Apologies readers for the long holiday break. Gluttony and near-hibernation do not inspire good writing. But I’m back and excited to tell you about my much too brief trip to Lisbon, Portugal.
I flew back to the US for Christmas on TAP Portugal, a budget airline that has served me well since moving to Europe. (Hint hint: for anyone angling to visit me, start booking now with TAP Portugal!) Before arriving in Boston on a frigid afternoon I had an overnight layover in Lisbon.
At first, I was not excited about the prospect of spending an entire night in a layover destination. I just want to go home, I repeated in disgruntled yawns. It also didn’t help that my carry-on was gate-checked just as I was boarding. Moments later, at the slight concern of my fellow passengers, I found myself on the tarmac, stuffing pajamas and underwear into my tiny purse. Later in Lisbon, I discovered I packed an extra tube of toothpaste but no socks. Grrrrr.
However, after a pleasant enough flight from Vienna to Lisbon, I resolved to recalibrate the self-pity meter and do my best to enjoy my time in Lisbon.
Traveling from the airport to the center of Portugal’s capital is incredibly easy and inexpensive thanks to the metro so naturally, it was easy to love Lisbon right off the bat.
Though my hostel was basic and a bit drafty, it was located just a short walk from the bustling center so it was the perfect place to stay.
The sky dimmed its lights as I weaved through the steep streets of Lisbon often likened to those in San Francisco. The comparison is just; Lisbon engages your senses and kills your calves.
When I walked through the central squares, framed with gorgeous lights, sparkling Christmas decorations, and small carts spewing with the tantalizing smoke of roasting chestnuts, I wished immediately I could extend my one night layover (although my handbag provisions were enough for, well, 0 nights). In a way, it was almost torturous to spend such little time in the lively and luscious city but I was soon reminded of something my 11th grade English teacher once told me: in literature, every character with a name is important to the story. Even if they only contribute a few sentences to the book, their role holds a certain weight.
I think that sentiment holds true for places as well. The briefest of visits to a new country or city alters your perceptions and introduces you to an entirely new type of beauty. It almost feels like you are being introduced to a completely new color.
I wandered through the small yet hyperactive Christmas markets where people cued for specialty chocolate and cherry liquor. I tried neither but later on, I ate the most scrumptious chocolate tart I have ever come across.
Just before I reached the shoreline, where the stealthy sea bumped against the concrete edge of the city, I joined a small crowd huddled around a remarkable musician.
His soft rendition of “Hallelujah” and other classics was impressive enough, never mind the fact that he wasn’t playing a violin but rather a saw. Crazy, right?!
I’m a sucker for resourceful creativity so I watched the talented artist master his craft for a long time, even when part of the crowd started to migrate to the electric break-dancing performance down the street.
Post-saw performance, I drifted away from the center, past the famous sardine shop and vertical elevator, up a particularly steep alleyway leading to a spectacular vista. As I slowly climbed the infinite number of stairs, I found an old man dressed in dark clothing resting on the steps in a diagonal position with his guitar. As I passed, he asked if I would stay for a while and listen to him play some traditional Fado music.
His long fingers and guitar strings were worn and tired but his passion and ear for the the traditional music was alive and infectious. He was so engrossed in the music that characterizes Lisbon and I’m sure, subsequently, his own life that he paid no attention to who put coins in his case. He did not beg for money. He simply wanted someone to listen to his song.
And I’m so glad I listened to the old man with the guitar. I only wished I had asked him for his name because our brief encounter seems important to the story.
I now know those disgruntled yawns were misplaced and gate-checked carry-ons cannot take away from the remarkableness of a place, especially if that place is Lisbon.
Long Live the Long Layover,