Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lisbon On My Mind

"Who was your guide in Lisbon?" my friend Bea texted me yesterday, jolting me into blog reality. Yes, I have been blog delinquent, only because I've been preoccupied by non-travel and non-interior things lately. But Lisbon...

Lisbon seems so long ago--and yet we were just there in January this year.  I realized I never finished my posts on Lisbon, and there are many things I want to remember.

For my Lisbon visit, I contacted Lisbon Explorer, which I found through my usual obsessive online research. I emailed two other companies that also do walking tours and similar things, but Antonio of Lisbon Explorer not only emailed me back right away, he was warm and offered me the type of information I expect to get, like say, from a cousin or good friend. It was full of details, advise and tips. We emailed extensively back and forth, and I hadn't even booked anything with him yet.

I eventually booked a "Hidden Lisbon" tour, and also a walking tour of Sintra. I only contacted Lisbon Explorer after I booked my own hotels, otherwise I might have asked him to book our hotels too. The Sintra tour was just okay, but the "Hidden Lisbon" walking tour was one of the best private tours I ever did, and it was all because of our guide, Paolo Scheffer.

Paolo is deeply knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He clearly loves what he does and is excited about everything in the city. I think our tour was supposed to last 3 hours, but neither of us noticed the time and we ended a full hour later.

B and I got along with him immediately. Paolo is perceptive, or maybe he just likes the same things we do. When B asked one little question about Michelin-type restaurants in Lisbon,  it launched a long discussion of great meals we've all had.  He eagerly recommended "this fabulous restaurant that my wife and I love--not cheap, but a great value for the gastronomic meal they serve." How could we pass that up? He said he would get Antonio to book us a table that evening (it was our last day), but not to get our hopes up too high because it was a small place and always full. We did end up having dinner there, and if was a very memorable experience.

Although I love wandering around cities and discovering things on my own, I also love being brought around by tour guides. I'm always the nerd walking in front of the whole group, right beside the guide, asking tons of questions. In recent years, I've discovered the luxury of a private guide.

I've learned though that not all private guides are equal. Just because one has lived in a place for a long time doesn't make one a good guide, and rven someone who is  professionally trained is not necessarily interesting.

But once in a while we get lucky and meet wonderful ones who are intelligent and scholarly, ebullient and enthusiastic. I was extremely impressed with Paolo in Lisbon. I googled him only after, and was not surprised at his ratings on Tripadvisor.

My friend Bea and her husband also enjoy private guides.  Paolo is the best there is and I know they will be very happy with him.


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