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Call it Lisboa, Lisbonne or Lisbon — Some Americans Call It Home

 Glenn Cooper with partner Guillaume at Chinese PavilionGlenn with partner GuillaumeSquare in LisbonA square in LisbonGlenn Cooper's HouseThe Cooper housePat Westheimer with Portuguese PupsPat Westheimer with her Portuguese PupsLisbon Tram #28Lisbon Tram #28Pastéis de Belém - Lisbon, PortugalThe counter at Pastéis de BelémThe counter at Pastéis de BelémThe original Pastéis de BelémThe original Pastéis de Belém with coffeeJeronimos Monastery - Lisbon, PortugalThe Jeronimos Monastery Adega Dom Luis - Lisbon, PortugalThe owner of Adega Dom LuisPavilhão Chinês Bar - Lisbon, PortugalThe Pavilhão Chinês BarQuinta da Regaleira - Lisbon, PortugalQuinta da RegaleiraCastelo de São Jorge - Lisbon, PortugalThe Castelo de São JorgeTea at Tivoli Hotel - Lisbon, PortugalTea at Tivoli HotelElevador Tramway - Lisbon, PortugalThe Elevador Tramway

Sometimes France does a good job of “cutting off its nose to spite its face.” And so it was in the case of an old friend, Glenn Cooper, an American in Paris who ran a successful short-term rental business for more than 15 years. One day, the city of Paris told him that even though he was licensed by the state, reported and paid all of his taxes without fault, he could no longer offer his own properties to vacationers, all of which were located on the Ile de la Cité next to Notre Dame — vacationers heaven.

Glenn was hurt and angry after being a loyal resident of France for 23 years (naturally). As a result, he sold off all of his French properties, took his money and his entrepreneurship and moved to Lisbon, Portugal, where he is buying up properties, renovating them to American standards and renting them to tourists, just as he had done in Paris. The Portuguese are thrilled to have this foreign investor and the improvements to their city, along with the influx of more tourists and the publicity. Glenn is thrilled to be in Lisbon where he says he feels welcome and very much ‘at home.’

For a long time Glenn had been begging me to come see his newly-adopted city on the sea, and finally, I found an opportunity to go see what Lisbon was all about. Lots of low-cost airlines fly to Lisbon from Paris making it easy and affordable to get there. Once there, to our pleasant discovery, the costs of traveling in Lisbon and Portugal are considerably lower than in Paris and France. My usual dining-out budget in Paris got stretched to almost double making a weekend in Lisbon more a savings than an expense!

I’d never been to Portugal before, although an old fellow-blogger who has lived in Portugal more than 20 years, has been encouraging me to pay a visit as long as I’ve known her — Pat Westheimer of Americans in Portugal. With Glenn, this meant there were at least two really great reasons to visit Lisbon, although the city itself is reason enough.

I was charmed even before arriving in front of the apartment door Glenn had reserved for my traveling companion and me, one of the three new luxury rentals he is offering up in the same building, located on a quiet, narrow, cobblestoned street in the “Bairro Alto” part of the city. The taxi driver en route from the airport was giving me lessons in Portuguese while he maneuvered the narrow steep streets — a language that sounded to my ear more Eastern European than Latin.

The Bairro Alto district in Lisbon is a smart purchase for a guy like Glenn Cooper wanting to make a good investment. It’s the city center of the Portuguese capital resulting from urban expansion in the 16th-century and is in a gentrification stage that is driving property prices up. “Bairro” means “neighborhood” and is made-up of old houses of three-to-four stories. His first three rental apartments occupy one building with a roof-top terrace. The ground level is a studio where we stayed. Above us was a two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment and on the second floor there was a duplex also with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus access to a rooftop terrace with amazing views. All of the apartments have been totally renovated and decorated for complete comfort, American style. (See rentals-lisbon.com/ and airbnb.com/ for more information)

Glenn lives in another house he purchased just a short walk away in the same district, with three levels and also with a roof-top terrace affording beautiful views of the city. The Rubber Tree, lovingly named “Bertha” that he moved from Paris, is thriving on the terrace and will likely take over before he knows it now that it’s getting a lot more sun.

When you travel to Lisbon, be sure to wear your thickest soled shoes to cushion against the cobblestoned streets and be prepared to have tighter ‘buns’ after climbing the steep slopes and stairs. The city is not for the handicapped or the less “sportif.” Of course, the tramways are everywhere, too, to help you maneuver the city. The Tramway Number 15 took us from “Cais do Sodré” (the “Wharf of Sodré”) to the Mosteiro Jerónimos in Belém, six kilometers from the city center. This district is the center of the city’s museum life. The Jerónimos Monastery and the Tower of Belém are just two of the dozen or so attractions here as well as is the home to the Portuguese pastry, “Pastéis de Belém.”

