Featured City: Lisbon, City of Fate, City of Fado


Lisbon’s Palace

LISBON (Lisboa) is the capital and largest city of Portugal and shares its history from the beginning.  As such it was one of the most important cities in the world in the 16th century.  Unfortunately it was also earthquake-prone and had many.  The worst was in 1755, which resulted in a tsunami that killed some ten percent of the population and devastated coastal areas from Britain to Morocco.  The city was rebuilt in a more modern style, much of which remains.  Today the city has much entertainment and many festivals, especially in summer.  And for those of us who like our nostalgia in dimly-lit clubs, listening to some fado in the old Alfama district can be quite worthwhile.  Portuguese bullfighting can be witnessed at the old red-brick Campo Pequeno. The Tower of Belem, located on the riverbank, is a UN World Heritage site.  No place exemplifies the current European hostel explosion better than Lisbon.  Quality is very high.  Many of these places qualify as “best ever” for many travelers.

I was last here in 2003, 0r 2004, can’t remember exactly, whichever year the Rolling Stones were here, because they wreaked havoc upon my travel plans, I remember distinctly.  First I canceled Coimbra, and then I canceled further excursions altogether, taking the train back to Madrid the same way I came.  Portugal is something of a land’s end, after all, not well communicated with the rest of the continent, the last stronghold of the Neanderthals in Europe.  Still I enjoyed my few days.  I got off at the train’s last stop, the old port, and assumed the whole city was like this, as old and worn down as 1995 Vientiane.  Imagine my surprise when I took a long walk and discovered a vibrant new city right around the corner!  When you don’t carry  a guidebook, travel is like that, a continuous discovery, the only maps created by me in my mind.  I still have the stains in an old notebook from the espresso I spilled waiting for the Sunday afternoon fado to begin.  Next time I’ll try the late-night fado.

There are twenty hostels listed for Lisbon in our book “Backpackers & Flashpackers in Western Europe,” with complete specs and contact information.  One of our favorites is Lisbon Poets Hostel,  with beds starting at only twenty-six bucks, helluva deal, I’d say.