Jonathan Sumner Evans
Sumner Evans
Software Engineer at Automattic working on Beeper

Lisbon, Portugal - Day 4

Written by Human, Not by AI

Today was my last day in Lisbon. I spent the morning on a walking tour of the city and then flew to Paris.

Touring Lisbon

The tour was gratuity based, and it was really good. The guide’s name was Hugo and he was very engaging and informative. He took us around a bunch of places in Alfama, and he pointed out interesting things that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own.

Avoiding the tourist traps

Hugo is a Lisbon native, and he spoke his mind about what he thought about things. For example he railed against a particular attraction: the Santa Justa Elevator which he rightly described as a tourist trap. Every day, the line for the elevator is constantly long. The elevator literally just takes you on a 30 second ride up to a view above the city for the small price of €5.30. He explained that it was a total rip-off, and even gave the tip that if you really want to go on it for some reason, you can just get on at the top and go down for free.

He also threw shade on some of the false wives tales that are told by guides about various attractions.

Culture: Portugal’s primary export

He led us up the hill on which Alfama is situated, around the old castle that I went to a few days ago. On the way, we stopped at a mural commemorating Fado, a music famous to Lisbon. He basically described it as sadboy Flamenco. He explained that Portugal has not fared well economically over the years, and the music somewhat reflects that. One quote that stuck with me was:

People come to Lisbon for the gastronomy, not the economy.

While there are some other light industries such as cork production as well. The primary industry in Portugal is tourism.

Travelling the world in a day

When we arrived at one particular overlook, he pointed out the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge that is very similar in style to the Golden Gate Bridge and a Christ the Redeemer statue that is similar to the one in Rio. He said “and here we have a bridge that is normally in San Francisco, and a Jesus that is normally in Rio” and then said: “you can visit all these sites in one day and take pictures and put them on social media. Then you can say you went to San Francisco, Rio, and Lisbon and because your friends are stupid, they will think you went to all of those places!”

Learning some more history

Hugo explained that the first evidence of people living in the Lisbon area was the Phonetians. The next major civilization to settle the area was the Romans who named the area Lusitania. Ruins of structures they built still exist in some places. The next major influence was the Moors who occupied much of the Iberian peninsula during the 8th to the 15th centuries. Portugal was retaken in the 12th century from the Moors during the Christian reconquest, the Kingdom of Portugal was established in 1143. From that point on, the borders of the country have not changed, and in that way, Portugal has a claim to the title of oldest country in Europe. After much political upheaval in the 20th century (revolutions, coup d’état, and dictators), an bloodless revolution in the 1970’s ushered in the Portuguese Third Republic which is the current government of the country.

In 1755, an earthquake hit Portugal and the aftermath had far-reaching ramifications on the city of Lisbon into the present time. The earthquake happened on All Saints Day which was a Christian holiday and one of the main things people did was light candles in their homes. When the earthquake hit, the candles started fires and quickly, the city was ablaze. Panic spread quickly, and people fled to the one place that wasn’t shaking or on fire: the ocean. But as we in the modern era know, coastal earthquakes are followed by tsunamis. The earthquake was followed by a large tsunami, and many people ran to the ocean and died in the ensuing wave; similar to what often happens in present times in 3rd world when tsunamis occur. The destruction of the city was comprehensive. However, there were some sectors which fared better than others: namely those occupied by the Muslim and Jewish minorities. Hugo described it like so:

Muslims and Jews have only one thing in common: they are not Christians. And as such, they were not celebrating All Saints Day and did not have candles lit in their houses when the fire hit.

The buildings in the Jewish and Muslim were generally saved from the fire, though they still took earthquake damage. The buildings also were centered around the old castle which is on a hill, so they were not damaged by the tsunami either.

Because of the destruction, most of the city has been rebuilt since the middle of the 18th century.

The disaster was fertile ground for philosophical debate among the elite thinkers of the time. Many took it as proof that bad things can happen to anyone, no matter how powerful. Portugal was at the height of its empire at that time with colonies spanning the globe. They were leaders in transcontinental commerce with trade routes to the Americas, around the African Cape and to India, the East Indies, and even as far as Japan. Yet even at the height of their empire, nothing could stop the natural catastrophe.

Other random facts

Lisbon is home to one of the first public urinals. There is one right outside of the castle walls that is still available for use today.

Portugal and England have the honour of having the oldest alliance in the world. They entered an alliance in 1386 after England helped the Portuguese win a battle.

They are famous for these particular painted tiles which, if crafted authentically, have insulating properties because they have an airgap between the outer and inner layers. There are many imitation tiles that just have pretty patterns but no actual insulating properties, but there are very few authentic ones being created today.

There was a large campaign for dog adoption a few years ago, and many dog parks and other resources were set up to help dog owners. It was quite successful from a humane standpoint. Although there has been success on the animal rights front, there is still one major inhumane thing that exists in Portugal: bull fighting. Since a few years ago, it is illegal to televise bull fights and Hugo hopes that they will be illegal in a few years.

Hugo was a great guide, and I really enjoyed the tour. I recommend you take his tour if you have the chance. He is on Instagram: and he said he’s open to DMs. Next time I’m in Lisbon, I’ll be DM-ing him for sure for recommendations and another tour!

After the tour was over, Hugo gave some recommendations for restaurants in the area. I went to a place that was very local (not many of the wait staff spoke any English). I had a rice and seafood dish that was quite large and filling.

After lunch, it was getting towards mid-afternoon, so I headed over to the airport and went to the ANA Lounge for a while to do some blog catchup. It was the first time I’d ever been in an airport lounge. I recently got the CapitalOne Venture X card which has Priority Pass lounge access, so I figured it would be fun to take advantage of it for a couple hours.

My flight to Paris on TAP Air Portugal was in the evening and arrived fairly late into Paris. On the approach to Orly (the airport outside of Paris) I was able to see the Eiffel Tower out the window!

After disembarking, I took the train to Gare du Nord. I got to the train just in time, as they closed the gate less than a minute after I got to the platform. Once at Gare du Nord, I went to my hostel: St. Christopher’s Inn. It was not nearly as nice as the one in Lisbon, but it was a bed for the night.