There is not much to dislike about Lisbon, but it’s a conundrum.
As far west as Istanbul is east, somehow Lisbon is a mirror that shines Istanbulian qualities on the other side of the great European continent. Or maybe it is the other way around.
I’m quite aware of their different histories, languages and mix of races and architecture, yet somehow I when I look at the north shore of the main city from the River Tagus or the Almada district I think of Istanbul and the Bospheros. I’ve had others say the same thing. When I roam the hilly streets of the Alfama district I could be in Sultanahmet. The distinctive architecture of Lisbon is different in many ways from that found in the Turkish capital; nonetheless, there is a similar vibe.
Of course the Muslim call to prayer is missing here, replaced by Catholic Church bells and Fado music that is played on just about every street corner, at least the ones near our hotel.
I’ve visited more than 30 European countries, but four days in Lisbon and I think this may have become my second favourite city (Paris will never be replaced as number 1). This city has surprised me in many ways. The people are so friendly, polite and genteel. Nothing is too much trouble. You can get a drink (and I mean alcohol) at any time of the day and you don’t have to go very far to get it, but I am yet to find a drunken Lisbonian, and even us tourists appear to behave ourselves. We are staying in cafe central and even on Saturday night in Rossio Square there was no alcohol-infused shouting or singing. Even the African street peddlers are polite and go away quickly when you ask them nicely.
Another thing that has surprised me is the geography of Lisbon. Yes, there are seven hills, and there are a lot of narrow twisty streets, but there are also plenty of flat areas – I was expecting a city like San Fransisco or Seattle where you can’t go anywhere without climbing up or down. There are certainly hills that will give you a workout, but your legs won’t be screaming too hard unless you go out of your way to find the steepest ones to climb.
Getting around Lisbon is a breeze. So far no sign of a traffic jam (so in this way Lisbon is nothing like Istanbul), and tourists are spoiled for choice. There’s the Big Yellow Bus, the Big Red Bus, the clunky tourist trams, as well as the metro, commuter buses, taxis, commuter trams. On the river there is the Yellow Boat and commuter ferries. And for something completely different, tuk tuks driven by friendly young drivers who might well moonlight as magazine models are at your beck and call. It wouldn’t be surprising to find tuk-tuks in Lisbon, would it?
In fact, most of the time you don’t need any kind of transport, just your feet. Lisbon is quite a compact city after all, and there always seems to be plenty of people on the streets.
The thing that surprised me most about Lisbon is that you are constantly surprised – a splash of colour here, a grand old building there, a peaceful park for sitting, watching, and just being, always close by.
So that makes ten – more or less. Who’s counting?