Two and a half years after our first visit to Lisbon, Dave and I returned for a brief visit to the city we love so much. It was a two-night stopover that we planned before a two-week trip across Morocco to celebrate his 30th birthday. We had been interested in Morocco for a few years, since we saw the Alcazar in Seville, Spain. Flights to Morocco from Edmonton are usually fairly expensive, but we took advantage of a seat sale to Lisbon and booked separate flights onward from there. This way we would get to experience something new and spend time in a place we know we enjoy.
As soon as we booked our flights, I had a funny feeling about the trip. I tend to be anxious so I tried to tell myself I was worrying and that everything would be fine. We’ve planned dozens of trips before with success. Before even leaving home, two of our flights were cancelled and we had to scramble to rebook, and that was just the beginning.
Overall the flights were very good – I even managed to sleep for four hours, which is a big deal for me. Flying is my biggest fear and I struggle with anxiety every time I have a flight booked. It really doesn’t go away until the trip is over and I’ve landed back at home. The only rough spot was upon take off in Calgary. I felt a lot of sharp pain in my ears like I have never felt before. I brushed it off at the time, but it would come back to bite me hard for the rest of the trip.
When it comes to picking accommodations, I have my system down pat and usually come out on top. Unfortunately our apartment in Lisbon was not up to par, but I can’t take the fall. We had it narrowed down to two places and Dave thought we might as well pick the cheaper one as they appeared pretty similar. Well, folks, internet photos can be deceiving! There were many broken knobs and handles, and the bathroom was so dirty that my mother-in-law would have slept in her clothes and left the next morning. The place was absolutely freezing and the tiny space heaters didn’t give off any heat. It was the first time we’d picked a dud.
We quickly unpacked, freshened up, and hit the streets to return to a restaurant where we had a delicious meal the last time we were in town. We walked about 20 minutes from hip Bairro Alto, where we were staying, through the central, flat area of Baixa, to Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest district. The city was quiet, dark and beautiful, like many other European cities, but in an understated way, like a dignified older gentleman. We took our time, stopping at a cart selling roasted chestnuts and eating them on the way. There is something immensely satisfying about returning to a foreign city and picking up right where you left off, walking the streets and remembering which way to go, where certain things are and not missing a beat. It is so simple, yet is one of the things in life that makes me feel truly happy.
Partway through dinner I started to feel off. I felt great on the walk there, but after we sat down I hit a wall and almost fell asleep. I was barely able to eat my meal, and although I didn’t even finish one glass of wine, I started to feel super loopy. We had to take a taxi back to the apartment. I couldn’t sleep, was tossing and turning, burning hot and freezing, and I ended up throwing up in the wee hours of the morning. I chalked it up to jet lag and tried to move past it.
We woke up early the next day and had croissants for breakfast at a nearby bakery. All I wanted to do that day was walk around and take lots of pictures, but it was cold and drizzling outside and we only had light windbreakers on. It was a bit of a challenge to pack for this trip as we would be passing through a few different climates – cold and rain in Lisbon and London, heat in the Sahara Desert, and anything in between. We took photos for a while and stopped to warm up with a cup of tea.
That afternoon we had an appointment that I was very excited about – a date with a sensory deprivation tank. I had first learned of these tanks from the movie Shortbus, but never got to experience it for myself as there’s nowhere in Edmonton to do so. I always go online to find out if there’s a tank where I’m traveling to, and I had only done it once prior to this, also in Lisbon. The tanks are full of water at body temperature and hundreds of kilos of Epsom salts, which lets your body float completely weightlessly and with no effort. Your mind goes into a completely different state, a different world, and it is different for everyone. For me, it is like a state of extremely deep sleep and relaxation that I could never achieve on my own and that is very beneficial to my restless mind. It is also equivalent to 4-6 hours of sleep, so really helps take away the effects of jet lag – perfect to experience right at the beginning of a trip.
By the time we left the spa the wind had calmed down and the sky was blue. We decided to get lost and wander through parts of the city we hadn’t seen before, passing by plenty of lovely buildings, streets and Lisbon’s famous azulejos (hand-painted ceramic tiles) on the way and ending up back at the main square, Praça do Comércio.
After a pre-dinner drink at the distinguished Solar do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Institute), we took a taxi across town to meet a friend for dinner, but he mixed up the dates and didn’t end up showing. At first we were irritated about wasting time, but it turned out to be a positive twist of fate. As we walked back to our apartment, we passed a tiny hole in the wall bar called Mascote da Atalaia with a lady handing out flyers for a fado night happening that very moment. We hadn’t heard any live fado the first time we were in Lisbon and it was on our list of things to do this time around. Without hesitation we went in and got the two last seats in the place, which only held about 20 people. Our mustachioed and turtlenecked waiter brought us our fish cakes and litre of sangria and we waited with anticipation for the performance to start.
Over the course of the evening four singers took turns singing the heart wrenching ballads so dear to Portuguese hearts. The intimate, dark room full of locals was the absolute perfect way for us to experience fado, without the $30 cover charge that so many touristy places charge. The biggest star of the bunch seemed to be Alice Nunes – the crowd lit up when her presence became known. We found out her name by buying her CD, but only through a bit of Internet sleuthing did I find out who the other fabulous ladies were – Cátia Miranda, Joana Cruz, and Sónia Santos.
Feeling good from the music and sangria, we floated around the corner back to our apartment to try to get a good nights sleep. The next day we were going to Morocco!