Pastel Alley Walk in Lisbon
We’re here, Lisbon, Lisboa, Portugal. This city is impossibly gorgeous, in a familiar yet uniquely original way. I’m smitten immediately. Colorful, stepped buildings line the hills, cascading into the sea. The streets flow from the water, carving erratic paths into the hillsides. Buildings grow organically on the grade of the hills. I beg you to find a right angle here.
We are staying in the Alfama, the historic Moorish neighborhood of Lisbon. We enter the ancient section and our driver slows to navigate the winding streets. She get us to a place where the car can no long pass through, we must traverse the rest of the way on foot. We are directed to navigate through a tiny plaza and make our way up an almost hidden staircase. We walk past open doors and windows, cartas slots for mail, plants in pots balanced on stone steps. Inward we go, deeper, it is oddly quiet here.
Midway up the stairs, we arrive at our accommodations, a third story apartment. The accent seems impossible, three stories of wooden stairs traversed in about 12 feet. The angle of this staircase was a few degrees away from a ladder. With our bags strapped to our backs, we hike the stairs to our lofty tower. I feel like I’m traveling back in time. How will we get back down?
After dropping our bags, we head out for a walk to explore the neighborhood. Without a destination in mind we make our way through the streets. Hungry from travel, our bellies discover a restaurant, two tiny tables with tiny stools are precariously perched out front on the slanted sidewalk. We grab a seat on the hillside.
Outcomes the server, a thin man with glasses who immediately begins to enthusiastically speak to us in English. We ask for his recommendations, both for food and wine and he brings us exactly what we are hoping for – beautiful tinned fish, freshly plated, dripping with glistening olive oil, moist, fluffy bread, and of course, chilled vihno verde. It’s Petisco Hour, Portugal’s delicious time of small plates food & wine.
Vihno Verde, that beautiful, young, crisp Portuguese original, is low in alcohol. Thirsty from travel, we drink without reservation. Two tins of fish and a bottle later, we take our soft wine buzz and continue our meanderings.
Deep within the labyrinth of Alfama, pastel walls with their soft hues and smooth textures rise up from the weathered cobblestones of the Esherian alleyways. Laundry gently flows in the wind, strung on clotheslines outside the windows in the stories above. A gray camouflage of erratically patterned mosaic cobblestones is accentuated by the lush green of plants in terracotta pots. It is lovely, organized chaos.
We enter this medieval world at the base of a hill, wandering through the turns, our route obscured by the high walls of the ancient Alfama buildings. At each new interchange, we always chose “up.” Our destination – a castle, perched up high. Submerged in this hushed world, soft music billows from an open window, narrating the moment. It feels like a movie scene.
Looking up a curving alleyway, something exotic yet familiar walks slowly near the ground, its colors giving a clue to its taxonomy. Suddenly, a distinctive shrill pierces the silence — the classic tell of an iconic bird. His call is echoed by a hidden, potential mate – a peahen somewhere deeper in the Alfama. Although he is walking without his tail presented, his classic colors are undeniable. We are looking at a beautiful male peacock. Is this real or is this a fleeting dream?
Lulled by this romantic moment, we couldn’t help but play the token tourists. With cameras out and video rolling, we follow him, we flirt with him, and we beckon him to display his beautiful feathered fan. But he wasn’t in a dapper mood, nor did he squander his exhibition on us humans.
A car slowly makes its way into the alleyway and startles the pigeons. Just like that, the bubble pops and the dream state is over. This is really happening. Dusk settles in and the streetlights begin to turn on. We make our way back down the hill, away from the walls of the castle, away from the peacock calls, away from the trance. Charmed with this uniquely Alfama-moment, we decide to make it a memory, an ephemeral souvenir.
I’m always amazed at the serendipity that accompanies travel. Heightened senses, new experiences, and abated inhibitions all combine to make the situation ripe for accidental discovery. A moment before, a moment after, one different turn, and the moment, this moment, would not exist. This is why I travel. I live for collecting these moments, these memories, these ephemeral souvenirs and adding them to the treasury that is the sum of my experiences.