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“Google Maps lies,” said reception as I peeled off my Tortuga backpack in the colorful lobby of my Lisbon hostel. I fanned myself with my hands, back drenched, bare faced and recovering from a curse-inducing, hamstring-burning trudge up the Ascensor da Glória. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Restauradores to The Independente, it said. Easy.

Not so. With a month’s worth of added pounds on my back, the trek up one of Lisbon’s most Instagram-worthy hills seemed to stretch on. At that moment, the cute trolley (or funicular, as they say) that will ease you to the top as you spill out onto the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara was not so quaint and dreamy.

In the days that followed, I’d learn to take the longer yet less taxing way back, past the popular Pink Street where locals and tourists convene for drinks. Past the next best place to go for Pastel de Nata (that one place in Belem lives up to its long lines) and free WiFi, Manteigaria. Contrary to the cheeky barista, you do not need to purchase 100 egg tarts to receive the WiFi password. And past that adorable funicular.

The truth is, things move slower in Portugal, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Four reasons why it pays to slow down here:

  • The details: Navigating its back streets is a cautious and novel affair. Here, the power walk is impractical. The streets are bumpy and stoned, not smooth and paved. Sidewalks are so narrow that people spill over onto the street until forced to yield to vehicles. Yet, their geometric and swirly patterns is stunning and must be admired not only for its aesthetic stimulation, but for the sheer man power and focus it must have taken to create patterns at that scale.

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  • The time travel: The gorgeous seaside is just begging for development, and I hope the powers that be recognize what a rare treasure it is to have miles of untouched coastline. I searched the bluffs for gated mansions, resorts and construction. From where I stood in Baleal, the only eye sore was a Hilton, a cluster of vacation homes and a handful of beach bars and seafood restaurants. You just can’t get that at home in CaliforniaMaybe it was because I arrived in Baleal the week before official tourist season, but my first impression of Portugal sand and surf will always be of secluded stretches of sand, uncrowded turquoise waves and a gentle, warm breeze. Even the sets seemed to take its time rolling in.
  • The meal: Dining is a luxurious event. Take out is difficult to find, which I appreciate. We Americans need to remind ourselves that dinner is not a race, and that we were given teeth to chew our food, not inhale it. Simply seasoned seafood shines; sardines, sea bass, grilled octopus salad. Pair with wine; white, red, rose. Dry, sweet, fruity, floral, Portugal speaks wine for all palates. I’m not particularly fluent, so I entrusted the wait staff and was never disappointed.

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  • The lifestyle: The sun sets on the Tagus, and everyone is scattered throughout the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. They fill every seat of the cafe kiosk, sit on the patches of grass and in the middle of the stoned terrace. They sip beer, pour wine. They are present in each others’ company, happy. Relaxed, or doing a really good job looking it. Cigarette smoke lingers. It’s not as strong as its presence in the crowded Baixa and Chiado parts of town so it’s tolerable, although I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. On the other hand, I could absorb the mosaic of the city’s culture forever.

Admiring Castelo de São Jorge from the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, gazing down on whitewashed building and red tiled roofs of Alfama; passing over the beautifully crumbling, tile-lined buildings of Mouraria, Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood and the birthplace of Fado (as overheard on a passing bike tour) is a stark contrast to the manicured suburbs back home, but what does she know, she’s still young.

She’ll learn though; looks aren’t everything. Time is money, and Lisbon is filthy rich.

 

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