Lisbon: Finding My Place in a New City

Lisbon tiled building

It was my first stop on my six week European leg of my Epic Solo Adventure last year and I couldn’t have been more excited. Not only was I thrilled to finally explore the city with the stunning tiled buildings and gorgeous terracotta roofs, but I would also be meeting up with a couple of fellow travel bloggers. Sorry ladies, travel writers. Little did I realize that I’d struggle to find my place in Lisbon.

Have you ever been so excited to visit a city? Scanning endless photographs that left you in awe? Reading countless tales of travellers who fell in love with its streets, its buildings and its culture, I was eager. And to be honest I can’t recall ever being disappointed in a city. Actually, that’s a lie. My first time in Paris, back in 2005, left a lot to be desired, including a sleepless night. But honestly I wasn’t as excited about visiting the City of Love back then after a bad breakup. Lisbon was different. Somehow I had already fallen in love with the city, before stepping foot on its soil.

When I first arrived in Lisbon, emerging from the airport into the oppressive heat and humidity was enough to spark an instant migraine. You have to know, it had been a frigid cold winter back in Canada and going from there to thirty plus degrees was an incredible shock to my system. The blaring sun penetrated my sunglasses and squinting wasn’t helping the thumping in my head. I couldn’t focus. I grabbed a taxi and headed straight down the main strip to my hotel.

As soon as I checked in I quickly peeled off my sticky clothes and jumped into the shower. When I stepped out into the refreshing cool air of my room I felt like a new person. Though my headache lingered I refused to let it hold me back. I got ready and hit the streets of Lisbon.

Lisbon tram 28

One of the thrills of travelling as a travel blogger is meeting up with fellow travel bloggers. While in Lisbon I was set to meet Sandra from Tripper and current Lisbon local, and Cristina from Chronicles of a Travel Addict who was on her first Euro trip. I had already had the pleasure of meeting Cristina on my USA West Coast trip the year before. We decided to meet at Café A Brasileira in Lisbon’s old quarter. The café was on my list to visit in Europe. It’s one of the oldest and famous in the area. Once the meeting place for intellectuals, writers and artists, I thought it a fitting place to meet.

I recognized Sandra immediately, with her wild, red, curly hair caught in the wind. Cristina soon after appeared and we grabbed a table on the street to enjoy a cup of coffee and chat. While the company was great, the conversation absorbing – the coffee and the service left a lot to be desired. To be honest, it was one of my Lisbon disappointments.

The previous day Cristina and I planned to meet in Belem at the famous pastry shop, Pasteis de Belem, to explore the neighbourhood together. It felt like Lisbon was against us. The buses were on strike that day, and while I took the train over, Cristina was searching and waiting for one of the rare buses that were running. And with no way to communicate without Wi-Fi we were unaware of the others situation. After waiting for close to an hour I set off to explore Belem’s sights alone. I first made sure to grab a delicious pastry and strolled through Jardin Vasco da Gama. Sitting for a while in front of a fountain in the park I was enchanted by the swallows as they swooped down to skim the water’s surface, as if performing a dance. I wandered passed Jerónimos Monastery, into the beautiful church, and then headed over to the Monument of Discoveries. After a visit to the striking Belem Tower, with frustrating tourists, I decided to head back.

Belem Tower

Belem Tower

I just wasn’t connecting with the city. Its stunning tiled buildings left me speechless but I felt like I was missing something. I had even booked at tour north to Sintra and other charming places. I waited one morning for my shuttle bus to pick me up outside of my hotel. I had over the past few days been trying to contact them via phone and email to confirm, but to no avail. Even my hotel concierge tried and couldn’t reach anyone. After an hour spent waiting I was done. Disappointment lead to anger and I shot off a not so happy email to the company.

I was feeling defeated by this exotic city, rich in history and beautiful buildings. Was Lisbon telling me I wasn’t welcome? Was it foreshadowing what was yet to come as I travelled Europe for the next six weeks, solo? No, I wouldn’t have it. But for the day I was spent. Frustration, disappointment and intense heat had conjured up another wicked migraine. I ended up spending the day napping with bouts of writing in my room.

The next morning I awoke early. Refreshed and driven not to let the city win I was determined to find my Lisbon, to find my place in the city. I headed toward Alfama. The streets were nearly empty at this early hour and as I ascended one of Lisbon’s hills into the Alfama neighbourhood it was as if I was seeing the city with new eyes. Its narrow, winding steep streets seemed to hold a church around every corner. Tile work of beautiful and dreamy images littered pockets of many of the buildings. And Alfama was full of countless epic views over the city.

Lisbon

It was from one such view that I realized this is why I came. I was thankful for all my days in Lisbon, all the disappointments and the headaches. Because there were joyous moments scattered amongst them. Meeting new friends, enjoying the peace of an old convent, and these awesome views of this truly interesting city. I realized something else too. I may not connect with every city I visit but as long as I’m open to explore, open to learn, and simply open to see, it is still all worthwhile. Travel, like education, is never a waste.

Have you ever struggled in a new city to find your place?

Lisbon: Finding My Place in a New City

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Stephanie

I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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