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  • Writer's pictureBryan Jun

Lisboa, Portugal

Some of you may be wondering where "Lisboa" is - that's how the locals (I think) call Lisbon. I'm going to pretend like I know what I'm talking about during this travel post as I was in town for about a week. Needless to say, I was in full tourist mode and didn't even get a chance to speak Portuguese, but more on that later. For those of you not following me on Youtube, I was in Lisbon for the Solana Breakpoint conference, which was a sort of "kickoff" event for my new full time position at Solanalysis. I'm planning on creating more videos on what my new role entails and going to attempt explaining the world of NFTs to the best of my ability as time passes, but I wanted today's post to be dedicated to Lisbon. Note that because this was a work trip and we have a couple big deadlines coming up, a lot of the time there was centered around getting the projects going as well as collaborating as a full team in person for the first time. Ironically we didn't attend many of the conference events and spent most of our time at our AirBNB (all while "adjusting" to the odd 8 hour time difference amidst the elimination of daylight savings time). All in all, I can't really say I enjoyed a full immersion into Portugal nor can I say my experience there was a fair evaluation of Europe (my first time in mainland Europe), but it was a much needed hiatus from the lack of international travel during the pandemic and a great time of "isolation" from the "real world" along with a team of dudes that I will probably be spending most of my time with in the foreseeable future. I hope that the writing that follows does not serve to demean any aspect of Lisbon I'm simply unaware or unknowledgeable about, it's simply to serve as a reflection of what I experienced in my limited stay.

First and foremost, the city is perfectly adapted or if not catered to tourism - there wasn't a single moment where English wasn't spoken. I'm all for ease of travel and in full acknowledgement of the power and privilege that comes from being an English speaker, but this was another level of comfort. It's not an exaggeration that the Portuguese in Lisbon probably spoke better English than the Americans I've encountered in Southern California. We definitely stood out as a group (mostly in the way that we dressed) but the treatment from restaurants and other means of hospitality were stellar - even Uber drivers spoke fluent English. If you're someone that has a fear of cultural immersion or are traveling more for the Instagram pics rather than the "experience," Lisbon is probably for you. You can go through an entire week without having to speak one word of Portuguese and almost treat it as a unique city within the United States. In some ways I thought this was a negative of the trip - as a parallel to a country that speaks the same language, Brazil was on the other side of the spectrum. Of course, my experience in Brazil was limited to Manaus (not Rio) and the Amazon River, which is less touristy and less motivated to adapt to English speakers. But there's a part of tourism that is drenched in uncertainty and imperfection of your adaptive abilities that makes it fun and adventurous - there was nothing of that sort in Lisbon. Even the menus at restaurants had English versions, with no room to guess at what you're about to eat or let fate decide what would come on your plate.

To get some logistical things out of the way - traveling in the age of the pandemic is a complete sh*t show. On my way from LAX to Lisbon, there were three separate "document checks," which included checking your vaccine card (or PCR test) and passports. The worst was at my layover in Madrid, where upon landing you wait in a never ending line amongst other non-EU passports to get your documents checked, run to the tram that takes you to another security checkpoint to run through your carry-on bags, another run to the COVID document checkpoint, and a final marathon across duty free shops and other gates to your boarding station. A 2 hour layover isn't enough to make it without having a couple anxiety attacks and I highly recommend never having a layover in the EU as long as COVID is around. Please note that I don't think this is anyone's fault (specifically), it's just the state of the world dominated by a need to at least pretend to be coping with the pandemic even though many of these checks are meaningless. Most people show screenshots of their vaccine card or PCR test off their phone, which (if you lacked morals or had big balls) you could easily fake or just continue to update the date at which the test was conducted through Adobe. All in all, I'm grateful for having no major hiccups (besides losing my checked bag for about 12 hours in Madrid). I did think it was interesting to note the lack of urgency in Madrid and saw that the only people who were complaining or in a hurry were Americans. After immigrating, I always thought the United States was slow in comparison to Korea, but Europe was another level of leisure. I saw a couple security agents checking their text messages while conducting passport checks, which probably would warrant being let go in Korea (and maybe in the United States...) On a similar note, not sure if this is unique to Portugal, but their dinner time starts past 7:30 - we encountered many restaurants closed until then and were often turned back trying to start dinner at 6:00 (which I thought was the normal time for most people).

