Winter in Lisbon

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As my plane descended on sunny Lisbon a January morning, we flew from the ocean over some of the old town towards the airport. I noticed the huge red bullfighting ring of neo-Arab architecture, the parks, the hills, even the iconic trams. A feeling of harmony mixed with a sense of relief rose within me, I hadn’t felt like this for a while.

I left grey London behind with no regrets looking for a warmer, sunnier and more colourful place, somewhere life can be appreciated and not only survived, where money goes a long way and you can actually enjoy it, where it´s possible to meet local people who talk to you and smile at you.
I had been to Lisbon and Portugal before as a tourist by myself and with my tours but I thought I lacked the insider’s perspective.
I desired a piece of Lisbon life to squeeze into my experiences; the need to absorb the culture through the language and local life is stronger than me.

Lisbon lies on the river Tagus that empties into the sea just outside the city. A train line going along the coast, links the suburbs by the sea and finishes in Cascais, a small picturesque town, on the tourist itinerary during the summer. This is where I was staying for a short while, so the next day I took that train to town, in search of a room in the city for a few months.

Portugal makes me think of Spain. Even though the Portuguese don´t like the comparison it is inevitably physically and culturally linked. It makes me think of when I first went to Madrid in the nineties; it had this laid back atmosphere, unpretentious way of life, coarse way of things. There were nearly no limits; you could smoke anywhere, bars got as crowded as they could, places opened or closed when they wished to, people used to drink on squares, no one used to scoop dog shit or bother about littering, holes in the streets were ignored, cars double parked anywhere, missing prices in the supermarkets, graffiti, etc. etc.
There is also a spirit here that reminds me of Budapest. Even though I haven´t been there for a while, the soul of the city is similar. It looks like it´s being neglected and crumbling but there is beauty on every corner.
Lisbon is full of surprises too. You can discover a littles treasures everywhere and its full of imagination and art whether a beautiful façade, a hidden church, a patio transformed into a café, a historical building revamped into a shopping centre, a food market for fine dining, a museum inside a factory, a wine tasting gourmet shop, etc.

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The old town is a labyrinth that goes up and down through streets and alleys.
After a lot of walking and getting lost, I got to visit some flats.
Lisbon seems to be very popular, especially with international students, whether Erasmus, undergraduate or master, the city seems to be made for them. Unfortunately my student’s days are far behind me but I plan to enjoy the city and learn anyway.
Most flats in the centre are in old buildings with dark wooden stairways and can go up to 6 floors with no lift, great for your knees!
Some of them are in those big grand stately mansions divided into flats with high ceilings, wooden or stone floors and many rooms (sometimes 10!) along a long corridor. There is an old refurbished kitchen including a chimney-type oven transformed into a modern stove and the living room has been transformed into yet another bedroom. Many of them are centuries old so in a poor state, ideal for those 20 something.

Renting in Lisbon is a lucrative business. Companies or individuals buy or manage several flats for renting. Of course they like to keep business separate: students, holidaymakers, professionals and expats, different styles, different budgets, different times but as many of them in one year as possible. In other words it is more profitable to rent every term to international students then rent to tourists by the week during the holidays.
Even though the temperature in Lisbon is mild, at night it can go down to 0 degrees in the winter so you have to be prepared as most flats don´t have central heating.

At the end of the day, I sit in my favourite cafe in Praça Camoes where no one bothers you for hours, you can browse the internet free and even charge your device.
It seems that gone are the days of paper. Even here things seem to be working online and this is how I look for more flats to visit.
The first time I went to the café I asked for an Americano and on the receipt it said: 0.65cents (of Euro), I thought it was a mistake until I went back and asked for the price. I told the waitress: what? 0.65 cents!
She answered, nearly scared: is that too expensive?
I laughed…and answered: In London the same would be £3.
I was surprised that most Portuguese could speak at least some English or a second language.
Every time I go in the café, the table next to me becomes a great source of information whether foreign student or locals, telling you about all the best places to live: multicultural Martin Moniz, nouveau Campo de Ourique, elite Marques de Pombal, ancient Alfama, bohemian Barrio Alto, for shopping and leisure Chiado/Baixa, upcoming Cais de Sodre, classy Belem, popular Arroios, trendy Principe Real.
I think after a week here, I just grasped the layout and intricacies of Lisbon and its bairros, or neighbourhood… it’s complicated.

After many visits, I decided that sharing with 10 people and living in decaying students’  flat was not for me anymore. I looked outside the centre, in the more modern parts of the city, away from the noise, from the students and tourists but still with a genuine atmosphere and locals as neighbours, in a cosy flat just on the flying path of the airport!

PRACTICAL INFO
I looked for a flat in a few local websites, beware that:
-Many agencies advertise through websites and this is not always clear
-Most flats aim for students and will expect you to vacate it for the summer
-Some websites make you pay in advance as designed for booking from abroad
-In Portugal the tenant doesn’t have to pay a commission to the agency however these tend to be pricier as they aim for the international crowd with more money.
-Many landlords or agencies will just rent one of the rooms to the first one interested and you won’t meet your flatmates beforehand.
-Most website are for mid-term; for short-term look into airbnb even though this one has become so popular that prices are not reasonable anymore.
– A room in a shared flat would cost you 150-400 Euros, a studio flat 500+ Euros make sure you know if bills are included (and which ones )

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