Lisbon in Eurovision Colours
“Are you here for the Eurovision?” our Uber driver asks. Gee, what gave us away? Nothing, as it turns out, since people from all over Europe fled to Lisbon to watch the Eurovision Song Contest, some whom I would never have thought were fans, but everyone came together to build bridges (and other Eurovision cliche taglines), dance and have fun.
As the car approaches the familiar Marquês de Pombal roundabout, my heart skips a couple of beats. It’s my fourth time in Lisbon, but I am still as enthusiastic as if it were the first, or actually even more, since now I know the places a lot better. “I just wish everyone could win,” our Uber driver interrupts my daydreaming monologue and she’s not wrong, this year has been a really good edition. Or maybe I’m just saying that because I got to experience it first hand.
Watching the semifinals on TV at home made me even more excited to get to Lisbon, especially after that opening introduction video (above) of Lisbon, where I’ve probably screamed “I’ve been there!” a thousand times at the TV screen.😅 We’re so happy to be back in Lisbon that we walk past our hostel…twice. There’s not much time to waste so we quickly drop our bags, grab some pasteis and rush to the Altice Arena.
Even though I wanted to get tickets for the finale, thanks to a ridiculous online queue system, they were sold out within minutes, but they couldn’t inform the users. So after eight hours of “online waiting”, the only tickets left were for the pretentiously called “Family Show” (which is just the rehearsal before the finale – exactly same show, without the voting). We arrive at the arena 45 minutes before the show and the lines are huuuuuuge, but we get in quickly, with enough time to check out the merchandising and get some drinks.
As soon as we enter the hall and see the stage with our own eyes for the first time, it hits me: “omg, we’re really here, this is happening”. Still awestruck, we don’t realize we’re blocking the stairs so we go look for our seats. One good thing for not finding tickets for the finale? We managed to get better seats for an even lower price. There is a guy on stage who explains some brief rules, like when to cheer, when to sing (for the songs that require the audience to participate), not to wave the flag when the artist is on stage (something that is often ignored). The standing area has people with so many Spanish flags, Ola Sand even jokes that he thought this was Lisbon, not Madrid.
Camera, lights, action! The show starts with a flag parade, followed by the appearance of each contestant. I’m a bit disappointed that Romania didn’t qualify the one time I went to Eurovision, though I wasn’t a fan of the song. Regardless, I get an overwhelming feeling of joy just for being there and watching everyone cheer for their favorite songs and/or their own country. The first thing I notice is that this is a show made for television. Sure, it’s exciting to watch it live, but camera action and video effects can really make or break an entry (take Italy for example, which live is just two dudes standing still).
The second thing I notice is that every song sounds a lot better than in the semifinals. Maybe it’s the excitement of being here, but even songs I didn’t like before now sound better. What is truly impressive however is how, while on TV there’s a small video in between songs (for a minute or maybe even less), a huge team of people comes to prepare the stage for the next artist. They take out equipment, bring instruments, sweep the stage and have lasers to point out where the next artist must stand. I watch them fascinated after every song and wonder how many times did they have to rehearse to get it perfect.
I love how the crowd cheers, dances and sings for their favorite songs. Israel is the first one to get a huge reaction in the arena when she comes on stage, followed closely by Cyprus, which is favourite to win. The songs end and I’m a bit relieved, because my voice needed a break from all that singing/screaming. The hosts rehearse their lines and they show images from the “Green room”, which is just to test the cameras, since there are no artists there. We leave as Salvador Sobral starts playing and let’s be clear for a minute: I never liked him, nor wanted him to win. I wanted Portugal to win because I knew they were going to put on a great show and that I would be there. 😉
After lunch, we go back to the 5 Sins Chiado hostel to check in and find out our room has a beautiful view of the Carmo Convent (it’s right behind it) and Carmo street, while from the bathroom you get an even better view of the castle. Definitely staying here again! We have no time to waste, as we head back to Praca do Comercio, to watch the Grand Finale in the Eurovision Village. Ruslana (Eurovision 2004 winner from Ukraine) is playing at 6, but as we are about to find out, we only get to see two of her songs live, while we hear the others from the looooooong queue. The sound is bad anyway and we can barely understand what she’s saying so we take this time to relax while waiting for the show to start, as the square fills with people. In between Ruslana’s set and the beginning of the Finale, they play pop music and I think it’s such a missed opportunity to play popular songs from previous Eurovision editions.
The show starts and surprise, surprise, it’s exactly the same as the one we’ve seen earlier. Still, one of the best things about seeing it live is the energy you get from the crowd, with people singing and cheering on their favorite songs, everyone is very into it (I wish people were like this at all concerts). And if you’re lucky, you get moments like the one above when a gentleman made a dull song more memorable. 😂
What’s definitely better to watch in the Eurovision Village is the voting process and boy, did they deliver this year, with the most unexpected and nerve racking announcement ever. They are announcing the jury points and everyone looks around confused, as it appears that Austria and Sweden had won the jury vote – something no one had expected – nor wanted, I think. There is a huge reaction when they reveal Sweden is the fourth least voted country in the televote, blowing away any chance they had of winning. The crowd explodes when Israel is declared winner and everyone sings the song one last time, celebrating a great ending to a great edition. In case it hasn’t been obvious by now, I loved Israel’s song. It has been my favorite from the first time I heard it and kept hoping it will win. So I guess we’ll go to Jerusalem next year, huh? 😕
The next morning is quiet on Carmo street, except for a speaker somewhere in the distance, playing the Eurovision songs in their ranking order, shading Sweden by skipping them and playing Finland instead. We say goodbye to our beautiful hostel and start walking up and down Lisbon’s hills. Chiado and Bairro Alto are my favorite neighbourhoods of Lisbon so that’s where we start our day, with breakfast from A Padaria Portuguesa, pasteis from Manteigaria and coffee from Copenhagen Coffee Lab. We walk without any itinerary, on narrow alleys with colourful houses or with beautiful tiles. We pass by Elevador da Bica where people are taking photos with a stopped, picture-perfect funicular.
The sun is shining and we feel like we must stop to take in the views at Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, and afterwards we descend towards Time Out Market. It’s my first time seeing it, even though I’ve already been to Lisbon three times before. I understand what’s all the hype about, but it’s way too crowded and hot for my liking so we keep on walking. A lot of tuk tuks pass us and I mention that I’ve always wanted to ride one so Paul suggests we should do that next.
We head to Rossio and Martim Moniz, find one we like and our driver gives us a tour of the beautiful Alfama neighbourhood. I’ve already seen most of the places before, much to his shock, as he’s never met someone who has been to Lisbon so many times. But having an insider guide to tell us stories about each place is always better than finding them on your own. We stop by Miradouro de Nossa Senhora do Monte and even though I’ve been there, I had no idea it was the highest point in the city. As we say good bye to our driver, we both decide we should head back to Alfama and wander around on foot too.
As the sun is starting to set, we say goodbye to Lisbon with the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had (including macarons with ice cream!) at Amorino. Obviously, we couldn’t leave before buying a bunch of pasteis for our friends and family, otherwise they would have sent us back to get them. Hmmm, that’s not a bad idea in the future 🤔
We find our seats on the plane, sad that the trip is over but still smiling after the whole experience. Right behind us is the whole Romanian Eurovision delegation, still bitter for not qualifying. I put on my headphones, listening to some good Eurovision songs, fall asleep and wake up in Bucharest.