Are we in Lisbon or San Francisco?


A friend recently asked me about the weather here in Lisbon. When we got here in late October we had a few warm days. November was exceptionally dry followed by an unusual cold front in early December, but now we have settled in to typical Lisbon weather where it is chilly, and sometimes damp. “Kind of like the [San Francisco, CA] Bay Area?”, my friend asked, as we have both lived there, and yes, it is very much like the Bay Area here. Unlike San Francisco, mid summer in Lisbon will be hot and sunny, like most of southern Europe, but the winters in both cities are very much the same. And that’s not the only thing that these two cities have in common!

Like many cities, both SF and Lisbon claim they were built on seven hills. If you’ve ever walked around SF you know how steep some of those hills can be, especially when the sidewalk suddenly turns into stairs. You can find this all over Lisbon too, except here the sidewalks are made of cobble stones and sometimes only six inches wide. Yes, Howard and I have both been lightly clipped by passing cars, and there are a few places you do not want to be if a trolley is coming.

Lisbon Sidewalks

Speaking of trolleys, here is another similarity between Lisbon and SF. In 1873 San Francisco established it’s iconic cable car system. The same year, Lisbon established its’ tramway starting with a horse car line. In 1901 the city had converted all its’ tramways to electric trolleys called eléctricos. If there was a contest to see which city could fit the most passengers in a trolley, Lisbon would certainly win as there no “stand behind the yellow line” or “don’t lean against the door” rules here. I saw this first hand while wedged so tight behind the drivers seat I couldn’t turn around and Howard was smooshed against the other side of the tram. We thought there’s no way any more people could fit on this tram, but we were wrong because the driver opened the door and let twelve more people on. Whether or not anyone freaked out on this trolley ride and was allowed to get off between stops is a story for another day.

Graca 28 Trolley

We are staying in the Graca neighborhood of Lisbon and just a short walk up from our apartment are two parks that have fantastic views over the city. One of the first things we did when we were here was check these overlooks out. It was hard not to first notice the huge castle, Castelo de S. Jorge, on an adjacent hill but wait, why are we seeing the Golden Gate Bridge too? Off in the distance was the Ponte 25 de Abril, “25th of April Bridge”, a reddish orange suspension bridge connecting Lisbon to the other side of the bay, or River Tagus. It was even built by the same company that built another famous bridge in CA, the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge. Just in case looking at this bridge makes you think you are in SF, adjacent to the bridge on the far shore is the Christ the King statue, or Cristo Rei, which has an uncanny resemblance to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Pastel De Nada & Cafe

Both Lisbon and SF are “West Coast” cities. Culture wise there are many similarities with beaches and great surfing close to the city. Both cities love their coffee shops, although there are only a few Starbucks here in Lisbon. Most of the coffee shops here are small Pastelarias that offer espressos and delicious pastries like pastel de nata, or egg tarts. Also, both cities have nearby wine countries, Napa and Sonoma in CA, and Porto north of Lisbon. And of course, each of these cities is located on the west coast of their continent.

These west coast cities have one more obvious similarity; earthquakes. San Francisco is known for having severe earthquakes and the 1906 one destroyed most of the city. Lisbon’s worst earthquake was in 1755 and leveled most of that city. Both cities are said to be due for the next “big one” too. Hopefully Howard and I will be on to our next destination before then!

Cristo Rei and the 25th of April Bridge

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