I sit here writing this on a wooden bench tucked away in a garden at the foot of the Alfama hills. Earlier today I stopped for a short break from my calf destroying trek to Sao Jorge Castle and overheard a tour guide tell her loyal subjects that the best stories in Lisbon come from getting lost. I could not agree more.
Lisbon allows you to get lost without being truly lost because of its sloping hills towards the coast littered with a constellation of ancient monuments that pierce the warm sky. At any point you can look up or down and know generally where you are in relation to city center(s). Lisbon is unique in that it is made up small regions, each with its own personality – all of which are easily walkable.
I started my day on the far west side of the city, greeted by the rising sun underneath the daunting Belem Tower. From there I meandered up and down the hills, slowly making my way east, using the stone towers from castles and monasteries that stretch beyond the Placa buildings that line the cobblestone streets.
Every step is an exercise in dexterity, walking on old cobblestones that being back memories of careful steps across rocks that protruded from the creek that served as a shortcut home from school.
As I stumbled down an alleyway in the eastern part of Lisbon, an infatuating aroma of freshly baked bread swept through the streets. (I don’t even like bread, but my consumption so far has consisted of water and a handful of almonds, so this was as pleasant a smell as I could remember). I followed the smell only to find a small doorway, maybe 4 feet tall, with a small sign outside that read: fresh bread, fresh coffee inside. I crept through the doorway and down the stone stairway, only to walk into a large open air garden with a prodigious oven in the middle and a small coffee bar with a bean grinder, espresso machine and loaves of sourdough bread stacked on the counter.
Two euros later and I am sitting on a wooden bench, sipping an Americano, surrounded by locals enjoying fresh bread and freshly made jam. Part of me thinks this place was intentionally hidden from tourists – I haven’t heard a word of english spoken in hours. I am just thankful that they welcomed me into this serene sanctum.
As my comrades are about make their way home to an afternoon siesta, I am about to embark to the airport. If only I found this place sooner, but then again, that ruins the beauty of finding what you don’t know you’re looking for. I wonder what else I could have found if I wasn’t lost in this garden.