In my never-ending quest to be more youthful, I’m always on the lookout for the hip, cool spots to hang out. That being said however, I want to hang out in hip and cool spots on my 50-year-old terms. You know, I want to wear comfortable shoes, drink better quality liquor, and have a warm, clean place to go to the bathroom. This fall, Bob and I spent three delightful days in Lisbon, Portugal, where we walked all over, ate outstanding tapas and Portuguese delicacies, and hung out with the cool kids, drinking on the streets on a Friday night. And yes, I was wearing comfortable shoes, drinking better quality liquor, and there was a warm, clean place to go to the bathroom. Dreams do come true.
One of Lisbon’s most iconic spots, the Rua da Bica de Duarte Belo, is an extremely steep street (11% grade) with a working funicular. For about 4 euros, you can ride 800 feet on a picturesque tram that first began operating in 1892. But even better, the street also boasts a few tiny bars right off the funicular route, whose patrons spill into the street and on the tracks. When a funicular comes slowly rolling up the hill, the revelers simply saunter out of the way, then merge back onto to the tracks when the tram has passed. We stumbled on this happening spot one Friday night in late October, finding oodles of young Lisboetas enjoying cheap beer and conversation. (Side note: you know you’re old when you look around and a) no one else has grey hair and b) everyone is drinking 1 euro cheap beer instead of 2 euro sangria. We bucked the trend in both cases.)
But if you don’t want to hang out drinking on funicular tracks, you’re still in luck. Picturesque streets and fun public transit abound in Lisbon. It’s been said that Lisbon is similar to San Francisco, and I definitely agree. Both cities are on the water, with steep, narrow streets and hidden alleys, and both offer trolleys to get around town. After meandering through three different neighborhoods on self-guided walking tours, with Rick Steves Snapshot Lisbon to point out the best sites, Bob and I found our way Prazeres Cemetery, where the popular Trolley #28E starts its rickety journey across town.
We trekked to its starting point because we wanted to make sure we got seats on this popular route that lurches its way up and down Lisbon’s hills and through its twisty, cobbled streets, fighting traffic the whole way. We had to box a few young folks out, to keep them from cutting us in line, but we did indeed get seats and our ride through town was delightful. This isn’t just a touristy journey. Plenty of locals use the vintage trolleys to get around town as well. It’s great to have a seat where you can look out the window, because at times, it seems the trolley is going to hit any number of cars or other trolleys as it squeezes down tight streets, but the drivers are not shy about using their trolley bells, warning others to get out of the way.
We ate great local food in Lisbon, including the famous pastel de natas—an egg tart pastry that we had at breakfast every day—as well as delicious sardines, local sausages and more. And we drank good beer and delicious sangria in many lively neighborhoods as well.
On our final day we rode the bus out to Belem, five miles west of downtown Lisbon. With many interesting sites, Belem is worth a half day of sightseeing. We enjoyed the National Coach Museum that boasts one of the best displays of historical coaches in the world. The coaches are housed in an old riding school, and date as far back as the 1500s. They once belonged to Italian Popes and royalty from France, England and Spain, to name a few.
We walked back to Lisbon from Belem, stopping along the way at the LX Factory, a hip, cool outdoor shopping/bar/restaurant district that was once an industrial center. Again, we were surrounded by the cool kids, as they sat outside drinking and conversing on a late afternoon. Bob and I certainly must have some youthful magnetism that draws us to the happening spots. It only took us 50+ years to discover it.