First of all, dear Lisbon, you have totally thrown me off course with your 35 degree heat and summer's-still-here attitude. Don't you know that the rest of Europe is already layering up and starting to batten down the hatches in preparation for winter? Well, as pleasant a surprise as it was, it did mean that I arrived in Lisbon with more sweat on my body and more red in my cheeks than I would have preferred.
But Lisbon seems to suit this weather. It has all the romantic characteristics of a city and people used to sunshine. It is a light, bright and white city. The sun reflects from the white walls of buildings and the monochrome of the black and white stone paved floors. It's like it was a city built to be beautiful and practical by capturing and savouring every possible inch of the sunlight. In certain, more exposed corners of Lisbon, the sea breeze seeps in and surprises with its Atlantic chill. It's a welcome relief.I've been told that certain areas of Lisbon only wake up once night has well and truly fallen. I saw evidence of this as we were privileged to enjoy a thrilling (in all senses of the word) tour of the city by motorbike and sidecar last night. As the sun fell and we criss-crossed the city we saw some areas start to wind down and others start to wind up. In Bairro Alto people were arriving at their jobs in bars and clubs. Along the narrow streets of Alfama chairs and tables occupied available space as local families enjoyed a meal on a late summer's warm evening.
The buildings, like the city, have hidden depth, stretching beyond the facade they maintain on the street. Inside our HouseTrip apartment the house plunges away from the street with numerous rooms and the tell-tale high ceilings of the 18th century. There are double doors for a front door, meaning you almost have to enter a room sideways, which I initially thought was cute but then realised it could be insulting to my, ahem, posterior.Less than 24 hours after my arrival, I can sense that Lisbon is a city for the living. It is not overcome with tourists so helpfully you can observe local residents at work and at play, and all seem to d o this not with over the top exuberance but with an understated lust for life. I saw men playing cards at a table brought outside from inside, I two women playing music and dancing in a small park in front of the Capela de Nossa Senhora do Monte, a small village like church which marks the highest point of Lisbon. Here I also saw couple sitting close together, having just watched the sun fall.
All across Lisbon I saw people of all ages sitting or walking outside, enjoying the cooling temperature and the sights of this city, which for a reason I can't explain, appear to hold significance to the locals.
There is no rush to do things, but there is no sign that the enjoyment is lacking in this laidback approach to life. I am thoroughly charmed by the tiles which give the city such a distinct style that I didn't expect. They inspire me to cover the walls of a bathroom or a kitchen I don't yet have in white, yellow and blue " azulejos ", the local name for the tiles which either tell a story on an internal wall or poetically set a house apart from its neighbours.
I will need slightly longer to figure the people out. At first glance they appear very southern European and Mediterranean, but of course this is a city close to the Atlantic. Young women wander around in eye openingly short denim shorts (all with perfectly pert bottoms) and yet conversely they all seem to have an air of modesty and self-preservation about them. Those I have encountered have been genuine and accommodating to a fault (our walking tour ran over schedule by two hours) and the warmth that radiates from the sky and the white floors appears to also radiate from the people of Lisbon who clearly love their city, albeit in a less blinding fashion.
In short, Lisbon, I look forward to finding out more...
Disclosure: I am a guest in Lisbon thanks to HouseTrip. While activities and accommodation is provided by them, my first impressions and glee at being driven around the city on a replica mid-century motorbike are happily all mine.
Frances M. Thompson
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