Lisbon, you had me at hello

Our taxi winds its way through the main city streets of Lisbon and the city opens up slowly around us. We see the famed hills of the city framing the landscape and there are squares scattered just about everywhere bustling with people. We continue to make our way into the heart of the city and we catch a glimpse of the Castelo perched high above.

Our taxi slows and the driver leans out looking upward at a nearby hill. He pauses to look at the address and check his GPS. We come to a stop as he leans out the window to confirm the address of our destination with a driver in the car next to us. The other driver points up at a nearby hill and they talk and nod.

We pull over and we learn that this is as far as he can take us. He points up toward the hill and explains that he can’t access our street because our apartment is in the Mouraria and we can only access it by foot. We pile out of the taxi and grab our things. We look at each other and wonder what sort of adventure we are about to embark upon.

Our taxi driver leads us up the first set of a tall cobblestone stairs and explains that our apartment is at the top of these stairs in a plaza. We climb several more sets of stairs and find ourselves at Largo dos Trigeros in the heart of the Mouraria. We look around and take in everything we see. It’s idyllic.

There are café tables underneath the shade of an old tree filled with families and friends enjoying afternoon drinks and snacks. There’s a water fountain now transformed into a modern art sculpture. There’s a mini library with books for adults and kids. Our little one immediately drops his bag and runs over to dig through the options. The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings. Each building is painted in a different color or is adorned with Portuguese-tiles. Some have pots of flowers framing the entrances. It’s breathtaking. We have to pinch ourselves back to reality.

Our apartment is in one of the buildings on the square. We look up and see our host leaning off the balcony with a large smile and waving us up. We make our way up the narrow and winding stairs to the third floor and open the door. It turns out our apartment directly overlooks the Largo dos Trigeros and its just as beautiful as the outside. It is filled with light and has a mixture of modern and antique furniture. Local modern art hangs on the walls throughout the home. Our host greets us warmly with a pitcher of ice-cold water, a bottle of port, and a plate of Pasteis de Belem. We sit down and relax while she shares with us information about the Mouraria neighborhood and Lisbon.

Mouraria is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lisbon dating back to the 12th century. It sits underneath Castelo Sao Jorge and is located next to the popular and tourist-filled neighborhood of Alfama. Unlike most of the city, Mouraria, along with the Alfama, was not destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Lisbon in 1755. The pedestrian only streets and ancient buildings unfold to reveal a rich history and a vibrant and modern Lisbon.

Later in the day we explore the neighborhood. We make our way up a narrow and winding street as it curves up toward the Igregia de Sao Vincente. A singular woman in her 80s is in front of us. She climbs the hill effortlessly. Has she lived here all her life? What has she seen and experienced in her lifetime?

We stop at the Igregia, sit on a bench and take it all in. We hear the beautiful sound of a guitar nearby. The guitarist is plucking sweet and solemn sounds of fado music. Edgy street art decorates the nearby buildings. And there are art galleries, shops with local handicrafts, and local restaurants all around us.

I’m hooked. I just know that our Lisbon experience is going to be amazing.

Dorothy Hoffman is the creator of the travel blog, Squirts and Seniors. She is a Gen X-er who writes about traveling at home and abroad with her young son and aging parents.