Portugal - Getting Lost


This is one of my favorite travel memories.  I've told this story many times and if we have ever spoken about Portugal, you've probably heard it before.   But this is the first time I've written about it.

I went to Lisbon in October, 1985.  It was the first time I had ever been outside the USA by myself.  I was a little nervous but excited to spend time in a new place.

I was having lunch at an outdoor café, sampling fresh sardines for the first time.  As is the custom in many European restaurants, if a place is crowded, you might be asked to share your table with a complete stranger.   I was already eating when a young German guy came to my table.    We started chatting and he introduced himself as Felix. He was currently living in Amsterdam but was in Portugal on vacation.   He spoke German, English and a little Spanish.  

After we both finished eating, he asked me if I had been up to the city overlook yet.  I said no, and he invited me to join him.   We hiked up the winding cobblestone streets and arrived at the overlook where this photo was taken.

Felix overlooking Lisbon, Portugal

We enjoyed the view and then set out to explore Lisbon.  We got lost.  Lost in a good way.   Wandering around with no idea where we were or how to get back.   Felix was a soccer fan and told me there was a big World Cup qualifying match that evening between Portugal and West Germany.  He wanted to find a place to watch it.   As the time for the match grew closer, we started looking for a place that might be showing it.  We had no idea where we were, but we walked into a small "dive" bar with a TV.  The place was tiny...about six tables and a bar.  We were the only customers inside.

The owner of the bar spoke Portuguese and a little Spanish.  Felix also knew a little Spanish.  There was no common fluent language between us, but the soccer match was the unifier.   Since I was from the USA, the bar owner decided I should have a shot of Jack Daniels. He also poured one for Felix and one for himself.  

This was 1985 and Jack Daniels was an expensive drink in Europe.  I was traveling on a budget and wasn't sure how I could afford the drink but I took it.  We watched the match.  When our glasses were empty, the owner poured us each another shot.  I was starting to get worried about the cost and tried to decline a couple of the drinks, but the owner poured it anyway.

Even though we had no common language, we had a great conversation.   The owner spoke to Felix in bad Spanish, Felix tried to translate it to English and then translated my comments back to Spanish.  I am sure a lot got "lost in translation."

It was a really fun night, drinking American whiskey in Portugal watching a West German soccer match.  All three of us were clearly having a great time and all getting a bit drunk.    Portugal won the match, but what happened next, I'll never forget.

The bar owner REFUSED to take our money.  He said it was his treat.   I couldn't believe it.  This was not a fancy place and he had no other customers.   Never would I have expected to go to a bar and not pay for my drinks.   However, it also made me realize that he probably enjoyed the company as much as we did.   

I don't remember how I got back to the hotel.   I probably got a taxi, but I'll always remember the fun night with two friendly strangers in Portugal.   

Dates of Travel

  • October, 1985

Places Visited

  • Lisbon



This post is part of my series "One Photo - One Country."  I'm am selecting one photo and writing one story from every country I have visited.   Your comments and questions are welcome.  

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