One of our favourite things about Europe (and well, essentially anywhere but North America) is public drinking. Okay, so that makes it sound like we have some kind of problem, but there’s something about a balmy night, a busy square, and a bottle of wine that makes one feel free.
Every place we travel we tend to find a favourite spot for sipping wine and people-watching at night. In Florence, we were regular fixtures outside the Uffizi under the statue of Donatello. In Avignon, we camped out at the Palais des Papes. In Lisbon, it was the Miradouro de Santa Catarina.
A miradouro is basically a lookout, and they are littered all over Lisbon. We took in a fair few during our long, rambling walks about the city, enjoying not only the incredible views of red roofs, blue skies, the river and the ocean, but also the life and activity at these gathering points.
Tourists, locals, students, parents, and the homeless alike congregrated at these viewpoints to rest in cafés, play music, snap photographs, read a book, enjoy a coffee, a sangria, or a beer – or just simply breathe in the view.
During sunset at Miradouro de Santa Catarina, this conglomeration of individuals was most apparent. Groups of students shared giant bottles of beer and the friendly homeless picked up the empties. Parents sipped sangria while their children ran about in the balmy air or nursed a bottle. Tourists, sweaty and tired with heavy cameras slung about their necks, enjoyed refreshing caipirinhas. Young dreadlocked musicians strummed guitars and laughed loudly. Languages of all kinds could be heard floating through the air.
As the sun set, lights lit up along the 25 de Abril Bridge (if it looks familiar, it was designed by the same company who built the San Fran-Oakland Bay Bridge). It’s the longest suspension bridge in the world, and earned its name from the Carnation Revolution which began on April 25th, 1974 and ended with the establishment of democracy in Portugal, making it an important Portuguese national holiday.
Lights also illuminated Cristo-Rei, a statue of the Christ King that might also look familiar, as it was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. The outstretched arms of Christ lit up next to the Golden Gate twin seemed a bit bizarre – it felt as if we weren’t in Portugal at all, but perhaps in Vegas where the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids can be seen together in the same landscape.
But as we visited the miradouro night after night, seeing people both same and different enjoying the sparkling view, it lost its feeling of imitation. The people, the myriad of languages, the sangria (okay, so that still tasted inauthentic), the strumming of guitars, the down-and-out Lisbonians enjoying a beer with the privileged tourists felt very real, and very free. It’s the simple things in travel – the lazy nights, the gathering of people from all over the world, and (especially) the absence of time – that makes me want to leave again the instant I touch down at home.