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The Travel Mishap That Gave Me a Chance to Explore Lisbon

When a flight delay stranded me in Lisbon for 24 hours, I decided to make the most of it.

After two weeks of nonstop travel through Europe, my sister and I had managed to avoid any travel mishaps—and I was amazed. It wasn’t until we parted ways at the airport that the travel disaster I’d been fearing finally took place.


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My sister, Kayla, and I took the trip of a lifetime to Europe in the summer of 2018. It was two weeks of hostels, trains, long talks over dinner and constant laughter. At the end of our trip, we said a tearful goodbye in the Madrid airport. “I can’t believe we made it through seven flights without having any issues!” I told her.


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Kayla left to catch her flight to Los Angeles, while I checked the board for my flight to Lisbon. I was flying there to transfer to a flight to New York. But apparently, my joke about avoiding travel mishaps jinxed us: my flight was delayed. Ten hours later, I made it to the hotel in Lisbon, where the airline put me up to wait for an outgoing flight the next day. I collapsed on the bed and cried. I missed my sister. I wanted to go home. This was not the plan.

I then looked out the window and saw nothing but blue skies and colorful buildings. I knew I had a choice: I could view this detour as a burden or an opportunity. I decided to go outside and explore Lisbon, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

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Portugal is known for its brightly colored buildings—many of them decorated with Azulejo tiles—and it was one of the first things I noticed when I stepped outside my hotel. Many of the streets also feature intricate tiled patterns. Tile is such an important part of Portugese culture that there is even a Tile Museum in Lisbon.


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After stopping at a bookstore, I found the Pelourinho—or pillory—of Lisbon, located in Praco do Municipio, one of the main city squares. The statue has existed in several forms since the 14th century. After an earthquake destroyed much of Lisbon in 1755, the monument was rebuilt in the form that exists today. The twisting tower is carved from one piece of marble.


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In keeping with the bright tiles and buildings that color the city, Lisbon also features many streets draped with colorful streamers. I wandered aimlessly for hours, following the streets with the most colorful ribbons. One of my favorite parts of my travels with Kayla was our aimless wandering and exploring Lisbon gave me the chance to reflect on the time I’d spent with my sister.


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Rossio Square is one of the busiest areas in Lisbon. The centerpiece of the square is a massive monument called Pedro IV in honor of the former Portugese King. At the base of the statue are four female sculptures meant to represent Justice, Wisdom, Strength and Moderation.


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The Lisbon tramway network has been operating in Lisbon since the 1800s. Although now mainly ridden by tourists, the yellow trams are a charming sight to see in the colorful city.

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While walking along the waterfront, I stumbled upon this sculpture created in honor of the famous Portuguese artist José Sobral de Almada Negreiros Negreiros. Negreiros was an accomplished sculptor, poet and painter during the 20th century.


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The Commerce Square on the waterfront was known as “Palace Square” before the palace was destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1755. Grand government buildings make a U shape that opens toward the water. The focal piece of the square is a massive arch with beautiful views of the river.


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Although Portugal had been knocked out of World Cup contention by the time I arrived in Lisbon, the Arena Portugal Fun Zone was still set up in Praça do Comércio square. People were dancing and eating from food trucks nearby. After walking for hours, this was where I took a moment to sit down, enjoy the atmosphere and be grateful for my unexpected delay. Touring Lisbon on my own was certainly not how I expected to end my European adventure, but it was exactly the right way to remind me to embrace peace no matter my circumstances.

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