The reasons to love Portugal are numerous. In 2017, the Global Peace Index ranked it the third most peaceful country in the world; in 2010, Portugal became the eighth country to legalize same-sex marriage; it is one of the few countries in the world to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution; and its temperatures average a balmy 63 degrees in winter and 79 in summer.
And, of course, it’s beautiful. Its two major cities, Lisbon and Porto (where Port wine comes from) anchor its Atlantic-facing seaboard. In between them are charming towns and villages, too numerous to count, and then there’s the Algarve Coast, a magnet for sun seekers featuring cerulean blue waters, impressive rock formation, and secluded coves galore.
A friend and I spent a week visiting Lisbon and the Algarve Coast last summer.
Exhausted from the flight from Los Angeles to Lisbon, I meet my friend Michael (who arrived one day earlier) on a sunny afternoon at Noobai, a multi-level outdoor café that’s tiered like a wedding cake and offers panoramic views of the city and the Tangus River. As we play the game “European or gay” with the hot guys surrounding us, I find myself breathing in the Mediterranean salt air and breathing out LA traffic, work-related stress, and Donald Trump.
Through the foggy haze of jetlag, we wander the narrow streets of the buzzing capital city. We watch visitors like ourselves hang on tightly as rickety trams (No. 28 is the most famous) lumber up impossibly steep hills, and we saunter past buildings dressed head to toe in colorful azuelos (elaborately painted tiles). From every café we pass, we are enticed by the smell of pasteis de nata, flaky custard tarts that when cooked to perfection are slightly burnt on top and absolutely irresistible.
We soon arrive at Castelo St. George, a hilltop castle perched atop barrio Alfama. Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, Alfama is famous for its twisty, cobbled streets, ancient dwellings, and, more recently, selfiewielding tourists. As we stand at the lookout where Portuguese soldiers would’ve once kept watch for enemy ships, we notice an abundance of cute queers (World Pride in Madrid just wrapped up and Lisbon is thus full of LGBTQ visitors like ourselves). But the first conversation we strike up is actually with a lovely opposite-sex Brit couple from Sheffield who offer to snap a few photos of us reclining upon the Moorish turrets. They surely think we are a couple (we are not), but they are practically bowled over when I tell them I know Sheffield because I’m a longtime fan of synth band the Human League (Remember the song “Don’t You Want Me?”).