Updated: Feb 18
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, worshiped by digital nomads, has never stuck in my head before, but today, as I have just begun to crawl through the streets of the once bohemian and now simply hipster Bairro Alto neighbourhood, I immediately realise what attracts the wandering minds here. I wonder why I spent my life without visiting one of the most colourful, cozy and, of course, the most hilly old towns in Europe, as I feel the connection with this city right away. For me, Lisbon is a symbol of resilience. More than a couple of hundred years ago, a terrible earthquake basically only bypassed the hilly Bairro Alto, and everything else had to rise from the ashes.
I guess I could ramble about my twists and turns in this vibrant city, but it's probably wisest to stick to "what happens in Lisbon, stays in Lisbon" approach, apart from art, sunsets, day trips and brunch. The latter is the most delightful at the cafes "Augusto Lisboa" and "The Neighbourhood", where eggs Benedict come with spicy sauce and pulled pork.
When I'm not out and about, I eagerly pick up my paintbrushes. While living out of my suitcase, I decided to replace canvases with an easier-to-transport surface – bamboo paper, on which the acrylic paints apparently can be laid quite smoothly. Although the below nude was still painted on a sturdy canvas board.
The piece was inspired by my "Instagram" feed, where one feminist shared her thoughts on body positivity and acceptance. Indeed, over the centuries, the aesthetic perception of the body has changed like passing clouds, but people accustomed to criticising themselves somehow imagine that today's prevailing standards are the ultimate definition of perceived perfection, which, ironically, is a very subjective matter. As subjective as any form of self-expression in different parts of the world.
For this reason spontaneous, bold brushstrokes laid with total freedom of gesture are celebrated as a way of conveying authentic body image. A digital version of the painting is already available on the NFT art platform „OpenSea“.
Since people don't stop asking if I've already eaten Portuguese pastries "Pastel de Nata", I dare to set a daily goal to finally eliminate neglect and climb up to "San Antonio" bakery, which a couple of years ago was announced the best bakery of these delicacies. Their lovers will have to forgive me for criticism, but why eat a semi-raw egg? Well okay, delicately baked with cream in a puff pastry, but still its taste doesn't please my taste buds. Frankly, I prefer to enjoy their variations with nuts or in bakeries that bake to the end. A matter of taste. 🤷♀️
When in need to have a glass of red wine for one and a half euros (why drink water in Lisbon?!) with local cheese and cured meat, the bar "Loucos e Sohadores" (Eng. "The Crazy and the Dreamers") is a must go-to place. It's popular with students and weed smokers... After the second glass, I realise how good it is to be amongst the like-minded.
Before summery weather departs from Portugal, October weekends are ideal for a visit to a nearby seaside town Cascais (easily accessable from Lisbon’s central station Cais do Sodré), where many locals have had magnificent holiday cottages for ages. The town isn't as charming as the capital, but such pearls as Boca do Inferno, where ocean waves crash into the rocks and caves, can be either found while strolling around or easily reached by scooter.
I may be wrong but younger crowds seem to prefer Costa da Caparica town, full of beach bars, clubs and, of course, surf schools. Since I’ve already tried surfing in Asia, curiosity doesn’t overwhelm me, so I’d rather watch enthusiasts riding pretty big waves from a beach bar with a glass of green wine in hand. To be honest, this local wine is a real discovery for me, reminiscent of prosecco, but doesn't tickle the palate so much. By the way, it really isn’t green.
Maybe because of the wine, or maybe because of the power of the ocean, as the sun sets over the mighty waves still being ridden by the surfers, the thoughts of eternity and the perspective of time begin to flow again. Human existance seems so insignificant compared against the ocean's power, yet we still hustle tirelessly, even beat ourselves up for unfulfilled illusions. As if our species were a heap of ants seriously believing that their world order is unquestionable, and that their busy lives are relatively long, when in reality it's all so inappreciable in the entire Universe.
