EDIT (January 2017) Lisbon travel guide “Choose a Way – Lisbon” is no longer available for sale. I’m keeping this post published since I still had fun with the whole process and I enjoyed telling you the behind-the-scenes stories.
If I was talking to myself two years ago, I would never believe what I’m about to say: this is my second book launch in one year. When Chris Backe approached me, introduced me to the “Choose a Way” series and asked me if I wanted to contribute to the collection with a book about Lisbon, I said yes. Although I had already launched a Lisbon travel guide earlier, the “Choose a Way” format was completely different and had me thinking about the city from a totally new perspective.
“It’s just a book”, I thought, but I didn’t know that the whole experience would be life-changing in many ways: I had the chance to meet the people working at museums and tourist attractions, and talk to them about anything and everything; I travelled solo for the first time in years (in a city I thought I knew like the back of my hand and she still surprised me); I had an “I finally know what I want to do when I grow up” moment.
Today we celebrate. The book is out. My newfound “learn to let go” side has calmed my old “obsessive perfectionist” side, with some success. The nagging inner voice that always reacts with a “pfff” or a “meh” to anything that pushes me out of my comfort zone is a lot easier to mute these days (I found a switch). Today I know (trust me, I know) that ideas are great to have and all you need to do to make them happen is, well, to start from the beginning.
My biggest challenge with this book was photography. Dhanish is usually the man behind the camera while I focus on everything else. When we realized he wouldn’t be available to travel back with me to Lisbon, I panicked. It’s not that I can’t work a DSLR camera (or an iPhone one), it’s just that most of the times I’m not patient with the details: composition, light, angle… The basics, therefore. We went through all the photos we had of Lisbon, but a lot of them were missing. “What do I do now???”, I asked him, waiting for a knight-in-shiny-armor-to-the-rescue kind of answer. “You borrow a camera and you photograph”, was the blunt answer. Later in the day, it pays off to be married to a grounded, no-frills person (it’s a perfect balance), but in that moment, I’m sure I had smoke coming out of my ears.
I want you to know how much love and care went into this book, and how I have at least one memory from each of the 37 places featured in it, I want to share some photos that didn’t make the cut (and that were neatly saved in a folder labeled as DO NOT USE). I ruled them out because they wouldn’t fit the purpose of the travel guide, but each one of them comes with a story.
The ruins of the Carmo Convent is one of my favorite places in Lisbon. I could spend hours sitting on those steps just looking down that roofless aisle (weather permitting). What I didn’t know, was that the monument had a resident cat, until he waddled down that aisle in search of the perfect sun patch. And, suddenly, there I was, one knee on the ground, then both knees on the ground, photographing that fat cat from all possible angles. A 15th century ruined Gothic church, and I was focusing on a friendly cat. Eventually, I was able to pull away from what was, clearly, a cat’s magic spell (cats are witches, didn’t you know?). But isn’t he cute? (I think it was a he…)
“Oops Moment” at Intendente
I hadn’t been to the Intendente area during the day in ages and I had completely forgotten how unique this place could be. When I moved to Lisbon seventeen years ago, this was the area everybody told me to avoid at certain times of night; “not appropriate for girls” they would tell me. The city has changed a lot since those days. Sure, you still see some old school prostitutes when you’re walking down Rua dos Anjos (yes, in broad daylight), but they’re doing their business and you’re doing yours. And by “doing their business” I mean touching up their makeup, gossiping with the neighbors, and answering your requests for directions. But let’s move on to the trendy side of Intendente shall we?
I really wanted to include a photo of the garden designed by Joana Vasconcelos because I like to highlight the work of local artists as much as possible. The best way to photograph it, however, is from the top, but I couldn’t find any place that was open (or someone who would welcome me into their home). The garden is shaped like a pair of big red goggles (that’s what they look to me anyway). I tried a few shots from where I was standing, experimented with a couple of angles near and far, determined to have a look at them when I got home. They looked okay on the camera display, but I’d know for sure after seeing them on a computer. When I was walking away, I looked back towards the garden in search of more things to photograph and… sitting on one of the benches inside, conveniently hidden from peering eyes, were a teenage boy and a teenage girl looking very, very, very red-faced, scared and caught. I could’ve gone there to tell them I wasn’t photographing them, but why turn an awkward moment into something, even more, awkward? (I’ve checked, you can’t see them in any of the photos)
Chilling Experience at Museu do Aljube
I returned to Lisbon in time to vote in the 2015 Legislative Elections (where people elect their representatives to the Parliament, who then choose a Prime Minister). I remembered being little and going with my parents to vote, they explained to me how important it was because there was a time when people weren’t allowed to express themselves or choose their government in a democratic way. For me voting is more than a right, it’s very close to a basic need. The Museu do Aljube was a very emotional experience because it details Portugal’s political path from the conservative dictatorship in the 1930’s to the military coup in 1974. The Portuguese seemed to forget (or choose not to see) this part of History, “let bygones be bygones”. Yes, we talk about it in History classes, but the details, the suffering, and the torture the political prisoners went through? It has always been very hush-hush until this museum was created. It was chilling, but it was necessary, to name the dead, to showcase their rebellious spirit.
This is a photo of a video of a speech from Marcelo Caetano, the last Prime Minister of the dictatorship. What made me stop and hear it, over and over again, was how similar it sounded (in tone and in content) to any speech about austerity by the Prime Minister at the time, Passos Coelho (who has since been defeated at the October elections). Can you imagine thinking you just regressed forty years? (and not in a fun “Back to the Future Way”) That thought lingered on the back of my mind for weeks.
How I Almost Didn’t Come Down
The Basilica da Estrela (Estrela Church) is one of the busiest Catholic temples in Lisbon, particularly with funerals (since the nearest cemetery is just five minutes away). Fortunately, for those who feel uncomfortable about crashing memorial services, you can climb up the 114 steps to the rooftop for some breathtaking views of Lisbon. I wasn’t even halfway up, and my breath was already gone (quitting smoking one year ago was the best thing I ever did, I’m just not seeing the full results yet). Oh, and the stairs were spiral, making them my arch enemy. The view is amazing and I did enjoy it, once I was able to catch my breath. The only tiny problem with it was finding the courage to go down the same spiral stairs again… I actually sat up there for a while thinking “they know I’m here, and someone has to come up at the end of the day and they’ll probably look for me, right?” Then the church bells tolled (heck, those things are loud!) and I realized I had to endure that every hour if I didn’t pull myself together… That was enough to get me back on my feet and down those stairs (painfully slowly…).
Let’s (Not) Get Physical
I “found” this building on my way to the Fabrica Braco de Prata. If you’ve watched the movie “Night Train to Lisbon”, you’ll recognize the building as Jorge O’Kelly’s pharmacy in Lisbon (the restaurant next to it, that is also featured in the movie, is real by the way). The streets here are very narrow, so I was struggling with getting a decent shot, playing around with different angles. At one point I chose to try a photograph from the tiny park across the street, backing out as far as I could, squeezing myself against the metallic wall of what I thought was some sort of contemporary park construction in the corner. When I’m focusing this hard on something, is not uncommon to zone out; I completely forget about my surroundings. By the time I was done, I realized that the men going inside that “construction”, and coming out a couple of minutes later, were surprised to see me there. The “contemporary park construction” is a public urinal…
Consider Lisbon as your next travel destination, if you haven’t already, and fall in love with her, madly.
When you download this book I’m sure you’ll have fun using it as much as I had fun writing it. Do take a second, afterward, to let the world know about your experience with this interactive travel guide by reviewing it here on Amazon.