Time moves quickly, and it always does. I’m already halfway through my Remote Year 4-month journey (unless I decide to extend…TBD!). It’s been an incredible experience from top to bottom. I wanted to take this time to recap my experiences in Lisbon, Portugal.
Ending on a High Note
As detailed in a previous post, I was not initially quite fond of Lisbon in my first week or so. The adjustment post-Belgrade was longer than I thought, and I found myself wandering mentally. I was wondering if I would fit in, if I would find the groceries I wanted, and if Lisbon was the city I had hyped it up to be in my mind. As the month passed on and after returning from my side-trip to Spain, I started to feel comfortable again as I had in Belgrade. I’ve realized this about moving to a new city each month: it is jarring and somewhat scary to plop yourself into living in a brand new place. However, you will finally feel at home after time. As someone once said, adjustment just happens.
After arriving back in Lisbon from Barcelona, I spent some time at Health Beach with some fellow remotes. I suppose one could say I’ve found an affinity for sand all over the place. I’ve been spending a lot of time at the beaches during my stay in Portugal. I suppose when you’re on the Atlantic coast, what else are you supposed to do? We sunbathed under the deep blue summer sky for hours, in between impromptu sessions of ball toss and diving into the frigid, salty sea waves. I wound up burning my back pretty badly, despite thinking I would not have done so. I wore ultra protective 50 SPF sunscreen on my front but didn’t consider my back. I guess I paid the price with a painful burn that lasted a week. I picked up some burn healing cream from a local pharmacy and slathered on that unholy, chalky substance as best I could. Oh, European beaches can get to you…
Out of Order: Bicycle Tour
Something I wanted to do since our first day in Lisbon but didn’t get around to doing was a bicycle tour of the city. Of course, I waited until about the last day possible to take this tour. Even though it would’ve been nice to do this early on in our stay in the city, I am glad I was able to get a local’s perspective and learn the ins and outs of Lisbon. The nearly 4-hour tour began at a high point near Parque Eduardo VII. We were treated here to magnificent views of the mountainous regions beyond Lisbon. We started our bicycle tour here, rode down towards the city center.
We were treated to many sights including Igreja De São Domingos, a Roman Catholic Church from the 13th century that was destroyed and rebuilt following the Lisbon earthquake. The inside was rustic as it was historic. A ceremony was ongoing, so I felt a bit weird going inside to take pictures. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful sight to see.
We continued our bicycle journey towards the water front. We rode through the Praça do Comerico and Cais do Sodré. We rolled under the Vinte e Cinco de Abril Bridge (25th of April bridge) which bears a resemblance to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. We passed in front of countless landmarks including Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Technologia, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and finally the Belém Tower.
We were baking under the unrelenting sun, but it seemed fitting in the city of eternally clear skies. Towards the end of the tour at the Belém Tower, we were treated to street music in a picturesque if prototypical European scene. I felt a sense of harmony come over me, even as I was pouring sweat, realizing that this is a slow-paced style of life that the locals embrace. I swayed back and forth in sync with the melody before the tour concluded.
Later that day after much running around and last minute showering, the Remote Year Kublai clan bonded over the halfway point farewell party at Carcavelos Beach, some 40 minutes west of Lisbon. Bottles of champagne were popped, there was an immense amount of food, and a merry time was had by all. We received a T-shirt and affirmations on postcards from our program leaders. I was really touched by mine – the nice words from our silly and beloved guides resonated with me and made me feel like a part of the family. I shamelessly stuffed my face with breaded tofu, savory guacamole, and scrumptious hummus. Kudos to our wonderful program leaders for being so inclusive of me in the farewell dinner.
The champagne celebration left me with a non-trivial buzz, so I was feeling in my element. It was just enough alcohol to get me in a social mode. Once it was time to wrap up at the beach and head to the after party at the LX Factory, I hurriedly grabbed all the sandwiches that I could (as the others were not going to eat them), stuffed them into a box, and took them aboard our Uber towards the Factory. This was amusing to the fellow Kubs who I rode in the Uber with. We all were having a fun night, with many ridiculous and outlandish statements uttered in the car which shan’t be repeated here.