No matter how long I'd love to reflect on life while watching the ocean, another local inevitability awaits – the ubiquitous traditional ceramic tiles called "azulejo" (translated from Arabic as "polished stone"). After getting back to Lisbon, I spend the entire afternoon at the tile museum "Museu Nacional do Azulejo".
Although these beauties have long been an integral part of Portuguese culture, it's worth noting that not only their name is Arabic, as the idea itself came with the Moors from North Africa who during the Middle Ages invaded the Iberian peninsula. Later, the Portuguese themselves began to decorate the tiles in their own way, often perpetuating Catholic stories on their surface.
Since the weather has started to fool around, it's time to set foot in the art museums, which Lisbon has got a plethora of. One of the most impressive private collections is housed in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, surrounded by a maze-like park. Founded in 1956 by the will of the Armenian philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian, the museum boasts an extensive collection of European and Asian art – paintings, ceramics, sculptures, and even Persian rugs.
The National Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the Chiado neighborhood, is also not to be missed. After an hour’s exploration, I learn what the Portuguese artists of the last century focused on and what winds blow in today’s art. In fact, I don't see a huge stylistic difference between them and the rest of Europe, although it still allows me to feel the pulse of the country's art. Unsurprisingly, one thing is clear: the prolific Portuguese men of the last century didn't leave much room for female painters. But the walls boast plenty of feminine muses!
I'm much more fascinated by the huge collection of modern and contemporary art housed at the Museu Coleção Berardo, located in a more remote Lisbon's neighbourhood called Belém. The walls of this enermous museum preserve the works of the most famous and less-heard international and local artists. The collections are categorised by art movements, which, while not big news, have consistent descriptions that really provide context for less art-savvy visitors.
After taking a glance at the long list of places to visit, I realise that one afternoon in Belém will not be enough for art lovers like me. After booking a free tour at the "Museu Berardo Arte Deco" in advance, I spend an early afternoon listening to stories about the art nouveau and art deco collection, including the influence of women on new art trends.
While taking a couple of steps back, I accidentally tip over on the chest of drawers, on which a vase once owned by Barbra Streisand stands gracefully. For a second, the fellow visitors and the guide freeze, but miraculously, all the precious things remain in their places. It's a relief that this unpleasant event is soon replaced by a more fun one – a wine tasting session hosted by the same guide.
By the way, Belém isn't only packed with various museums, boasts impressive Jerónimos Monastery, but is also famous for the aforementioned creamy pastries "Pastel de Nata", which apparently are worth a trip even to the outskirts of the city. One of the recommended bakeries is "Pastéis de Belém".
When the amazingly majestic nature of Portugal isn’t calling, Lisbon's live music bars allure with multiculturalism. Here, at the cozy "Camones Cine Bar" in Graça, less populated by digital nomads, all I have to do is put a few euros into the hat and I can happily watch a performance of Africans singing lyrical Portuguese songs.
One of the popular tourist attractions is a trip by tram No. 28, from Praça Martim Moniz square, driving through a big part of the old town. Despite its popularity, this entertainment costs one and a half euros, like all other trips on public public transport. The locals probably don’t have the patience to use it, as the line to the tram is a few meters long. Is it worth the wait? Maybe it’s worth it if you haven’t climbed the streets of Alfama and Bairro Alto on foot before.
Life in Lisbon can indeed go on forever, not only because of the beautiful sights, but also because of the spring that continues during the winter months, allowing the culture of outdoor cafes to flourish and encouraging to balance a busy work schedule while opting for a glass of rosé wine at the riverside bar. But even the best experiences come to an end.
I will terribly miss the hilly, slippery tiled streets of the old town, where I stumbled a couple of times. Like a crazy dreamer, I stumbled somewhere else too, but what happens in Lisbon, stays in Lisbon. Except, of course, for the fabulously perfect sunsets that delight us regardless of any human mistakes.