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I am going to Lisbon and I need your help

It’s going to be a couple months before I drink a Drogba – the local name of the near-liter-sized Bock Ivorian beer. I can salivate over the photo in the mean time.

I leave tonight for Lisbon. A lot of people — Malian friends in particular — have asked me if I am fleeing. No. If an evacuation was on the agenda, it would have occurred earlier. Perhaps during the days of surround sound gunfire. Perhaps when ECOWAS leveled their sanctions (that were apparently never enforced?). Bamako feels safe, even if the ground beneath it may not be as solid as it appears.

I can’t say that I am optimistic for the immediate future. It’s being reported today that Mali’s Interim President has rejected the idea put forth by the junta of a national convention to decide how the transition will proceed. Mali can’t afford another impasse.

The north remains a mess, but we’re going to start seeing problems in Bamako if the political situation is not resolved. Aid money, which in part pays for salaries of civil service workers, has been cut, the hospitality and tourism industry has been completely devastated, and many NGOs, who provide employment in addition to running programs, have closed up shop. This has all happened as a result of the coup.

I won’t be away from Mali or West Africa for very long, but it’s hard to imagine what the country will look like when I return. The sequence of events since January 17th is already unbelievable in itself.

For the immediate future, I will be in Lisbon for a week and a half before returning to the states to see family and friends. I have never been to Lisbon before, but I’ve heard good things and it worked out well as a stop-over thanks to a cheap flight from TAP Portugal. From what I understand, it is on its way to becoming a third world country, so hopefully the adjustment won’t be too difficult.

Help me

Been to Lisbon before? Recommend something to me. People to meet, restaurants to eat in, drinks to drink. I don’t speak Portuguese and it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been this clueless about a destination. I am looking forward to being bewildered, but I also wouldn’t mind some pointers. Please leave your thoughts, if you have them, in the comments. Or email me at phil dot paoletta at gmail dot com. Or tweet at me at @philinthe_. Thanks in advance. Many more W. Africa posts to come. Love you all.

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{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Roy Marvelous May 17, 2012, 10:07 am

    Funny. I was in Lisbon just 3 days ago. I only had 4 hours there but this is what I can recommend: Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, for the Tomb of Vasco da Gama. Also across the street from there (following the McDs sign) is a cafe selling custard tarts. Look for the long line of people outside.

    Have fun!

    • phil May 18, 2012, 6:20 am

      Roy, even though your advice has been partially rejected by the other commenters, I appreciate the effort. I may actually go to Belem regardless given that I have a bit of time. And according to Cheri, I may be able to find some of these really delicious pastries there.

  • Laura May 17, 2012, 11:47 am

    Hi Phil!

    I actually got back to Bamako 2 weeks ago from a trip to Portugal and I loved it! The people are exceptionally nice, the food is awesome, and Lisbon is a great city to explore.

    -I recommend learning just a little Portuguese (my brother and I just wrote down some key phrases and practiced on the plane). People were genuinely excited when we greeted them or tried ordering food in Portuguese. Just knowing how to say good afternoon and how are you led us to some great conversations with locals.

    -My favorite place in Lisbon was the Oceanarium. Take the metro to the Oriente metro stop (great building too) and then you are in a park that was built a World Expo in the 90s. Lots of cool architecture and one of the best aquariums I’ve been to. http://www.oceanario.pt/

    -Lisbon is a great city to walk around (although lots of hills). But the neighborhoods are really unique and I love the trams and elevators all over town.

    -I found Belem to be a bit overrated, it was just so crowded that it felt more like cattle-herding than historical sites.

    -If you have time, I highly recommend a day or half-day trip to Sintra. It’s only about 40 minutes by train and it’s a gorgeous town with several palaces to visit. We only went to the “Quinta da Regeleira” and it was one of the best days of the trip. The palace is nice but the real treat is the huge estate that you can wander. There are beautiful lakes, fountains, towers to climb, AND hidden doorways, secret tunnels, etc. Don’t forgot to take a flashlight with you, descend into the “initiation well” and go through the tunnels.

    -For food: lots of yummy pastries and cafes com leite, bacalhau (cod) dishes, chicken piri-piri, and vinho verde.

    As you can tell, I really enjoyed Portugal. I’m already looking forward to going back.


    • Roy Marvelous May 17, 2012, 3:28 pm

      I wish I knew this before going to Lisbon! 🙂

    • phil May 18, 2012, 6:30 am

      Laura, you are an all star. Thank you so much!! Definitely going to follow your advice! I will let you know how it goes. For the moment, I am still in Bamako. TAP canceled the flight because of air traffic control strikes there and it’s not clear whether there will be a flight today. Hopefully I will get there at some point!

      • Laura May 18, 2012, 5:06 pm

        Glad to help a fellow Bamakois. Hope you get outta here soon so you’ll actually get to see Lisbon!

  • Cheri Lucas May 17, 2012, 3:01 pm

    Hi Phil — I’ve reached this post via Allen (@borntotrek) on Twitter. I wrote a bit about Lisbon and Belem, though while I think Belem is picturesque and cute, I agree with the commenter above and think it was crowded — it was the quickest, easiest day trip from Lisbon, which was why I went. If I had more time I would have ventured to the coast and further away from the city. Sintra sounds nice.

    And I must admit I loved the cherry brandy from A Ginjinha, the tiny place in central Lisbon where everyone hangs out and sips from tiny cups. Popular thing to do, and I understand why. It’s delicious.

    Have a wonderful trip!


    • phil May 18, 2012, 6:31 am

      Thanks for stopping by! I have been reading your posts. In addition to the helpful info, beautiful writing and photos! Glad Allen directed you here 🙂

  • Samyak May 18, 2012, 3:36 pm

    Yes. U must not miss sintra! There is also a place called Cabo da Roca there (?) in medieval times, it was considered the end of the world by Europeans ( can u imagine that? A world without the US of A?) It’s the western most tip of Europe.

    I hired a car so drove to north upto Porto. Quite a charming port city it is. U can visit some port wine cellars to taste some really good (but quite strong) port wine. Evenings are particularly nice in Porto. In Lisbon, don’t forget to try bacalaon. Some words in Portuguese cud be helpful but it’s not like u will be stuck without Portuguese, not at least in the cities.

    and how can we not talk abt Fado when talking of Lisbon. It would be like visiting Sevilla and not going to a flamenco performance. there are many places in the historic city center where u can catch a Fado music. Nothing fancy, any Fado performance should do for a first timer.

    If u r religious, u wouldnt want to miss visiting the Fatima shrine.

    If u hav been to Madrid u will feel at home in Lisbon. Although don’t ever mention this to someone from Spain. Last time i did that I was slapped back with “si, Lisboa es como Madrid, solo feo!” (roughly translated into: its an ugly version of Madrid!!!) For the record, i don’t subscribe to that view.

    U like slow travel, so u r gonna surely love the slow pace of portugal.

    Boa viagem,

    • phil May 20, 2012, 7:22 am

      Thank you so much! Made it to Lisbon yesterday and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of your recommendations. Will head up to Porto later next week. I really hope the weather gets better, though!

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures May 19, 2012, 12:36 am

    I’m eager to visit Portugal. I wish you the best time there!!!

  • Natasha December 27, 2012, 2:11 pm

    Are you kidding me? 3rd world country? Seriously?

    • phil December 27, 2012, 3:53 pm

      Hi Natasha,
      That was a joke.

  • Vladimir March 11, 2013, 5:41 pm

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