Lisbon seems to move to the unhurried melody of a jazz song, one with a steady rhythm and a lazy bass. You almost want to imagine everything in black and white with its old trolley cars and tiny cafés; but then you’d miss all the colors of Lisbon – yellow and gold, aqua, teal, pastel pink, and lilac.
I felt like each corner I turned down was more beautiful than the last. I wanted to sit down on every picturesque bench I saw, whip out my journal and pen, and start writing.
It’s easy to turn into a poet getting lost in the twisted streets of Lisbon, starting on the banks of the River Tejo and wandering up through the old Alfama. And if you aren’t sufficiently inspired by the city’s natural charm, it’s as if the Lisbon urges you because on seemingly every corner of the city, there’s the same mysterious graffiti with a simple message “pura poesia.”
Why fight it? There are a hundred ways you could craft a perfect poem about this place, but here’s a few suggestions to get you started.
To begin, what better way to stir the creative spirit than with that ambrosia of all artistic minds – wine. Portuguese wine tours are a must for the sophisticated tourist (or for those who just love to drink) as Portugal has more than 250 native grape varieties.
While the better known wine regions are to the north (think Vinho Verde, Alvarinho, and Port), the countryside around Lisbon offers an array of beautiful wineries in the Alentejo area. The Portuguese take their wine seriously and believe that everyone should be able to drink it, so get ready for some excellent flavors at great prices.
Once you’ve properly imbibed, maybe it’s time to fuel your inner Romantic and take the hour long train ride to Sintra. It’s probably one of the most touristy things to do while in Lisbon, but let me tell you – it is worth it. The charming little town is perched on a cluster of hills, offering a stunning view of the from any of its 3 palaces you can visit. (Pro tip – there is a bus that circulates the town, but it is unreliable and horribly crowded. It’s probably worth your while to hop on one of the tuk-tuks that race up and down the mountain. It’s a thrill ride and a mini tour all in one!)
The Palacio da Pena is what fairytale dreams are made of. It’s a whimsical construction of gates and turrets, covered in tile and vibrant colors. I had to stop every couple of minutes to gape around me and wonder if I hadn’t stumbled into a magical kingdom. After a few hours wondering around the grounds, don’t be surprised if you feel compelled to compose an emotional ode to the majesty of the hilltop village. (In the Spring and Summer, you can take a tour on horseback through the massive gardens of the palace!)
If a sonnet is more of what you’re into, then head back to downtown Lisbon, to the statue Santo Antonio. He’s the patron saint of Lisbon and the unofficial saint of lovers. Outside of his church, there’s a statue of him with a book in his hand. Legend has it that if you can land a coin on his book, he’ll send you a good partner (or a better one if you’ve already got one). Sounds simple, right? Not so much… the statue stands at least 15 ft tall, so it’s quite a coin toss to make. Thankfully, a poet would go to any length for love, so this shouldn’t be a problem for you.
Let’s say you’ve found that perfect partner and now you’d like to get them a gift (or perhaps that souvenir you promised your grandmother). A lively and chaotic free verse stanza is in order after visiting the Feira da Ladra on Tuesday and Saturday. The massive flea market is held in the shadow of the impressive São Vincente church and on top of a hill that seems to slide down into the river.
Your prose will find endless inspiration amongst the jewelry, old VHS tapes, antique lamps and harem pants.
Perhaps yours is a soul that has little regard for materialism and instead seeks the thrill of adventure. Belém, a small district west of downtown Lisbon, is the best spot to start that epic you’ve always longed to write.
Visit the Tower of Belém, the Manueline-style structure which once guarded the river Tejo and Lisbon from invaders. Stare out over the river from the lookout point and search for ghosts of caravels returning from the New World, laden with treasure and tall tales. Check out the Monument to the Explorers and imagine yourself as one of those adventurers, sailing off to new lands (hopefully with less colonial intentions). While you write, try a pastel de Belém (also known as a pastel de nata), a delicious traditional Portuguese pastry made of custard and dough.
If all else fails, I recommend getting hopelessly lost in the streets of the Baixo, the Chaido, the Bairro Alto, or the Alfama; Lisbon is filled with color and life. There’s only one description that does this city justice and that’s pura poesia.