Learning to Love & Leave Lisbon

Sometimes you meet someone and in a moment know that you will be friends or lovers, that this is someone who you want to share moments good and bad with, that either platonically or romantically you love this person.

As it is with people, so it is with cities or villages, there are some places you fall in love with without trying. You just turn up in a new town and get that warm fuzzy feeling, that this is somewhere that feels like it could be ‘home’.

Whether people or places, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is magical and unexplanable. It is an emotional response not a conscious choice, it’s not that there is some tangible thing or reason why you make a connection, you just do.

I love Barcelona and Gangtok and just feel right whenever I visit them, I can’t tell you why because I don’t know, they have nothing in common at all., one is a Catalan city on the mediterranean coast and the other is a town in the lower Himalayas. They are simply places that I feel I belong.

But then there is the other kind of love, the kind that you don’t even realise is happening. It’s not that you have to work at it, it is just that it somehow creeps up on you and grows over time. Maybe it doesn’t come with a lightning bolt but that doesn’t make it any less powerful or real.

And so it is with Lisbon…

I wanted to love Lisbon, I really wanted to arrive there and be hit by one of those magical bolts, to want to never leave, but I didn’t.

I didn’t love the hills, the traffic, the coffee, the ridiculous stone pavements or a thousand other little things, but over time they came to matter less and less.

The difficulty of finding a decent cup of coffee and ending up ordering a very mediocre tasting galão used to frustrate the crap out of me, but now I appreciate how inexpensive my cup of coffee is, the pastéis de nata I inevitably order with, and the variety of other pastries that I could pick if I felt so inclined.

The traffic, terrible drivers and convoluted one way systems are much less annoying when you know your way around a bit and anyway you come to realise the best way around the centre of the city is on foot.

Even the pavements that are as slippery as ice when they get even vaguely damp, that are a real pain in the arse to pull a wheeled suitcase (or baby buggy) over and that seem to fall and develop holes all of the time, don’t annoy me so much anymore, but seem somehow charming.

There are still plenty of things that drive me nuts, like the fact that nobody ever seems to pick it up when their dog shits in the street, like the ridiculous system of having to take a numbered ticket and wait for things that really shouldn’t need such a system, the rancid smell of bacalhau, the terrible bureaucracy… I could go on but I won’t.

I won’t because the thing is that when the sun is shining on a warm January afternoon and you walk to the top of one of the eight hills and get a view of the city and the river beyond, somebody is playing guitar somewhere nearby and there is a little place to grab a coffee or beer, then you can forgive all of that.

Lisbon view

Now we have left Lisbon for a year or so to go on new adventures, but I know that when we land there again it will make me smile and will feel like home. It took a while, it needed to be that kind of creepy-uppy love, but just maybe the Portuguese capital got me.