The Driver and I Spoke Italian

The pilot gave us notice that the approach to Lisbon would be circuitous. We were running late, but had made up some time, and now a few minutes would be sacrificed again. However, we were informed, the longer approach would take us out to the Atlantic and a view of the city below.

And the view was absolutely stunning, with Lisbon standing grandly on the tidal banks of the Tagus River. The view from my window on the port side of the plane was well worth a few extra minutes in the air.

Once we landed I considered taking the subway to my hotel, but I was tired so settled for a cab. The drive was quick, but the driver didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Portuguese, which left me feeling like an awkward American. Still we both speak a little Italian, so we made do with the words and conversation we could share.

At the hotel I took a brief nap and a shower before heading out. I pushed myself to stay awake and to optimize the day. Tomorrow is the only other day this trip it’s supposed to be sunny, so I need to take advantage of the few great outdoor hours I have.

I walked down the tree-lined Avenida de Liberdade in the general direction of the riverbank.

I passed through Restauradores Square, commemorating the independence of Portugal from Spain in 1640, after 60 years of Spanish rule.

Beyond that I stopped and got some cash from the ATM across from this … Starbucks?!

Finally, on Rua Augusta, a fashionable pedestrian avenue that heads directly toward the harbor, my hunger won. I’ve seen 6,000 photos of Pastel de Nata, an egg custard pastry, and as soon as I saw one in person I needed it. So I ordered one along with a glass of porto. And all was right with the world.

Back on my feet I continued toward the southern end of the street and the Rua Augusta Arch, built to commemorate the 1755 earthquake (with subsequent tsunami and fire) that leveled much of Lisbon.

Beyond that is the Praça do Comercio, former site of the royal palace. This grand square is a gathering point. And as the evening approached, with the sun dipping toward the horizon, many people had gathered on the riverbank.

I wandered further afield, munching on roasted chestnuts and just trying to keep moving. The first night in a town I do little more than walk and eat, so my goals were modest. On some trips I’ve been lucky enough to arrange a street food tour, such as I did in Marrakech and Hanoi, but it wasn’t to be this time.

Even so, I managed to find myself a few stunning views of this spectacular city. And a lovely dinner of pork cheeks not far from my hotel.

I’m in Lisbon, my friends, and it might be rainy but it’s going to be great.

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