April 12, 2012

BEST OF: Lisbon

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As someone who calls the Midwest home, congeniality has always been ingrained in my environment. Although certain parts of the country (I’m looking at you, East Coasters) scoff at good manners, despise warm welcomes and find smiling to be a crass and unheard of habit, the term “Midwest Nice” exists for a very real reason.

But from my very first minutes in Lisbon, my conception of true kindness was altered forever. Yes, Sally from Illinois might say a friendly “hello” to strangers, but Hugo from Lisbon goes in for a bear hug and then invites everyone to dinner.

Portugal looks, feels and even smells like heaven on earth, and boy, do the locals have the attitude to match. Whereas in most other European cities I have inevitably felt the deep shame of being a ‘tourist,’ from the very start Lisbon welcomed me with open arms. Gone were the terribly rude shopkeepers of London, the fear of pickpockets in Barcelona and the overall snootiness of Paris. In their place was the astounding optimism and inspiring kindness of Lisbon.

Home, I didn’t know I was searching, but I have certainly found you now.

Although I could sing the praises about any and every aspect of this city, without further adieu here are my Top Three acts of kindness and moments of awe in magical, wonderful Lisbon:

1.  The Locals – Although the city itself is endlessly gorgeous, its people give Lisbon its true beauty. A brief story: Feeling dumbfounded and searching for any semblance of a clue on my map, I stand on a corner looking hopelessly lost. Without even having to say a word, a well-dressed older gentlemen walks over to me with a knowing smile on his face. He rambles in Portuguese as I blurt out phrases in English and attempt to convey my meaning with hand motions. Offering me the sweetest little apology because he has to take out his glasses to read my map, he then signals to walk with him. For two blocks, we walk together, silent because of the language barrier, but not uncomfortably so. Walking completely in the opposite direction than he was originally going, the gentlemen still smiles, obviously more than happy to help. With a wave goodbye, he makes sure I get home safely, not once asking for anything in return. Never have 90 seconds made me want to be a better person than those.

2.  Cabo da Roca – Once believed to be the end of the world, Cabo da Roca marks not only the westernmost point of Portugal, but of Europe as a whole. Described in the 16th century by Portuguese poet Luís de Camões as “where the land ends, and the sea begins,” I found myself contemplating the sheer immensity of life just by glancing at the endless expanse of shimmering blue. Bombarded on all sides by lush, rolling hills, massive cliff faces and the undeniable force of the Atlantic Ocean, one can’t help but feel moved. Just a breath of that pure, unadulterated air makes you instantly happy to be alive.

3.  Sintra – I’m not ashamed to say, I have searched for Middle Earth from the day my father started reading The Hobbit to me at bedtime. Although I have come to grips with the fact I may never rub shoulders with elves, I am happy to say that Sintra is just about as good as it gets. A thirty-minute drive outside of Lisbon, the scenery transforms into a verdant symphony of green mountaintops veiled in an ethereal mist, enlivened with the tropic’s vibrant colors and cacophony of sounds. From the quiet, picturesque town of Sintra, you walk up a mountain peppered with unbelievable palaces, each more jaw dropping than the next. I only explored “Quinta da Regaleira,” but my two hours could have easily stretched into two years. A millionaire’s dream brought to life by a famous Italian landscape architect, this palace boasts enticing grottos, gorgeous turrets and a massive well that leads to a secret underground labyrinth of tunnels. This is truly myth and romance at their opulent best.

Sarah Angell a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at sangell@cornellsun.com. Notes from Abroad: Best Of appears on Fridays.

Original Author: Sarah Angell