I always catch myself saying "I love cities that are near the water" when in reality they ARE cities BECAUSE they are close to the water. Lisbon is no exception - if you continue to walk down you'll always hit the water, which has beautiful views during the day and night time. Obviously biased as I was coming from Southern California, Lisbon is cold during this time of year and I'd advise to bring at least three layers of warm clothes. The views aren't limited to just the water - similar to San Francisco (Lisbon actually has a bridge that looks just like the Golden Gate Bridge that's designed by the same architect), the hilly city enables various phenomenal views of the city landscape. There's no one spot that gives you the awe, with every turn and alley giving off breathtaking shots that's extremely hard to come by in the United States. I'm not sure how to say this without sounding very basic, but even amidst the perfect English, you really feel like "you're in Europe" as you walk around Lisbon. Speaking of walking around Lisbon, there's a surprising number of Drug Dealers who will very easily recognize that you're a tourist and come up to you offering weed / cocaine. It's not a huge issue and they leave you alone as soon as you say you're not interested, but if you're traveling with kids or the weak of heart, it is something to note.

For night life, instead of heading to the big clubs on the water (which Google Reviews notes that they scam tourists and ask for 300+ Euros per head), I'd recommend just going into the small streets and bar hopping throughout the night. Many places offer free drinks and shots just to come in (even men!) and there's usually no cover fees. Unlike Chicago night life (and in some ways New York), these places seem to run 24/7 and as soon as one closes, everyone rushes to the next one that stays open longer. Night life in Lisbon is where you truly feel the difference in the cost of living - shots are sometimes as cheap as 2 Euros (Point & Feathers in Chicago charges up to $25...) We would often have a full course meal for 6 grown men and spend ~100 Euros, which would be impossible in any metropolitan (or maybe anywhere period) area in the United States. It's probably largely driven by the lower minimum wage and overall cost of living, but I've genuinely never seen such low prices in a touristy city. Even Uber prices felt ridiculous at times, with some rides costing less than 10 Euros, prices I haven't seen since Uber launched.

In terms of food - I'd recommend eating at least 1 egg tart a day for breakfast (warm it up a bit after bringing it home). Outside of that, I don't think I really tried any "authentic Portugal cuisine", but there wasn't a single meal that didn't impress me. Every single restaurant with decent reviews and even the hole in the wall gyro places are fantastic and cost-friendly. I'm not sure if this is unique to just Portugal or if it's a European thing, but I'd highly suggest trying the BCO (bacon chicken onion) burger at a McDonald's - it might be the best golden arches menu item I've ever had. The one place that comes to mind in terms of a strong recommendation would be Boa Bao, an Asian fusion restaurant that serves fantastic Pho and Dim Sum. There's typically a line by opening time so I'd suggest getting there early. The interior is super nice and my gut feeling tells me it's run by a serial food curator, but even this place has reasonable prices.

I think most people associate the memories they have with a place in replacement with the actual aspects of the location - I'll probably forever remember Lisbon as the place I worked with the Solanalysis team in person for the first time and my first international travel in the pandemic era, both aspects making it even more special. I usually don't like going to the same international travel spot twice (maybe outside of Hokkaido, which I'd love to go with family again), but I'm looking forward to going to Lisbon again. There's something about Europe (probably a big part due to the United States having its "roots" there) that makes it truly stand out. I hope that current trends of globalization doesn't engulf the uniqueness that each European city and country holds, I look forward to exploring the rest of Europe in the near future.

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