Some photos of my trip to Lisbon

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

Below are the photos from my trip to Lisbon, Portugal, for the Web Summit, which ran from November 5th to the 9th.

( Also see my separate post about the Web Summit. )

With the street trolleys and the steep hills that go down to the water, it would be easy to confuse Lisbon with San Francisco. Both cities exist on a peninsula and have had famous earthquakes. Both cities officially have 500,000 people, and 3 million people in the surrounding area. Across the bay is a city called Sao Franscisco, so even on the map there is a similar name.

But Lisbon is far away from the rest of Europe, so it’s been slow to gentrify. I walked through many some mildly decayed neighborhoods that have not seen much change in the last 300 years. This used to be the most important city in the world, with the earliest of the modern worldwide empires (Portugal discovered much of Africa before the Spanish got started), but its great era was clearly long ago. It’s avoided all the European wars for the last 200 years, so it’s gone untouched and undamaged. Like Spain, the 20th Century saw a clash between Communism and Fascism, with the fascists holding power for several decades, but that ended in 1974.

I did see a lot of construction crews, and real estate signs, so the process of gentrification has started, but this seems recent. I can believe that Berlin or Stockholm looked like this 15 years ago.

It was interesting to see so many cafes that appeared to be quaint and old and rustic because they were quaint and old and rustic rather than looking that way because some designer had put a lot of time into thinking about how to simulate the look of something quaint and old and rustic.

While I was in the USA, I was thinking, okay, Portugal has 10 million people, so how big can the capitol be? Maybe 500,000? Something like Richmond, Virginia? But I didn’t understand Portugal, which is basically endless farmland and then also Lisbon. Lisbon holds about 30% of the population of Portugal. 3 million people. I’ve never heard of a capitol that holds so much of the nations population (leaving aside city states like Singapore). Maybe this is the remnant of running a world wide empire for 500 years. I was astonished to ride the train and see the city go on and on, hill after hill, office park after office park, a bit like the ride, in California, from San Jose up to San Francisco. I think every major corporation in the world has an office here: IBM, Microsoft, NEC, Samsung. I guess this must be an affordable place to get their foot into the EU. The downside is Lisbon is really far away from the rest of Europe. London and Paris and Berlin are like next door neighbors compared to Lisbon. There aren’t as many cheap flights here.

The Web Summit was amazing. Attendance was over 70,000 people. The event filled 4 large pavilions plus a stadium, almost two kilometers along the water front. The Prime Minister of Portugal showed up to offer the opening speech. In both good and bad ways, the city has a vibe a bit like some Californian cities — more than most other European cities, this city has been designed for automobiles. It’s a bit hostile to bikes and pedestrians. It has very bad traffic on its major highways. But it has sun and beaches and much better weather than the rest of Europe. The southern part of Portugal has become the place where British people retire to. Basically, it is the Florida of Europe. (Not sure how Brexit will effect the Brits.)

Apparently there is little crime here, so that is a big win compared to Los Angeles. Last year there were 122 murders in the entire country, whereas there were 350 murders in New York City (Portugal has roughly the same population as New York).

On the flight to Lisbon, I had a layover in Moscow for a few hours. I saw this Burger King. There is something about Cyrillic letters that leaves me thinking I can almost read them. Unlike Chinese or Japanese characters, these are similar enough to the Latin alphabet that I almost think I understand what I’m seeing.

When I decided to go to Lisbon, I got the cheapest hotel I could, a Holiday Inn. I didn’t check the map, and I would not have understood the meaning of the distance if I had. But as it turned out, I was way out in the suburbs. Imagine a tourist who visits New York City but rents a hotel way out in New Jersey. I had to take a bus and then a train to get to the Web Summit, from the hotel, and it took almost an hour. Therefore, I did not think anyone else at my hotel had anything to do with the Web Summit. But each morning at breakfast, while the Web Summit was happening, the lobby would look like this:

I stayed an extra day, after the Web Summit had ended, and the next morning the lobby looked like this:

So even an hour away, the hotels were flooded with people who’d come for the Web Summit (it had over 70,000 people on its peak day).

