Laying Low in Lisbon

Well, it was bound to happen. After over 14 months of travel, Covid finally caught up to us. Being really sick is definitely a low point of extended (or even short) travels. You just want to be home, have all your comforts, and be better. Luckily, our nomadic lifestyle has prepared us to deal with travel uncertainties a bit better and stay calm when a hiccup develops…even major ones.

It’s easy to find the charm of Lisbon, even recovering from a bout of Covid.

After we tested positive earlier this week, we immediately prioritized our next steps: push back the flight to the NYC, extend our lodging in Lisbon, notify our friends we were to stay with in the US, and think about contingencies.

So leafy and with a mild Mediterranean climate, Lisbon feels so much like San Francisco

We respect this new virus and know that it has brought untold misery on the world, and uncertain outcomes to even the healthiest. And although Covid hit us hard for a few days, the worst soon passed. We are lucky to be quite healthy, with daily exercise, good sleep habits, and a good diet (mostly, as we do indulge in local foods that may not be on any top 10 health food lists).

Our big adventure to the grocery store to stock up for an unknown duration of hunkering down. Rain and slippery limestone not helping!

Of course stomach ailments are a part of travel too, and we’ve had our share of them over many years, including India, Mexico, and Morocco. But one of the only nice things about stomach bugs is that they are usually over very suddenly. You often go from wanting to die on the toilet to wanting a double cheeseburger and a beer in hours. And we’ve always been lucky enough to only have one of us down and out at once. The other person is available to get hydration, meds, and make any travel changes.

Although revitalization and gentrification has spruced up most buildings in Lisbon, there are still a few fixer uppers available.

But this hit us both at almost the same time. We were a bit fatigued as we left Bilbao, and fully masked on our travels, but it didn’t feel like anything more than maybe some post-Camino tiredness and a little stuffy head (No cough, no fever.). But it had settled in deeper by the time we got to Lisbon and we both woke up Wednesday morning with brain fog, extreme tiredness, more congestion, and some decent aches and pains. The Covid rapid tests an hour later confirmed what we already suspected…we both had it.

Feeling Lisbon’s nautical roots on the Tagus

Luckily, we had booked an apart-hotel room for our 3 day stay and we were able to extend to 8 days in the same unit. It’s quiet and has two big windows looking at trees, and over 500 sq ft in two rooms, including (crucially) a kitchenette. So we are able to adventure out to grocery stores for supplies and have all our meals here, as well as lots of healthy fruit and veg, comfort food, and juices.

The iconic tram cars of Lisbon look like cute toys, but are still as functional as ever.

The two rooms allowed some space for us to relax separately in such cosy quarters. By Friday morning we both felt noticeably better, so Cheryl took another test. If she was still a strong positive, then we wouldn’t waste another test. So we were both thrilled when she tested negative, and I decided to test as well. Still somewhat positive…Today it was an almost imperceivable line, so I’m almost certain to be 100% negative by tomorrow!

Look, real laundry drying in the Alfama! Maybe a family still lives here….

So we are happy with our decision to push back our flights to the US to this Wednesday, as we’ve actually been able to start going out and enjoying some of this very beautiful city. We also had masked all day on our way to Lisbon, including the plane, and taxis, so hopefully we did not infect others, but it’s also made us realize that the virus is out there everywhere, and continuing our cautious ways in the future is smart, not to mention getting all the available boosters we can. We don’t want to go through this again (too soon) and don’t want to put anyone else unnecessarily at risk. But the virus is now a part of life, and part of travel, like it or not.

Cheryl’s negative test smile with the Ponte 25 de Abril Bridge…always a double take for our beloved Golden Gate

Another item of note is the fact that we’ll be on Day 89 of 90 allowable Schengen days this Wednesday, so we’re also really glad that we left 6 visa days of validity slack in our plans. For those who don’t recall, a U.S. citizen can only be in the 26 country border-free Schengen Zone of Europe for up to 90 days out of any 180 day contiguous period without a country-specific extended stay visa. It’s a rule that catches a lot of long term travelers out.

Endless ups and downs across Lisbon.

This is our second visit to Lisbon, as we were last here for 4 nights in early 2018, along with visits to Porto, and Coimbra. It’s still charming, and I especially love the extreme vertical terrain, where you never quite know which way is out of a valley. Surprises await if you get off the beaten track, but one thing that’s noticeable from even our last stay, is that the penetration of tourism seems even deeper into the neighborhoods.

Keeping my distance for other tourists catching shots of the funicular in the Alfama

It’s the age old conundrum of tourism development: by coming to see what everyone else wants to see, you are slowly changing it, and before long, the native and organic neighborhood elements are completely flushed out. Lisbon is still real, and there are Portuguese tourists here as well, but the relentless conversion of neighborhood properties into short term rentals via AirBnB, new boutique hotels and spas, and easy air access for cheap weekend visits, has made much of it feel a bit overrun.

Lisbon’s revitalized waterfront includes this cool bio-algae pond with floating cork islands. (The Vino Verde corks have a home now!)
The grittiness of the the western port area was refreshing after the heavily touristed core

It feels like a City fighting to keep its character. We recognize this from San Francisco, and know that locals will always know how to avoid the tourists and the touristy restaurants, etc. But San Francisco had a big advantage over Lisbon in the past 40 years, it was much more expensive to buy property, had strict development rules, and better tenant protections. As the Alfama neighborhood struggled and investment waned, rules were adopted that if someone would buy a property and renovate it, then all the tenants could be evicted. Period. It saved a lot of the buildings from ruin, but apparently decimated the local neighborhood.

Blue skies and an ageless charm in the Alfama

It’s very evident today that only a few pockets of “authentic” neighborhood exist in the Alfama. But cities are always changing and Lisbon is adapting as well. Free transit for seniors and those under 23, a new waterfront revitalization, and a focus on preserving the unique culture.

Way to go Lisbon…free transit is a great way to encourage car free habits at a young age and make sure seniors are mobile

There are also stricter rules on foreign Golden Visas, which have allowed many foreigners to settle in Portugal, but have really changed many neighborhoods in Lisbon, Porto, and smaller towns in the Algarve to expat enclaves. It’s a tough balance for a developing country that had a lot of debt and challenges in the past, but has an amazing extremely welcoming culture, good education and healthcare systems, and a fantastic climate.

Always follow the empty stairway!

But I have meandered a bit too far off track but do promise that next time we come to Portugal, we will see even more of it, and try to spread the tourism love further….perhaps walking along 200km of the Camino Portuguese.

The happy travelers smiling again

Happy fall and looking forward to seeing some of you soon back in the USA!