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  • Writer's pictureSheryl

[ a travel diary ] Alfama, Lisbon

In stride with laundry and many, many stairs.

We stepped out of our Airbnb to our faces mere inches away from the string of 28E trams whizzing past us, people leaning out its windows videoing and photographing. To our left, handwritten menus and TimeOut stickers hinted at the possibility of a restaurant. And to our right, platters of seafood stared at us through the gaps of those lowered blinds [ a most unassuming seafood restaurant that we would later find out, served the best seafood rice I’d ever had in my life ].

[ Alfama in the Day ]

Despite the mild March temperatures, the sun was unforgivingly harsh. Glistening silver tracks were glaringly tattooed against the dark cobbled streets. Thank god for the generous shadows of Alfama’s buildings and its laundered sheets.

Trees and laundry rustled in the calm spring breeze. A guitar was heard down a narrow alley. Trams, cars, and what resembled a tuk-tuk zipped through the neighbourhood’s hilly urban landscape, always getting dangerously close to unfazed pedestrians. Gigantic oranges, beautiful strawberries, cakes and unfamiliar (and incredibly yellow) pastries enticed. Detergent, and a certain lazy calm hung in the air - billowing in the breeze like the laundry strewn across the facades. Beautiful tiles and intricate balconies - truly reminiscent of the wealth Alfama once saw - was a sight to behold. For every turn, every alley, surprised us with graffiti, art … and sometimes just too many stairs.

Alfama - Lisbon’s oldest and in my opinion, most charming neighbourhood felt very much like a village rather than a city. Once, it was occupied by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors (which were pivotal to Alfama’s visual and cultural identity), then the Jews. This once wealthy neighbourhood eventually became a home to the fishing community. Alfama was a maze (quite literally) riddled in history and cultures. So my main tip of the day :

  • wear VERY sturdy shoes (those cobblestones ain’t kind to heels, honey)

  • and for every Google Map trip, double that time. Most likely, you’d encounter a hill or two, maybe a big detour, parks that mostly have only one exit, and many flights of stairs…

Historically, its tangle of alleyways were built as a defence system, which we have … *PANT* verified *PANT* was most *SIGH AND GROAN* effective.

PS. that was when the copious amounts of bread and butter served with seafood truly came in handy for our muscles!

[ Alfama at Night ]

The social life in Lisbon went on till the wee hours of morning.

As the sun set behind the glistening mosaics, the city revealed itself in staggered warm glow. The music grew louder, more sentimental. People continued to dine on the streets - but this time, wine, rather than coffee and pasteis were served.

Another tip : the evening was when the viewpoints were crowded with tourists and locals alike for that sunset city shot. But if you would rather avoid crowds, the view late at night was equally breathtaking.

Lisbon is one of those cities that can truly transport a person.

Maybe it was somewhere along that hike up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, the music, the people, the food, the wine, the breathtaking views …

In the past month, many life and career changes have been happening far rapidly and unexpectedly. And feeling completely out of control, I clutched to those daily shreds of familiarity with a zeal present only in those rebellious days of the fabulous twenties.

A frustration that Lisbon, or specifically, Alfama, helped me forget.

Or maybe it was just my crying calves that helped me detach from those thoughts into quiet acceptance. Suddenly, every emotional struggle felt like a dream. A calm ensued : to ride the winds of fate rather than to fight it.

Alfama was a mosaic of cultures and experiences with histories etched so deep into its cobblestones. And all these layers made it so distinct from how I know and have previously experienced Europe. Its beautiful tiles reminded me of Marrakech; its intricate balconies similar to those in other rich European cities. But perhaps this was the difference and character I needed. Lisbon was a relic that has withstood endless change and time, and even natural disasters (the Earthquake of 1755). And still, it stands strong, whispering :

This too, shall pass.

Thank you for reading :)

- Sheryl

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