The giant Alsa charter bus I’m on bounces suddenly and I jar awake out of my peaceful slumber. I squint my eyes open to see the sun beginning to set behind rows of dilapidated Andalusian-style buildings and overgrown, neglected fields. Where the eff am I?
My starting point was Seville, and my destination on this night will hopefully be Lisbon, so I open Google Maps to see how much of that stretch we’ve made. Looks like I’ve just arrived in Faro, Portugal – otherwise known as the middle of nowhere and a bit of a detour from the route I thought I’d be on. The bus pulls in to a station that looks like something I’ve only ever seen in horror movies, and the bus driver comes on over the loudspeaker mumbling something I didn’t quite catch. Did he just say treinta minutos? Or will I be here forever?
Behind me, I catch two distinctly Southern American female accents having a conversation, so I turn to them for guidance. Ah, I was right, thirty minutes in this hole. Looks like I do speak some Spanish after all. Turns out the two accents had names – Ashley and Kyle. The three of us kept each other company during this half hour stint by way of mint chocolate chip ice cream and casual conversation.
The bus finally pulled into Lisbon around 12:30 am, too late for my patience and I to figure out the Lisbon metro system, so I hail over a cab. After about five minutes of trying to detail to him where I wanted to go, I pull up the address on my phone and give it to him. LX FACTORY, yes? Si! Okay good!
LX Factory is a district in Lisbon filled with Brooklyn-style bars, boutique shops, and a scene that often hosts bands and pedestrian days. A little out of the way from downtown, but easily accessible by tram and not too far from the water. My hostel, The Dorm, was smack dab in the middle of LX Factory.
One of the more interesting hostel layouts I have stayed in, The Dorm took the usual multi-bed dorm room and turned it into a much more private experience. Every mattress was separated from the other by a sheet of wood, while the opening of each compartment was graced by a curtain. It was like each person was being shelved into their own private plywood coffin – and it was kind of great!
This format made me feel like I was still getting the hostel experience – there were people around to talk to and the prices were good – but I didn’t have eleven strangers getting to see what my ear-plugged, sleeping-masked, freshly-awoken face looks like at 8 am.
(Easily the best rum and raisin ice cream on the planet.)
As with any new-to-me city, the first day I like to just walk around and get a feel of the place. What immediately struck me about Lisbon was the burst of color waiting behind every turn, as well as the balance of old vs new. Lisbon looks like a bomb of patterns, colors, graffiti, and art got dropped on it and then was left to soak for 1000 years.
In fact, (and I found this out on my last day in Lisbon or I totally would have gone) there is an entire MUSEUM dedicated to tiles here. While I hesitate to recommend anything that I haven’t personally experienced, the Museu Do Azulejo traces the history of the tile art form, and houses five centuries worth of ceramic tiles! Sound boring? Well, trust me, when you get to Lisbon you’ll fall in love with the pretty tiles and colorful patterns just like I did.
In Lisbon, there are gorgeous old abandoned buildings sitting right beside brand new shops, and, because of the aging infrastructure, it seemed like everything was under construction. It is a city of both grease and swank, coexisting beautifully to make its own feel.
My first mission in Lisbon was to get some rad views going on, so I headed up the steep hill towards Miradouro de Santa Catarina (Lisbon is all hills, guys. It’s like San Francisco but way older and grittier). Santa Catarina is known to be a bohemian hotspot, yet an attraction that everyone can get in on and enjoy. Teenagers drinking beer, hippies smoking some pot, travellers taking selfies, and families out for a stroll all were present at this viewpoint.
And also present at this viewpoint? Oh just a little bit of harassment. I mentioned it before in my April 2017 Review, but as I rounded the final corner that took me straight to where this gorgeous Miradouro lay, I heard some snickering off to my right. I turned, and a young man had his pants down and his genitalia out as if that’s just what I wanted to see.
Despite my karate-chop instincts, I put my head down and walked fast past him, hoping not to make the scene worse. So what did he decide to do as I walked away? Come up to me. “Oh sorry, sorry, sorry!” he said, “Can I make it up to you?” I pretended I was rummaging through my bag for something as he said this, and then walked right past him without a glance to take some photos of the water.
At this point, he walked away, but I was still uncomfortable. So, without making it seem like I was uncomfortable and that he had any control over me, I walked up the street and out of the square…. only to find his friend following me not 30 seconds later. His friend didn’t come up to me, he didn’t say anything, he was just there for two blocks as I walked along the street. Finally, I dived into a small shop filled with people and he left.
Two things about this. First, this is not how I would have reacted had I been in North America. When I’m in a place I recognize and someone is being this much of a disgusting pig, I usually have no qualms to make them feel shitty about it, especially if there are other people around. Hell, I have gone right up to cars full of men and yelled at them after they catcalled me and my friends on the street. But this time, I was in a foreign place, I was alone, I had no working phone, and I had no one to call to for help. So as to not to make the situation worse, I tried to just walk away. This didn’t make me feel like I took one for the female team, but safety was my priority.
Second thing about this is I have a doubt in my mind that these people were locals. They were drinking in a tourist viewpoint in the middle of the day and had an accent that I’m fairly certain wasn’t Portuguese or Spanish. They were more than likely visiting the area themselves.
So ladies, I know how much it hurts to put your head down and walk away from situations like these without giving the creep a piece of your mind (or fist), but remember, safety first. If you feel you’re in a situation to yell and call the police, power to you. If you want to run for the hills, I totally support that too. You know what’s best.
Anyway, I don’t want to make my time in Lisbon all about some assholes who are overdue for a castration.
To be honest, most of my time in Lisbon was spent wandering the streets and interacting with people.
I went down to the water where I found rows upon rows of small shops, restaurants, pastry sellers, and ice cream vendors, I took a stroll out to Belem where I breathed in the salty air and curled up with my book at a restaurant, I went out to Bairro Alto to check out its infamous nightlife (yep, it’s insane), and I went to the history museum just off Commerce Square and learned all about Lisbon’s role as a port city and the great earthquake of 1755.
And finally, since this is a music-inspired blog, I don’t feel I can mention Portugal without mentioning Fado. In Lisbon, I learned that Fado (meaning: “destiny”, or “fate”) is the traditional folk music of Portugal, and it is, at its core, deeply soulful, dark, and mournful. While nobody knows the origins of Fado for sure, it can be traced back in Portugal to the 1820’s – 1830’s.
There are two versions of Fado, the one from Lisbon, which is the most well known, and the one from Coimbra, which is linked more to troubadours. There are some stylistic differences between the two versions, but all you really need to know is that if you are enjoying the music in Coimbra, cough as though you are clearing your throat, and if you are enjoying the music in Lisbon, feel free to clap your hands.
For your potential enjoyment, here are some popular Fado songs (can’t say I’ll be turning this on for easy listening any time soon though):
“Chuva” performed by Mariza
“Uma Casa Portuguesa” performed by Amalia Rodrigues