Before I moved to London, if you had asked me which country Lisbon was in, I probably wouldn't have known. Geography has never been my strong point and, as an American, I hadn't concerned myself too much with countries outside of my own. My only real travel outside of the great USA was when I went to Europe with a group of other American teens. I was more focused on the dramas happening within our group than the cultural aspects of the trip. My teenage journal reads something like this: 'Yesterday, J didn't talk to me the whole day. She just hung out with C and K the whole time. Oh and we went to the Eiffel Tower.' One strong memory I have of the trip is being on a train to Paris, not being very chaperoned. At one point some young French guys tried to get into our 'rooms' on the train and one of the girls I was with stood up and said, 'You can't treat US like that. WE'RE AMERICANS.' We're not the best at being tourists...
Fast forward many years later and I am still an American. And also a British citizen. I've traveled way more than I ever imagined I would and have been privileged to experience many different cultures in my own city and beyond. Lisbon is the most recent of those and was a wonderful and pleasant surprise.
Lisbon, in case you don't know, is in Portugal. It is a city full of history and culture, but I was there for a yoga retreat, so I didn't really have time to explore that aspect of the city very much (an excuse to go back!). The general attitude is very Latin and laid back. People are, for the most part, warm, friendly and welcoming and pretty much everyone speaks English as a result of watching undubbed American movies. Portuguese is a beautiful sounding language but, as well as being geographically challenged, I also am mono-lingual (unless you count being able to speak British and American English). To me, the Portuguese language sounds like 'Shushshushshushshush....' although people who speak Spanish tend to be able to pick up on some of what is being said. No one seemed offended by my minimal knowledge of the language ( Good Morning is Bom Dia and Thank you is Obrigado if you're talking to a man. Obrigada if you're talking to a woman). Most of the Portuguese people I met even suggested that Portuguese was a language that didn't make sense and that it was better not to try and figure it out. A very charitable approach towards ignorant tourists, I think!
I traveled with an American friend, who speaks a number of languages and is a very confident traveler. Neither of us, though, had taken the time to research Lisbon, so we were going in blind. Luckily, everyone, except possibly the grumpy guy who owned the cafe below our apartment, was happy to give us advice about where to go, where to eat, what to see and where to walk. It was great!
The first thing we did was eat! We were pointed in the direction of a place called O Prego da Peixaria (https://opregodapeixaria.com/), which featured the Portuguese National Sandwich. The traditional sandwich is made of thin slices of steak, but this place offered non-traditional options in the form of fish, chicken and vegetarian versions of the sandwich. I enjoyed a shrimp prego with a side of sweet potato fries and vegetables as well as a large white wine mojito.
Our apartment was not far from the downtown area and featured bedrooms with glass walled showers looking into the bedrooms....which was very weird. Luckily there were two bedrooms and a bathroom for each of us so we didn't have to make any awkward arrangements to shower.
Our yoga retreat started at 9:00 the next morning, so we were up and ready to head out by 8:15. We grabbed coffees and delicious custard pastries--the breakfast of champions--before following google's suggested route...which led us to a bridge, which overlooked the road we needed to get to. This was a common theme in our walk to the yoga studio and we skated into the class just in the nick of time.
The retreat was hosted by the amazing Eleonora Ramsby and Talitha Gammaroff in a tiny studio in the historic district of Lisbon (http://www.littleyogaspacelisboa.com/). Eight of us, from the UK, Sweden, Portugal and Germany practiced for three hours in the morning, broke for lunch, then practiced again for three hours in the afternoon. We explored the elements and the practices reflected ether, air, water, fire and earth. The weekend was energizing and inspiring, but because it was an urban retreat and we were only there for a weekend, I found that, while I was refreshed and rejeuvinated, I knew I wasn't going to be going back home with unrealistic expectations about all the ways I was going to change myself for the better. And I liked that. I took care of myself, but didn't set myself up for disappointment once I got back to reality.
In between the yoga, I was able to wander around with some of the others from the group. Lisbon is full of good vegan restaurants and the weather was beautiful. It had been so long since I had been in such bright sunshine that I almost couldn't keep my eyes open. I soaked up the sun and took in the sights, wishing I had longer to explore and experience the Portuguese Coast.
On Saturday evening, we met with a Portuguese friend who acted as our tour guide. We strolled through the streets, drank a local cherry liquor called Ginjinha walked along the estuary and checked out the vastly overrated (we thought) Time Out Market. We bought fresh custard pastries which were still warm and climbed the hills up to listen to some traditional Fado. Fado means 'Fate' and generally, according to our guide, is about being lost at sea or some terrible life event. The singing is accompanied by the Portuguese guitar and sometimes a mandolin. The Fado singer and players in the bar we went into were older and proper etiquette was required. The 89 year female old singer, dressed in black shawl, up swept hair held in place by a rhinestone comb, was a force to be reckoned with and, in between songs, hissed and shouted 'SILENCE!!!' at a number of jabbering tourists. The guitar players shot death glares as accompaniment. One couple got up and left. We drank our giant gin and tonics, ate a steady stream of peanuts and kept our mouths shut, out of fear and respect. The young Spanish couple across from us, continued to chat and to take selfies and instagram videos and, interestingly, during the guitar solo the 89 year old diva chattered away at her husband with no regard for the poor guitar players' request for silence. A large picture of her in her youth was hung above the bar. The whole experience was fun and as we wound our way back down to our apartment, the moon was huge above the city.
At the end of Sunday, we made our way via subway to the airport--easy compared to in London! We reflected on the beautiful tile streets and buildings, the nourishing yoga, the free spirit of the city and our intention to come back for another visit as soon as possible! When I got home, my children had baked me a cake. I sat down and had a slice at midnight...a delicious end to a fun weekend.