I wanted to keep the good times rolling, even though I’ve had a contentious relationship with alcohol on this trip (and more generally over the last couple years). I figured one night of celebrating wouldn’t hurt. This especially true being I had my classic drink of choice in hand: a Tanqueray and ginger ale. It was a nice cap to a long celebration of our time in Lisbon and of our journeys on Remote Year thus far. Oh, and I ended up distributing the sandwiches to drunken, hungry Kubs like myself.
Conclusions: European Destination #2
I wanted to compare and contrast my experiences in Lisbon with my experiences back in Belgrade in the first month. While looking back I really enjoyed my time in Belgrade and would go back to that city, I do not feel the same about Lisbon. I honeymooned with the city in the first few days we were there, starstruck by the near-perfect climate and costal views. However, there are a lot of things about the city that started to grind on me. I ascribe some of these gripes as manifestations of my emotional low. However, at the end of the day I just have to come to the conclusion: I didn’t like Lisbon that much.
The slippery cobblestone sidewalks cost me my balance half a dozen times or more, especially on some of the outrageously steep hills littered around the city. The sidewalks were also decidedly narrow, leading to difficulties walking and passing other pedestrians. I felt claustrophobic trying to navigate my way around other people while also trying not to get struck by an oncoming automobile who is just assuming I’ll get out of the way in time.
The colorful walls of the city buildings stood in bright contrast to Belgrade’s bleak, gray facade. However, maybe the aesthetics only ran so deep. I felt far more engaged in a good vibe with the Serbian people than I did with the Portuguese people. They just seemed to not be as engaged with life as the Serbs.
The supermarkets left a lot to be desired. Some of the organic stores were decent, but they surprisingly lacked variety across stores and lacked items that I was able to find even in Belgrade. The market next to our workspace was a dump: uncleanly and cluttered. TimeOut’s farmers market was large, but I felt the overall quality was lower than I expected. I also was annoyed that I had to forcibly smell dead fish and meat while browsing the produce. Vegan options were available, but I think some Lisbon residents are still foreign to the concept, as I had to constantly explain what vegan meant. I think part of this can be attributed to the cost of living. Lisbon is the most expensive city on our European itinerary and it certainly showed. The Euro exchange rate is not favorable to the US dollar (though it’s relatively strong as of this post’s writing), and I found myself spending about double the amount than in Belgrade on groceries, drinks, and everything else for that matter. I expected it to be more expensive, but not quite this expensive, yeesh!
The transportation system was unfortunately mostly forgettable, save for perhaps the metro system with its modest size and power. Light rail trains and trams, though novel, were generally uncomfortably crowded. Busses were also packed full, often ran late, and I even had a bus pass me by while desperately needing to catch one to make my train to Spain on time. Construction was everywhere, so I understand some delays in the system. However, this helped render the street-level transit largely inconvenient and difficult to use. The metro was reliable but did not really reach my neighborhood. It seemed to be efficient and on-time when I used it, however, so I would give some points for that. The city does get an A for effort, as multimodal forms of transportation including subway, light rail, train/commuter rail, and dedicated bike lanes (although limited to the river front) were all available. This is a lot more than what you can say back in Detroit with its wanting monorail loop and QLine light rail, both of which are far too small in size and scope to be of real effectiveness or usefulness by residents.
And that being said, not everything was a negative. There were ample places to catch a beautiful sunset. Stores and restaurants stayed open much later at night even on weekdays. There are plenty of beaches to get your fill of sunbathing or swimming. I think what I liked most about Lisbon was the climate. I did not see rain in my time there, though it perhaps did rain during my side excursion to Spain. Otherwise, mostly every day was bright and sunny with clouds an infrequent exception. Days are warm to hot, with temperatures hovering around and exceeding 30℃, but nights are cool, dropping down well below 20 sometimes. Despite my original hypothesis, there is little to no humidity here, making the warm days much more bearable than back home. Summertime often turns Michigan into a humid, sticky swamp coupled with wildly unpredictable and turn-on-a-dime weather.
In total, Lisbon is a nice city to visit but probably one I won’t return to. This despite our absolutely wonderful Remote Year city team in Lisbon who get two thumbs up. It just isn’t my scene or my vibe. I thought it would be, as this was the destination I had my hopes up the highest for. Maybe they were a bit too high after all, but not every day can be paradise. There is still a rich history to this city I appreciate, and I would love to have this climate back home. And now, onward and upward towards the next chapter of this adventure: Prague, Czechia.