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I have just returned from spending 6 days in Lisbon, Portugal, and when I returned I realised that I had not bought one thing for myself in Portugal, and it didn’t concern me in the least.  What I did have was 6 days of jam-packed memories, all captured in hundreds of photographs.

Lisbon left its mark and in a good way.  I was excited before I left, but I had never been on the European continent before, so I didn’t quite know what to expect.  The only words I knew in Portuguese was “ola” and “obrigado”, and I wasn’t sure how welcome an English speaking person was, and I also wasn’t sure of how many Portuguese people could speak English.  (Yes, I did go in a bit blind.)

Granted, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare myself to go to Portugal.  It was a last minute decision made by my client, which left me with two weeks to sort everything out, including flights, accommodation and a Schengen visa.  All to fit within a budget (eek).  The timing was so tight that a day before I was due to leave I still didn’t have my visa (yes, there were a few nail-biting moments).

Anyway, back to my point.  I went to Lisbon for work, but made sure that I still made the effort to experience the city for myself.  The first day I was there, I couldn’t do any work because they were not ready for registration, so I decided to try to walk back to my hotel and experience the city on foot.  Well, that was an experience!  Least of all the fact that my hotel was so far away it would have taken me almost four hours to get there.  What I did get to experience was the fact that I could walk alone, through an industrial part of the city, past construction sites, and still feel safe and welcome in this beautiful warm city.

The next four days were filled with work, but the evenings were available to experience something.  Each day I chose a different part of the city.  Two days I was on my own and the other two I was with a group of people that I knew.  At no time did I ever feel unsafe – which was a marvellous experience coming from Africa.

I experienced the Lisbon creativity, LX Factory, Bairro Alto, the Time Out Market and Parque das Nacoes.  My favourite part of the city was Bairro Alto.  I loved the narrow cobble stoned streets with the trams and cars fighting for their space.  The tiny restaurants and warm atmosphere.  The quiet vibrancy of an ancient city with such rich history and culture.  It is definitely an experience I will never forget.  I enjoyed it so much that I walked 7,886 steps in high heeled shoes.  My feet were dead after that and my poor shoes will never be the same, but the memories that I have from the experiences on that evening are absolutely priceless!

My hotel was located in Parque das Nacoes, the new side of Lisbon, which is also beautiful. The walks along the river shore were filled with magic.  Peaceful moments to recharge your batteries.  Everywhere you look there is a restaurant or pub along the river where you can grab a glass of wine and something to eat (which is exactly what I did on the last day while I was waiting to leave for the airport).

The day that I was to return to South Africa, I had a few hours to kill and decided to visit the Castello de S. Jorges, which is up on a hill overlooking the old part of Lisbon.  I had never visited such an old building before.  (South Africa’s oldest buildings are from the 1600’s.)  This was really an experience for me.  Climbing up the narrow staircase to the castle walls way up high (in spite of my fear of heights).  The views were spectacular and the castle itself had precious snippets of beauty, different to the kind of beauty that we experience in South Africa.

All in all, I went to Portugal with no expectations, ready and willing to experience Lisbon and what it had to offer.  I was totally blown away by the experience.  I didn’t realise that it would have such an impact.  Although the country is not a rich country (you can see this in little things – the fact that paint is peeling off of a lot of the buildings, burnt out buildings are standing neglected, and many derelict buildings are scattered among the beautiful historic buildings), but the people are so warm, so welcoming and even invited me to come and move to Portugal with my whole family.

I would recommend Lisbon to anyone and it is a pity that I didn’t have more time to explore the beautiful city.  What I can say is that if I have the opportunity to return to Lisbon, I will do so willingly and I am waiting for the opportunity to experience more of the beautiful warm city.

So what matters to you?

I can tell you with confidence that I am not worried that I didn’t buy myself a T-shirt or a memento.  I have more than 500 photographs and many memories that I will treasure forever.  This is what counts to me.  Not material things.  After all, a T-shirt will be worn and tattered in a year or so, but the photographs will live on forever.  No one can take my memories from me.

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