We have been in Lisbon, Portugal, for a week now. Our first impressions are really positive. It reminds me a little bit of Paris (squares, boulevards and the style of some buildings), Dubrovnik (white and black-tiled streets, side streets and sidewalks, with pedestrianized walkways full of shops, cafes and staircases) and San Francisco (steep hills and a suspension bridge). Lisbon also has some indescribable qualities that make it uniquely Portuguese. I can’t exactly put my finger on what they are, probably because I’m such a newcomer and I do find the language quite difficult. I suppose the aspects I notice most are the ubiquitous tiles and other Arab and African influences, the proximity to the sea and Portugal’s history of seafaring and exploration (and colonization), the palm trees and orange trees side-by-side with evergreens, and the influence of the Catholic church. It seems like Lisbon has impacted, and been impacted by, multiple countries and cultures over many centuries, resulting in a most pleasant mix.

We are staying in the historic city center, not too far from the Tagus River. We can see the Castel de São Jorge from our apartment, though it is almost straight uphill. Thankfully, there is a bus. The city is bustling and crowded. The lifestyle seems easy-going and the people are very warm. We are not fans of some of the food that Lisbon and Portugal are famous for, like bacalhau (dried, salted cod) and sardines – gross! – but the pastel de nata are the best. Nata are pastries with a flaky crust and custard filling. These little two-bite treats are available everywhere, and there are entire shops devoted exclusively to baking and selling them. I get the feeling the Portuguese eat them every day. Every restaurant has sangria, too, and I am fully committed to trying all the different variations.

We learned the other day that Portuguese is the official language in nine countries, in addition to Portugal. We could guess Brazil and Macau, but not the others. They are Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. Who knew? Heck, I didn’t even know that São Tomé and Príncipe was a country.

Lis-Bummer (Labor Strikes)

Yesterday, we took the train from Lisbon to Sintra, excited to see the famous castles and palaces. However, some major labor unions in Portugal have called for a strike during this Easter Week, and a number of smaller unions have followed suit. As a result, the primary tourist locations in Sintra were closed. There are labor strikes going on all over Europe right now.

We still enjoyed our trip, and were fortunate to be able to tour the National Palace of Sintra. What we did not enjoy was purchasing tickets for sites that turned out to be closed. The sites just kept selling tickets, even though they knew they would not be able to open. The buses kept selling bus fares and dropping people off at remote sites that they knew were closed. I don’t blame the striking workers; I blame the venues and their ticket agents. Not cool.

Railway workers are also on strike, so we weren’t sure we could get a train back to Lisbon. Thankfully, Uber was available, so we left early and came home to a gorgeous day in Lisbonita!