crazy in chiado

No matter what time of day you pass Cafe á Brasileira, it’s packed. The infamous coffee shop in Chiado is one of Lisbon’s oldest cafes, having gained recognition as the favorite hang out of the famous – yet crazy – poet, Fernando Pessoa. A man who drank copious amounts of absinthe, Pessoa spent countless hours getting blitzed here, letting go with his creative flow, so to speak. In dedication, there is a bronze statue of him sitting outside the cafe and that’s where you want to be. Always full, it’s the perfect place to people watch. So stand at the bar, order a pingado, a pastry and check out the turn of the century interiors while waiting for a table to clear. Then plant yourself.  You won’t hear anyone spouting poetry at the top of their lungs, but the parade of people going by makes for its own fun distraction.

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funiculi, funicular

Lisbon is hilly. I mean really unexpectedly hilly. The central downtown valley of Baixa is relatively flat and plotted out along grid-lines. (Pretty much leveled by the great earthquake of 1755, the neighborhood was razed and subsequently planned.) Yet the surrounding neighborhoods of Barrio Alto, The Alfama, and Chiado – the areas that give this city so much of its vitality – spring up higgledy-piggledy on the surrounding hills.  Which means Lisbon, my friends, is not for the weak of leg. Fear not, however, the public transport is excellent:  a spacious and efficient subway is coupled with an extensive bus system.  As for navigating those pesky hills, you can take one of the vintage trolleys that slowly amble along crooked streets, ride one of the handful of turn of the century iron elevators that move people from plateau to plateau, or wait for the funicular, which will slowly ratchet you up a steep incline. Whatever you do, be sure to get the Lisboa Card, a magic wand that covers all your mass transit needs. Certainly you’ll want to be adventurous and do a little hill climbing at first but trust an inveterate hiker on this one: after a day lost in the labyrinth of The Alfama your bloody stumps will be begging you for mercy.

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