I’ll kill 2 birds with one stone with Lisbon: visit another city on that Condé Nast 20 best European cities list, the original source of travel inspiration for my 2018 gap year (that I now ironically can’t find online anymore), and attend a conference, the House of Beautiful Business, partially put on by a human that really inspires me: Tim Leberecht, author, speaker and consultant. More on that in the next article. But for now, Lisbon.
I arrived in the dark. As my taxi driver Miguel navigated me from the airport to the capital’s streets, I was surprised that it is actually located in the city limits. Convenient for tourists and travelers, but not so much for residents. In fact, flight times are regulated by curfew so Lisboetas can get a few hours of sleep at night.
Along the way, I saw advertising vividly lit up and was excited: I can somewhat read Portuguese! A nice contrast to being in Germany, where I still can’t understand anything I try to read. Sadly, I later found out, I similarly can’t understand Portuguese at all, which is indeed quite different from Spanish.
I had been warned about the city’s hilly landscape. I didn’t notice any hills at first, for a while. Then we started climbing: “Ah! Here are the hills I heard about!” Miguel snickered: “You haven’t seen anything yet”. He quickly informed me that the city was built on only seven hills. Myth or truth, it didn’t take long before we were ascending steep streets.
I see, it must be like San Francisco then, I thought. Except after spending 6 days here, it’s absolutely not (and I am 100% sure I came up and down more than 7 hills, thanks Miguel…). Lisbon’s city center’s streets are steep, narrow, curvy and also sharp, often lined with cobblestones.
As I headed out on foot to meet a fellow conference-goer for dinner after checking in to my lovely Airbnb, I also realized their sidewalks are tight, constricted and often non-existent. In the rain, their tile-like surface makes them super slippery. Careful! People therefore walk on the streets, making jaywalking a natural part of the local culture.
In the daylight the next afternoon, headed to kick off my conference, I observed a constant negotiation between cars and pedestrians on both sidewalks and streets. It’s something I have never experienced before and makes the relationship between drivers and pedestrians, locals and tourists alike quite integrated, almost choreographed. Humans interact and work together patiently to move in this chaotic dance performed on the streets. Rarely honking at or cursing each other out.
The streets are also lined with doors that are usually immediately adjacent to the sidewalks. Colorful, ornamented, beautifully decorated doors. Doors to homes, small store fronts, offices. Often doors to spaces that seem abandoned.
Stimulation in the city is pleasantly almost completely analogue and ever present.
By Friday, I needed some silence from its dynamism, some space to see the sky and some solitude after these days of incitement at The House. I took the train to Cascais, sure I wanted to see the Atlantic from the other side, but unsure of what else I would find. The mystic of the unknown. Then, my imagination running free, picturing a summertime scene there, filled with tourists, sailors, beachgoers and vacationers.