I was out in the suburbs, what used to be old villages that have only recently been joined into the overall urban region that constitutes Lisbon. When I went for a walk, I saw the old scenes of forgotten streets, though I also saw a lot of development, as this area begins to change:

You can sort of see how far out I was on this map:

I’m the blue dot. I captured that while I was on a bus going up to the train. Remember, the conference was to the east, on the inner bay.

While I was on the bus I could look out and see some very bad traffic:

On the bus, I saw some beautiful neighborhoods that appear to be new. These are basically the suburbs of Lisbon:

When I got to Monte Abraão, I got off the bus and onto the train:

A theater poster at the railroad station says something about the amount of culture of Lisbon. I think this is the only city in Portugal that can support this kind of culture:

There was plenty of graffiti at the railroad station:

When I think of graffiti, I think of Berlin. That is a city that is famous for its graffiti, and also a place where the political meaning of graffiti has played a historic role (think of the graffiti on the Wall when the Soviets were still in control). But I think Lisbon has even more graffiti. It was everywhere. It was on main streets and small side streets. Some of it was fairly good.

I believe Lisbon has more graffiti than any other city in the world. Even more than Berlin. The graffiti here is everywhere. It goes on block after block. The artists are respectful of each others work — I didn’t see many cases where some art was painted over someone else’s art. But there is a lot of it. Much of it is large, and must have taken some time, even though most of it is done on fairly busy streets. So the graffiti artists work while others are watching? Or they come out at 3 AM and paint while no one is looking?

In the 1990s Bill Bratton took over the New York City police and he instituted programs that were based around the “Broken Window Theory” of crime. He said stuff like broken windows and graffiti established an ambiance that made crime more likely. He may have been right about broken windows but he was certainly wrong about graffiti. Berlin and Lisbon have a tremendous amount of graffiti, and they are both very safe. In Lisbon’s case, I think the graffiti speaks more to the artists feeling a sense of ownership in the community.

When I finally got off the train, I was near the convention center. The government has spent a bit to develop this area for tourists and convention attendees. There is a University of Justice here, as well as the waterfront, the sculptures along the water front, and an extensive shopping mall. The area feels very modern:

I stayed an extra day, after the conference was over. I went to see my friend Joao of Runtime Revolution, a great software development shop. I took the train to Entrecampos:

From there I walked north to the offices of Runtime Revolution:

I notice that all over the city the sidewalks are made of stones:

It was my last day, so Joao suggested I go down to the historic area around Baixa-Chiado:

I came out at the square and began to walk west:

In other words, I was here:

Specifically, near the Baixa-Chiado station:

For a sense of direction, remember that the conference had occurred north and east of this location, whereas my hotel had been way over to the west.

This is the square near the Baixa-Chiado station:

I spent the next 3 hours walking, mostly westward, though an old and beautiful neighborhood.

Some odd decorations at the top of the building:

At some point I turned south and I came out by the water, looking straight south at the Strait Of Tagus:

Then I headed almost straight north.

I was deeply confused about what sort of arrangment governed these cars. The ones in back have no way to get out. Does an automobile owner have to contact each person and ask them to move their car, so the owner can get their car out? Is this done on a regular schedule, like the cars need to be moved once each night? Is it normal to leave these cars in place for long periods of time, perhaps weeks?

The Communist party in Portugal has a strong following in the area just south of Lisbon. They were advertising heavily for the election that is coming up in January. They are campaigning on a platform that will raise the minimum wage to 600 euros by 2019. I assume that is 600 euros per month? Which would be about 4 euros an hour? Still less than the USA.

At some point I needed to get to the airport, so I started back towards Baixa-Chiado. I came out onto the main road west and a bit north of it:

So much of this city is just amazingly beautiful.