Last week we spent 5 days in gorgeous Lisbon at the home of my friends Alex and Ellis. Lisbon is ridiculously beautiful. Every inch of the city was laid by hand with cobblestone and ornate tile. Street artists have also taken advantage of the peeling layers of history to add even more beauty to the mix. Wine, which is something I had not tasted in the nearly 3 years since I became pregnant, was so prevalent and inexpensive that I could not resist a glass, and of course had to pair it with some fancy nutty cheese for the total European experience. The sidewalks and squares in Lisbon fully boast cafe tables for outdoor fresh fish feasting, afternoon wine, or hot chocolate pit-stops. The colors of the buildings and the light (when the sun is out) provide a lift similar to that of southern Spain where everything feels a bit more lofty and weightless.
Unfortunately it was 90% grey and rainy for the duration of our trip. And we were ill prepared for the chilly winter since we packed for a perpetual spring. But our hosts suited us up sufficiently and we took to the streets (and streetcars) regardless. Public transport is prevalent between the metro, trolleys and buses, and it is necessary because Lisbon feels fairly spread out. Trekker loved riding on trolleys. But as someone who loves (and almost needs) a regular dose of walking, I am seeking to find a cheaper place to replicate last summer’s Brooklyn experience where I would cruise on my feet for hours while Trekker drifted in and out of sleep in his stroller, entertained by urban surroundings. Cobblestone does not allow for cruising. Neither do steep hills.
While I could potentially consider getting in tiptop shape via Lisbon’s hills- there are additional issues with the stroll there- the stroller wheels are constantly getting stuck in places like this:
and cars are commonly parked across the already narrow sidewalks like this and this:
These, and the fact that everybody smokes in Lisbon and my toddler stands/strolls at the exact height as a dangling cigarette, bearing the full brunt of smoke, are impediments to my “ stroller zen zone”. We did take a long stroll on the lovely, hill-less and spacious riverside walkway but Trekker soon tired of the bumpiness. We also tried going out one day without the stroller but that wasn’t so smooth with a heavy toddler either- there was a lot of carrying Trekker up hills and also a few moments of sudden fear that Trekker might fall down a steep hill or plummet the down the long steps from the view perches we stopped at. Also, since so many streets are also cobblestone it was also a bit difficult for Trekker to tell the sidewalk from street in some areas.
The Lisbon people were wonderful though – super polite and kind, very forgiving of my embarrassing lack of Portuguese, and always offering to help lift the stroller on and off of the buses. Portuguese people seem very warm and accepting of children in general. It may or may not also be worthy to note that the men also happened to be quite attractive. Or maybe my libido is finally returning.
While the people in Lisbon were super kind to help me with our stroller, I realized while in Lisbon that I would rather not use public transport on a regular basis, I’d prefer to live, work and play in one walkable neighborhood like we did in Brooklyn. So why don’t I move to a cheap small town? Because I want to be surrounded by an active street life, variety, options. While Lisbon is known for its active nightlife, as a single mom my social life (other than on Facebook) sometimes exists solely in daytime chance encounters at playgrounds or other public spaces, and my entertainment (other than from children’s books) comes largely from street musicians and people-watching. It’s hard to know if the rain kept more people indoors than usual the week we were in Lisbon but we really just didn’t encounter nearly as many street musicians and weirdos as I would have hoped for. (other than the weirdo below, outside the oceanarium.)
As for playgrounds, which are another one of my criteria in the perfect city list, I only saw them when I went out searching for them on a map. They do seem to exist but don’t seem to be totally bountiful. Apparently there is a really great playground at Lisbon’s huge city park but its location isn’t very convenient from the center of town with a stroller- you have to take public transport. Aside from playgrounds there is a wonderful Oceanarium where Trekker and I spent a drizzly afternoon, but again this is far away from the center and so wouldn’t be on a lifestyle stroller route.
My Lisbon synopsis: I feel blessed that I was able to catch up with friends and view the beauty of this romantic city and its people firsthand, and I could certainly imagine living here in another lifetime with a different trajectory, but, due to my circumstances in the here and now, Lisbon does not make the final cut for the best city for single moms with toddlers.