Lisbon, Portugal

“There’s a certain charm to it comes when it comes”, he suggested as we waited for the famous 28 tram. With a limited grasp of Portuguese and only a slightly ambiguous tram schedule at hand, we set out to do as the locals did when two trams in a row didn’t show: we patiently waited for the next one. It was golden hour, that perfect time of day where you could see the sun gently peeking through the trees and the sky running pale against the clouds. But as tourist, it was the kind of evening you didn’t want to miss out on, and so without meaning to stand out as non-locals, we bit the bullet, made our way out of the line and took a walk in the opposite direction in the hopes of intercepting the 28.

I’m not sure where or how my obsession with Portugal started, but there must have been a subconscious tie-in with the Portuguese grandma I once had. She was not at all blood-related; our families had met through a local organization but she was as sweet as a blood-related grandmother could be. At every gathering I remember just being able to make out her silhouette in a crowd because she was one to always carry around heaps of gifts. It didn’t matter if it was Easter or Christmas or your birthday or just another regular day, you were either getting gifts or a McDonald’s happy meal. Several excursions with the Portuguese community later, I understood – even as a child – that despite our differing cultures, there was a laid-back elegance to the Portuguese that made me feel at ease. Even now, with the night descending on Lisbon 5000-something kilometers from home, I felt like I might belong here, too.

There is no tram more memorable than the 28, which explores several landmarks including the city center and the historical district. If you are so lucky as to get a window seat, you can open your window all the way and marvel at the winding streets, architectural gems and majestic miradouros (viewpoints). Evenings by Portas do sol, the sunset glistens over tamed evening waters as the city takes a gentle breath.

In the daytime, the 28 tells a different story:

Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

Tucked away behind Graça’s main streets,  Miradouro da Senhora do Monteis the kind of viewpoint that even some locals don’t know about. Sitting atop the highest point  in Lisbon (other than the castle), it offers a bird’s-eye view over the city center, all in the peaceful quietude of chapels and pine trees. As Miradouro de Graça’s little sister, it has a charm of its own but is often overlooked.

When you find a hidden gem, you always end up staying longer than initially planned. This is exactly how it played out, as we spotted out landmarks we had visited and surveyed the terracotta rooftops that stretched into the horizon. Right behind us, buskers pulled at their guitar strings while tourists looked on. In this moment, it seemed that life had no other plans for me: perfectly at peace in the city I had longed to visit for so long, time stood still.

Castelo São Jorge 

To truly experience Lisbon’s highest point, a little visit to Castelo São Jorge is required. Presiding over the city since the 11th century, it was built on the highest hill and was considered the most difficult point to access, first to be occupied by the Romans and later by the Moors. Peeking between the ramparts that overlook the city, it almost seems that residents are sheltered under roof canopies and trees: you can always see the terracotta but never the life beneath it.

Benfica & Sporting Stadiums

If there is anything that divides Lisbon, it is the prospect of either being a Benfica or a Sporting fan. But don’t attempt to get your hands on derby tickets unless you’re a club member. Truth be told, I would have been more bummed about not making it the most important derby game of the season — if only it weren’t for the fact that someone actually died in a fan brawl that night. “Football ultras” are often known to be the most fanatic fans — and very often also the most violent ones. In fact, they are such a hazard that in most stadiums they are assigned a section with overhanging nets as a precaution to their flare throwing. For a slightly less intensive experience, both stadiums can always be visited for a small price. A visit to the Benfica (red) and Sporting (green) stadiums will give you chance to tour the arena, the changing rooms, the press rooms and the museums.

The Rua Augusta Arch and old tram in Lisbon, Portugal.

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