartment briefly to change into warmer clothes — turns out, the city becomes cold the moment the sun sets. We had a great dinner only a few blocks from the flat at O Pratinho Feo , where I enjoyed a perfectly cooked traditional white fish dish, Austen had the vegetarian dish — of trawhich, unfortunately, I don’t recall details — and at the waiter’s suggestion, Portuguese Migas — surprisingly, a filling bread-based dish. Even better — the wine pairings were impeccable.
Despite falling asleep standing up, we then trudged our way into Barrio Alto where we met Shao for drinks, and Austen kindly indulged us in photography conversation for a couple of hours. He turned out to be surprisingly young, and as I am distantly aware of my own aging, it’s curiously self-removing to see younger, talented people taking paths very differently from your own. It’s good to see a younger, less risk-averse crowd.
The next morning, we continued and completed the pastel trend before using a coffee next door as an excuse to dote on the patio’s dogs. We walked to the Santos tram stop which we took to Santa Apolónia, where an hour and a half later, we boarded the train for our destination of the next three days: Porto.