sábado, 17 de setembro de 2016

Our feelings on Lisbon

Vendendo Lisboa de barato e a curtíssimo prazo ao Turismo de Massas
Este testemunho de um turista é dedicado a Fernando Medina

Our feelings on Lisbon
As stated at the top, we didn’t enjoy our time in Lisbon. Part of that was Lisbon itself, but most of it resulted from other factors

I’ll say right off the top that if you are staying in Lisbon 7 days or less none of the below will probably apply to you. You’ll walk around, enjoying the sights on your short stay, and will most likely come away with the opinion that Lisbon is a beautiful place. For us however, as full-time travellers who stay somewhere for a month (or more), there were aspects of Lisbon that left us with a bad taste in our mouths.

Our accommodation. We stayed on Rua da Alegria in the Bairro Alto. What looked initially like a comfortable apartment ended up being our worst ever Airbnb experience. We have never stayed in a place where you can actually hear people talking through the ceiling. Never mind when they walked around with high heels, dragged furniture around, dropped stuff on the floor or came home at 2am to start fighting (there was one night where we thought we would have to call the police). We found out that most of the building (including the apartment upstairs) was rented out by their owners as Airbnb apartments. Neighboring buildings also seemed to be full of Airbnb apartments. A few readers have mentioned to us the “Airbnb-nization” of neighborhoods. This was our first experience with it. The problem when you stay in an “Airbnb neighborhood” is two-fold: tourists who act like loud monkeys with little concern for neighbors, Airbnb hosts who just don’t care about their property or providing quality accommodation.


It may have been fine for a few days but the constant noise and bad sleep wore on us. Staying in this apartment a month sucked.

Tourists and the local experience: The amount of tourists in Lisbon was astounding. Walking through the Baixa was like walking through a traffic jam of tourists. Walk the Alfama, or go to any tourist site, and there were lines and crowds everywhere. Take the famous 28 tram at 8:30 in the morning and it will still be crowded, standing room only. We were more likely to hear French or Spanish walking around than Portuguese. With the tourists came the riff raff: the Senegalese touts selling cheap trinkets and the dealers offering drugs on street corners. As mentioned above, we were never propositioned for drugs as much as we were in Lisbon. We met friendly locals when we joined the gym…but those local experiences were rare during our month in Lisbon.


What I remember from my previous visit to Lisbon 25 years ago was how charming it was. Lisbon was all about charm. It may have been rough around the edges at the time, but it all felt authentic. There was no authentic experience this time around. We’ve found that the more we travel, the more we enjoy authentic, off-the-beaten path places that don’t have hordes of tourists.

Practicality of having Lisbon as a base. Lisbon was one of the most impractical bases we’ve ever had. The closest grocery store to us (a Minipreço) was a 10 minute walk away, up a hill and down another, and was always jam-packed (again, mostly with tourists). It was small and had little selection. We thought that our host was mistaken. There had to be a bigger grocery store right? We went to 2 tourist information centers (on Praça do Comércio and Praça dos Restauradores) and were told at both that there was nothing larger in central Lisbon. That we should go to the Centro Colombo in the newer part of Lisbon. Where to buy bathroom products like face creams, deodorants, nail polish, baby powder? (Ie ordinary drugstore stuff). Well, there are tons of pharmacies in central Lisbon selling overpriced Vichy creams (29 Euros for a small jar) and expensive cosmetics. But it was ridiculously priced. Again, at the tourist information center: “go to Colombo”. So we took the metro to Centro Colombo, 8 metro stops away. And yes, we found everything we needed at half the price (there’s a huge store there called Continente). But I’ve never seen a city where we had to go so far out of our way to find basic essentials.

In fact most of the downtown area is filled with restaurants, gift shops, bakeries and cafés. All catering to tourists. But there were very little of the practical kinds of stores necessary for travellers like us. We ended up doing most of our grocery shopping at the mini grocery stores on our street, all owned by friendly Bangladeshis.

The “Wow” factor. I know I’ll get people angry with this. But the fact is that of the tourist sights in Lisbon few produced much of a “wow” factor for us. The Jerónimos Monastery is incredible, the Tile Museum and Madre de Deus Church are impressive, and the Santa Justa lift is interesting. But other than these I can’t say we were really blown away by any specific sites. I was excited to see the different viewpoints but in the end they didn’t live up to expectations either. What we actually loved the most in Lisbon were the pretty squares and parks, most with fountains and shaded with lots of trees, surrounded by beautiful buildings and colorful tiles. We would often sit in a café in one of those squares and just enjoy seeing the locals living life with their dogs and kids. I think it was this we enjoyed most – it wasn’t visiting “the highlights” or trudging up hills with the tourist hordes. I think the beauty of Lisbon lies in the total ensemble and not the individual sights themselves. Walk the streets and look at the buildings and murals. They’re beautiful. But again, we didn’t have many “Wow, that is amazing” moments.

The above is our opinion. Maybe our miserable accommodation and lack of sleep shaped how we feel about Lisbon and made us biased. But that was our experience*.

* We have a few fellow bloggers who felt the same way about Lisbon in the summer but who liked the city much more when revisiting during low tourist season. I would really recommend that you avoid June – September. Maybe we would have had a totally different experience.

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