Every day is Legs Day if you’re in Lisbon.

“Every day is Legs Day if you’re a dog” once said a philosophy-inclined former colleague of mine. For those of you not familiar with gym logic, he was referring to the fact that dogs, for obvious reasons, cannot skip training their legs, unlike those ridiculous guys who you sometimes see around, arms the sizes of trees and thighs as big as breadsticks.
This pearl of wisdom resurfaced back to me as I was scurrying up the hill path that ultimately led to the top of Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Unlike London, flat as a pancake, Lisbon waves and snakes its way above an endless theory of hills that roll in the vast estuary of the river Tagus. Every neighbourhood as a hill – sometimes two – each with its viewpoint or miradouro. Unconsciously I embarked on a quest to climb as many as I could find.
Intendente was my starting point. I slept in a hostel room abutting a piazzetta, called largo, where at night young university students descended to drink and chat until four AM. Mornings, as it often happens in places like this, were decidedly drearier: the breakfast area of the hostel was dominated by the ramblings of a very loud and not very coherent Afrikaner lady and, outside, a gaggle of addicts were waking up to find out that one of the side effects of the drugs wearing off was extreme irritability.
Yet the area had its charms: old, decaying buildings expressed the glory of bygone times; others, frontier of gentrification, were being converted in places like the one I stayed in or the much fancier hotel just down the road. And as you progressed downhill, an ecosystem of Chinese supermarkets, Indian kebab shops and the headquarters of a Left-wing party, a banner lamenting the anniversary of somebody’s death: 30 anos sem José Carvalho.
I pressed on, veering left and uphill at the junction immediately after the entrance of the Nova Goa hotel, a dour man chain-smoking on the doorstep. The best fado album cover song I could think of.
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The road to Alfama shed saudade with every meter it gained in altitude, the music ringing in my ears becoming more bossa nova than words redolent of long-lost love. The weather too was clearing out and little trams began puttering up and down the streets in a happy cacophony. Belvederes placed in strategic places offered commanding views over churches, bell towers, roofs and water.
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Another ramp, so steep that those hateful electric rental scooters failed when tackling it, led to the Graça convent and another miradouro. From here Lisbon appeared to be designed to confuse: there was a statue of Christ that said “pretty much this big” with his arms like the one in Rio; next, a red suspension bridge crossed the estuary, looking the photocopy of that Golden Gate I’d just seen being destroyed by a cargo ship in The Rock’s latest disaster film. Puzzling.
The logical next step was the miradouro dedicated to our Lady of the mountain where, in the company of two jogging firefighters, I had my epiphany. Much like dogs, I reflected whilst stretching my thighs, every day’s Leg Day if you’re in Lisbon. I wonder if the council will put up a plaque to commemorate the event.
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Thinking done it’s a case of once more unto the breach, my friends, once more. Let’s dive once more into the alleyways that tumble down from the castle into the waterfront; let’s sink again in the riot of colours, azulejos and alfacinhas that go about their business. Let’s do it.
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The weather is changing. I emerge from a small tasca, a tiny restaurant with white tiles like an abattoir, to find that the sun has been replaced by dark, ominous clouds of the kind that have been hovering above London for the past three months. The right weather, I suppose, to be entering a neighbourhood dubbed Misericordia.
Misericordia could also be the plea of the poor sod who has to walk these streets from east to west (I went for something a bit stronger, but I’ve never been a good Catholic). A precious few roads run in steady ascent whilst the overwhelming majority are a knee-breaking and lung-bursting up-and-down obstacle course of stairs, cobblestones and turns. The neighbourhood has grown into a landscape of small, steep valleys that run parallel to one another and to walk across them is to climb above a ridge, descend into the precipice and then climb again. A via crucis shaded by citrus trees.
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There must be a mirodouro and for my sins I got one. Dedicated to Santa Caterina, patron saint of Italy and nurses (and double patron of Italian nurses I guess), the belvedere opens up next to a pharmacology museum-cum-bar doing a brisk trade in G&Ts. For medical reasons I assume.
The balcony arcs above the estuary, on the avalanche of houses, terraces and photovoltaic panels that descend towards a waterfront of new buildings, warehouses and, on the far right, the port. Cranes stand to attention next to mounds of containers but there are only two vessels moored there and one, it seems, isn’t going to go anywhere soon. A ferry of sorts with a roll-on, roll-off ramp up front, is slumped against the pier at a 30 degrees angle, its charred and rusty underbelly exposed.
I squint in the now gloomy light to get a better look, possessed by the same curiosity that causes us to slow down at a traffic accident, but in that precise moment a curtain falls. First to go is about-this-big-Jesus, then the Golden Gate, then the port itself. The world closes in under the drizzle and all that remains for me to do is to walk down a steep, slippery slope.
Yes. Everyday’s Leg Day if you’re in Lisbon.
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27 Responses to Every day is Legs Day if you’re in Lisbon.

  1. Anna says:

    Yet to visit Lisbon but must do one day. Will get training these skinny legs of mine now 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. J.D. Riso says:

    Ah yes, I remember walking those hills of Lisbon. They’re great for walking off pasteis de belem. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. richandalice says:

    Gonna be in Lisbon next September. I’ll be sure to bring my legs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Uuuu, you’ve been here! No tips required, you did exactly what one should do in Lisbon. One of these days I’ll go around counting tourists and spit out a formula that shows the inverse correlation between the number of steps and the number of tourists.

    For your next trip here, consider joining the mad group that every week runs up and down these neighbourhoods, and tops it up with a few extra laps around Monsanto (the large park on the opposite side of town, where straight paths are also hard to find).

    – Verne

    PS: any panning shots here? For some odd reason, I don’t think I’ve every tried them in Lisbon!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lexklein says:

    Read the title as “Lego day” for some dumb reason… and thought it would be about your engineering-based nerdiness. (I say that kindly as you have called yourself an aeronautics and other geek at least a couple of times!). But no, just legs, and a topic (endless walking) that I enjoy much more than plastic bricks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Ooooh, Lego!!!!

      I loved Lego as a kid, though my attempt at building a dog saddle for our Dalmatian were, shall we say, a lot less than successful. Thanks for reading Lexi, considering your mountaing climbing geekiness I’m glad you liked the post.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jeff Bell says:

    Walking upstairs is hard, even for athletes who never skip leg day. It would be interesting to do a study of the cardiovascular fitness of Lisboners vs. flatlanders.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. equinoxio21 says:

    Certainly looks steep. Like Montmartre everywhere… Hope all is well with you?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Dave Ply says:

    “pretty much this big.” I don’t know if I’ll be able to see one of those statues now without thinking this…
    It’s kind of spooky how much that bridge looks like the Golden Gate. I wonder what sort of legs you’d need to climb the towers?

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Pretty damn good ones methinks. About the statues… the religious brigade will be happy to pelt me with rotten vegetables but if they aren’t about Jesus bragging about the size of the fish he’s caught (and multiplied) I don’t know what else they can represent!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Bama says:

    Like you, I always enjoy traveling to cities that are not flat — not because I love walking up- and downhill a lot, but because of the variety of views the city has to offer. Jakarta is a very flat megalopolis, so places like Istanbul, Hong Kong, and Amman really spoiled me with the dramatic sights of their hills (or from the hills).

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Never knew that Jakarta was so flat! I don’t know why, but in my utter ignorance I thought at Indonesia (mountains, volcanoes) and thought that it’d be at least hilly…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Once again you have transported me with your vivid words and subtly striking images. I aspire to write as beautifully as you do. Inspirational. Do you publish in magazines? Your stories are that good.

    Liked by 1 person

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