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A Journey from Madrid to Lisbon

From Madrid, we caught an EasyJet flight at 9:55 AM and landed in Lisbon at 10:20 AM. The flight time from Madrid to Lisbon is actually 1 hour and 35 minutes, but due to the local time difference, we arrived in Lisbon just after ten in the morning, feeling as if we had only spent twenty minutes on the plane.

Lisbon truly lives up to its reputation as “the coolest city in Europe,” captivating visitors no matter their perspective or travel style. This beautiful coastal city in western Portugal makes a lasting impression from the moment you’re still half-asleep on the plane and glimpse it through the thinning clouds… The city appears on a strip of land looking like an emerald green jewel, curving gently into the sparkling diamond blue of the Atlantic Ocean. Awakening. That was our first striking moment. That was how Lisbon revealed itself to us.

First Meet-up in Lisbon

Our second impression came right after leaving the airport in an affordable Uber taxi. Our driver was a young man of African descent, born and raised in Lisbon. Lisbon was his homeland, his lifeblood, and everything to him. He loved Lisbon so much that he spent the entire ride telling us about its beauty, destinations, food, festivals, people, language, and culture in an engaging and humorous South American accent. His enthusiasm was infectious, and we couldn’t stop laughing. Knowing it was our first time in Lisbon, he confidently declared, “You gotta love this city. Lisbon rocks!”

After bidding farewell to our friendly driver, we found ourselves on a small, sloping street under the golden sun and a clear blue sky, with a few sea breezes wafting around us. On both sides of the road were low buildings, one or two stories high, with brick walls featuring various patterns and bright colors, resembling street art graffiti.

Lisbon Train Hostel: Our Cozy Stay

Amidst this artistic architecture, we spotted a small red building called Lisbon Train Hostel. This cool and affordable hostel was our home during our stay in Lisbon. The dorm rooms were small but spotless, with colorful bedsheets. The bathrooms, kitchen, and lounge were all well-lit, tidy, and organized. The staff were incredibly friendly and approachable, making our stay one of the most comfortable hostel experiences we’ve had in Europe.

When we arrived at the hostel, it was still early and far from check-in time. The cheerful and kind receptionists invited us to sit in the colorful lounge with a large TV screen. We were planning to find a sports pub to watch the World Cup match between Uruguay and Argentina. Soon, we were chatting away with the receptionists, who were also eager to watch the game.

Reunion with Argentine Friends

Coincidentally, we reunited with our Argentine friends from Madrid, who had also traveled to Lisbon. They had taken an eight-hour bus ride, while we had booked a cheap flight a month in advance. Despite leaving Madrid a day before us, they arrived in Lisbon an hour after we did. Their hostel lacked a TV for watching the match, so after receiving our message, Luciano and Paula hauled their heavy backpacks and walked to our hostel to watch the World Cup together. The receptionists were more than happy to let our friends join us.

As our Argentine friends settled in, a Dutch girl from Amsterdam named Josephine also arrived to check in. She quickly joined our group, and it turned into a memorable afternoon in Lisbon with new friends. We chatted, laughed, and enjoyed the lively World Cup match, feeling like old friends despite just meeting.

Exploring Lisbon

During the afternoons, we wandered along the cobblestone sidewalks, following the winding streets that sometimes dipped gently and other times climbed steeply.

This is one of Lisbon’s defining features: a coastal city sprawled over seven hills with the constant ups and downs, making walking around the city under the mid-day sun quite a workout!

This unique topography is also why Lisbon is famous for its trams – a hybrid between a bus and a train. These short-sized trams, running on rails but as compact as a bus, are the main mode of public transport for locals and tourists alike, navigating the undulating roads that snake across the city’s many hills.

Everything about Lisbon impressed and charmed me: a city full of character, without a lot of the grandiose buildings and monuments typical of classic European cities. Instead, it captivates with its colorful little houses in the old Alfama district, the gritty street-style alleyways, and the hidden corners and staircases teeming with a blend of hip-hop energy and the sultry Latin vibe of South America. The people here especially exude friendliness, humility, individuality, and a zest for life.

Lisbon’s Vibrant Culture

But the stories gathered in Lisbon that will remain deep in my memory are probably these:

The lively World Cup viewings with hundreds of people at the Rua Augusta Arch: the Germany-Mexico match and the Brazil-Switzerland match, under the blazing seaside sun with colorful flags and painted faces.

A few relaxing café visits, with waffles and overnight oats at Copenhagen Coffee Lab.

The scorching afternoons when the two of us hiked to São Jorge Castle, panting from the ups and downs of the road, encountering street musicians playing traditional Fado or creatively improvising with homemade instruments in a corner of a tunnel or a small courtyard.

A weekend flea market, brimming with old items from various eras.

An evening hanging out with our Dutch friend Josephine, after the three of us watched the World Cup in the square.

We bought some snacks and beers, then found a cool spot overlooking the sea at Miradouro de Santa Catarina, with the distant sight of the 25 de Abril Bridge, often referred to as the twin of the Golden Gate Bridge in the US. The three of us sat drinking beer and chatting about everything under the sun, from our online jobs to Josephine’s work at an NGO for refugees, from the culture and history of Vietnam and Europe to a myriad of perspectives on lifestyle, experiences, and shared thoughts. Despite having just met, it felt like we had known each other forever, sharing countless stories about life, work, and travel, much like our encounters with the American guy in the Netherlands or the Czech couple in Moravska Trebova.

A trip by train to the beach in Cascais, experiencing the icy cold sea, steaming under the bright sunlight. The sand was still hot while the seawater was as cold as ice from the fridge. We had to run several laps along the beach before daring to plunge into the icy waters of Cascais.

One evening, while queuing at our usual restaurant for their famous grilled salmon, we met a group of locals: a French and Spanish teacher, a charming artist with a fedora and a guitar on his back, and a navy guy from Porto. Or the time when we were sitting on a street corner eating grilled chicken, a young Lisbon native approached us, eager to share cultural exchanges and startup stories. They were all locals, born and raised here, embodying a unique Portuguese charm—smart, witty, and profoundly artistic.

Lisbon’s Culinary Delights

Despite trying a few traditional codfish dishes at the renowned SeaMe restaurant in Lisbon, we were more impressed by a humble grill restaurant that was always packed with locals. This grill place offered the ultimate culinary delight with its perfectly salted pink grilled salmon and whole or half grilled chicken, all at incredibly affordable prices, making it extremely cheap compared to other European cities. In general, prices in Lisbon were three to four times cheaper than elsewhere in Europe, especially food prices in restaurants, supermarkets, and Uber fares.

After indulging in those flavorful grilled dishes, we would head to the famous Manteigaria bakery for dessert, savoring one or two crispy, creamy egg tarts with a hot cappuccino, amidst the occasional showers of Lisbon.

Final Thoughts

I’ll dedicate a separate post to reviewing accommodations, dining, and attractions in Lisbon, as it deserves detailed coverage. For now, I’ll leave you with these personal diary entries, capturing the precious memories of a vibrant city filled with life, free-spirited architecture, street art, a blend of Western European and South American styles, and open-hearted people.

All these elements make up the name Lisbon – the seaside city on the hills.

Lisbon, June 2018


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