We didn’t want to miss anything and spent the entire day in the district, but not until we had tasted the famous pastry, “pastéis” — an egg tart made with flaky pastry. The tramway lets you off not far from the iconic blue-fronted building. The front counter displays all of its delicacies, but behind that, the pastry shop goes on and on and on with room after room of dining tables as if they are expecting all of Lisbon at any given moment…as does the enormous size of the kitchen that makes the city’s most famous treat. Do not leave Lisbon without having at least one — and not just any pastéis (as you will find them everywhere) — but the original here at Pastéis de Belém, as the others don’t even come close (we tasted enough others to know that the calories weren’t worth it). If it were to be described as “orgasmic,” that would be understating the heavenly experience of popping the warm custard pastry into your mouth.

Once plied with energy from the sugary sweet, we set off to visit the Museu Coleção Berardo, the city’s contemporary art museum of note. It’s expansive and impressive, housing works by such illustrious artists as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and many more. One could easily spend many hours wandering through the hundreds of rooms of great masterpieces, as we did. Set on the water amid many other important museums and sights, defined by beautiful gardens, this part of the city is a must for any first-time tourist. With so much to see, we had to choose our visits carefully, but of course, opted to step into the Jeronimos Monastery, where Vasco da Gama is buried. The magnificent church was built to “commemorate his voyage and to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success.”

Our first evening in Lisbon we had a particularly spectacular meal at a tiny local Portuguese restaurant just opposite the British Council named Adega Dom Luis (and facebook.com/AdegaDomLuis). Glenn had made friends with the owner, a small man with a command of English whose tall handsome son was working with him at the bar. We didn’t need to look at the menus. He asked what we wanted to eat, made suggestions and asked us to trust him. Before we knew it, the table was filled with Portuguese specialties, we were ‘uhming’ with every morsel and complaining about the lack of ability to eat another bite. With countless courses, wine and coffee, the bill was less than 20€ per person. It was ridiculous!

The Bairro Alto district is filled with bars and restaurants making it the center of the city’s night life. Fortunately, Glenn’s apartments are off the beaten track in a quiet residential part of the district, but the access to the activity is immediate. One of the city’s most special bars is “Pavilhão Chinês,” once an old grocery store, this 1900’s style hideaway is a cornucopia of kitsch decor and curiosities, a must-see when you visit Lisbon.
 
On Saturday in Glenn’s car we drove out of the city to Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the mountains filled with 19th-century romantic architecture and landscapes. One of its main attractions is the “Quinta de Regaleira,” a palace built between 1904 and 1910 also known as the “Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire,” taken from the nickname of its first owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. The palace is beautiful and the grounds lush and expansive. One could spend an entire day exploring all it has to offer…but instead to chose to take in the “Portuguese
Afternoon Tea” at the “Tivoli Palácio de Seteais.”

Just around the bend from the palace, the Tivoli is a beautiful hotel set on beautifully manicured grounds that sets the afternoon buffet extravaganza of pastries and fresh juices, teas and coffees, in an elegant dining room…all for the small cost of 20€. We were there two hours circling the table and ruining our appetite for dinner before heading south to the beach resort and former fishing village of Cascais, where Pat Westheimer (americansinportugal.org/) lives and thrives. Like Glenn, she owns and rents a few apartments in Cascais to tourists.

Cascais is only 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Lisbon — a small community with about 35,000 residents, but it’s one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. Pat is at the center of the American community in Portugal, networking from her beautiful and spacious house in Cascais with her bookend pups, one black, one white. If you want to connect with other Americans in Portugal, Pat is the person to see and of course, Glenn was thrilled to meet her to expand his world of Americans in Lisbon (and environs).

We didn’t leave Lisbon without a ride on the tramway number 28, purported to be THE tramway to take for an outstanding visit to the city. We hopped on it down the hill from the apartment and hopped off at the Castelo de São Jorge. The tramways do an amazing job of maneuvering up and down the winding hilly slopes of Lisbon without much fuss. First entering the Lisbon scene in November of 1873 as a horsecar line, in 1901, the first electric tramway began operation. Within only one year, the entire system had been converted. At one time there were 24 routes, but now only five remain in the center and western parts of the city. Only small trams are possible because of the city’s topography, but when you visit Lisbon, do not miss riding at least one. You can simply pay when you get on — 2.85€ per person per tram ride.

The Castelo de São Jorge is a prominent sight in Lisbon — a Moorish ruin of a castle on a hilltop overlooking central Lisbon and the Tagus River. From the ramparts, the views of the city are outstanding and the streets surrounding the castle are charming. A stroll among the ruins and on the grounds is just another one of Lisbon’s many pleasures.

As we boarded the plane, we reflected on what Glenn said about ‘feeling at home’ in Lisbon, as did Pat Westheimer extoll on the virtues of living in Portugal where one can feel freer and more relaxed. No doubt, they have found their soul-cities, much like we had found ours: Paris.

Lisbon is Lisbon and Paris is Paris. There is nothing quite like either city, but what makes it all so exciting is that both are within easy reach, once you’re on this side of the Big Pond, and they are so, so different. We don’t have to choose — we can have it all!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC Adrian at Pasteis de BelemAdrian Leeds

Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC

(at Pastéis de Belém)

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