Lisboa: Hilly Mazes of Alfama, a Cool Speakeasy, and Airbnb Review

The Alfama and Surroundings

As first impressions go, Lisboa wasn’t exactly…encouraging? Perhaps it’s better if you arrive by land or sea. The flight along the coast surprised with vast stretches of coastline dedicated to farming. The American in me sees prime real estate opportunities, another part of me sees a method of farming that has outlasted its time. I doubt Portugal needs more resorts and I think the entire world could use sustainable farming methods that are earth friendly.

The approach to the airport is directly over town. The outskirts are filled with cement buildings that took me back to Moscow in 1990. They are not appealing. I hope it’s a better environment than it looks.

Whoops! Squirrel. I do that. Back to Lisboa, and what’s to love.

Full disclosure, I stayed and explored primarily the Alfama district. I don’t have much to compare it to as yet, other than a lunch with a new friend, Vivia, who was in the Principe Real district.

I liked the little I saw in that area for the wider streets and green spaces.

I think Alfama will hold its own as a must see spot when I explore different areas in mid-October. It’s a maze of streets, alleys and stairs, sprinkled with little restaurants, cafes and shops. It’s not unusual to find a place that only has two or three tables.

Alfama is Venice without the water and with thigh and calf crushing hills that lead to vistas that take your breath away. That could just be the hike, but still.

Word of advice? Wear flats. Trainers are best, but flat sandals will do. There is very little that is level in this town, and ankle-twisting opportunities await at every turn. Then there’s the Portuguese love of tile. Yes, it’s beautiful, but I both saw and experienced more than one close call as I slid a few inches before correcting. The locals have it down, of course. They’re like mountain goats that way.

You get a feel for the place after a few days but I’m damn glad I got a European Sim so I can access the all mighty Google Maps. My British styled Google voice is not perfect. She lost me a number of times but never for long. A few wrong turns in a foreign place isn’t a bad thing. As long as it’s a safe foreign place. Caution always.

The hills of Lisbon beckon as all good hills do. What’s over the next horizon? Just one more… It’s never just one more because there’s always a damn new horizon staring you in the face. “Come and see what beauties I’m hiding.” Like a cat chasing a string, you’re compelled to follow until your legs demand a respite. Now there’s the perfect VR treadmill idea.

The graffiti was stunning at times. Simple at others.

One of the things I love about Europe is its age. They did a great job of making an active dig, accessible to the public. Stick your face in one of the gaping maws and enjoy the view.

They do have a thing about sardines. Really big sardines here. Yum!


I found an intriguing Speakeasy called Ulysses which is owned by Manuel Barreira. He was born in Lisbon but grew up and lives mostly in Canada. He owns Global Wine Merchants and is a maven with bespoke cocktails.

When I read Speakeasy, I was thinking of the prohibition period and the element of rogue associated with going into such a place. Manuel explained it perfectly. It does come from that period, but we’ve bastardized its meaning. The Speakeasies were places to drink, but as a bartender you had to make that bottle that would have served perhaps 15 stretch to thirty or forty. Hence the birth of cocktails. Less alcohol, and mixed with juices, wines and other complimentary elements. Viola. This was, of course, illegal so you were instructed to “speak easy.” Tres cool.

It’s a dark and cosy vibe as you enter, sultry music filling the small space. Five stools on each wall. You can’t help but get caught up in the rarified atmosphere as you claim a perch for your own. This is the perfect place for a secret entrance to another time.

Two beautiful paintings command attention as they face each other. The lady is blurred as though through the lens of a memory. There’s a beautiful story about the elements in this piece, she’s locked in time, waiting eternally for her loves return; Ulysses himself.

The other is also a mix of many elements. A woman in red with a Bond era martini. I can come up with endless ways to interpret this. Out of place and time, yet commanding her own…and what do the men think of her?

The first night I spent with two couples, one from Ireland and the other San Francisco. Manuel made the most divine Black Manhattan.
The second evening it was a cherry themed cocktail that teased the tongue with forbidden fruit. That night there was another Irish couple and a couple from New York. We were later joined by a man from I-Can’t-Remember. Ha. It was another evening of interesting conversation and good vibes.
I love this place.
Manuel is planning on expanding the space next year. I will be back. And I’ll be looking for Speakeasies from now on.

Must See

Ulysses above, of course.

A short walk from my Airbnb is the Baixa district. Arch da Rua Augusta is a must see at a whooping 6 euros.

The view from top is lovely. The criss-cross pattern of the Praça do Comérci is striking as are the surrounding buildings, the river, and Almada on the other side.

Facing East you get a great view of Calçada-paved streets and a market district that’s guaranteed to please shoppers and diners.

To your left is the Santa Justa Lift. A fanciful looking structure that connects the lower streets of the Baixa with Largo do Carmo above.

To your right is Castelo de S Jorge. I admit, I love castles. All kinds of interesting vibes in these places.
Buy a ticket online and skip the line.

The grounds are beautiful with more stunning views. Not sure what they’re called in Portugal, but what I know of as Monk Parakeets abound. They chattered loudly in fits and starts adding a fun ambiance. If you didn’t take my advice about the shoes yet. Do it here. Seriously.


Right in Alfama.

My Airbnb was great. A bit smaller than I imagined, but beyond adequate.
My host and his wife picked me up from the airport and had a great deal of information about the region.

I apparently hadn’t nailed down my “must haves” list as yet because there’s a wicked flight of stairs to traverse to get in and no A/C. The days were a little hot, but the nights were fine with the two provided fans.

And those stairs? Pedro hauled that bag up for me and his wife took my little carry-on! Princess much? Can’t tell you how grateful I was, given my current level of jet lag. I could have done it, but it was really nice not to have to. Thank you, Pedro and your lovely wife!

There was a bit of a mystery here. There were some oddly placed glass bricks in the sleeping area and bathroom. At first I thought it led to an ally. Until I spotted movement on my first night. That wasn’t an ally. It was another flat. If you’ve ever tried looking through a glass brick it’s not clear, but clear enough. I had a shade for when I slept but, it’s possible someone had full view of my showers. An artistic bent on modern voyeurism? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Can’t say it bothered me in the least and I never saw evidence of anyone looking in.

The flat had everything I needed and more. Coffee, tea, sugar, biscuits and a bottle of wine! Standard kitchen stocked and even shampoo and soap in the bathroom.
Washer? Check. Way to dry? Check.

The balcony was micro, with a great view of the roof next door, but a fine spot to stargaze and dream about what’s next.

Overall, I really like what I’ve seen, but don’t think I’d want to live in the Alfama area. My knees would probably revolt and although beautiful, it’s a tad claustrophobic and doesn’t have enough green space for me. The people are so friendly. Happy to help you with Portuguese if you dare (do dare!) and full of smiles.
It also has views, and secret passages and a killer Speakeasy. And bats. I love bats. #magic

With love,

Next in my nomad series blog is Malaga and Torremolinos.

If you missed my previous blog in Taos, NM and PSYCH-K you can read it here.

I am a space exploration enthusiast, electrical engineer, cultural anthropologist, crypto advocate and science fiction romance author. A newly minted nomad and Phych-K Facilitator, join me as I travel the world in search of insanely smart people, magic and adventure.

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