I was in New York City this past November and was browsing for cheap and interesting destinations. I had initially wanted to travel to Greece but the ticket to Lisbon was less than half the price so I bought a ticket, booked a hostel, and thus began my short but eventful excursion to Lisbon. The country of Portugal has been overlooked for sometime now by casual travelers. The apex of the Portuguese empire occurred hundreds of years ago and a brutal authoritarian regime hampered the growth and international exposure of the country in more recent history. It’s perched unassumingly at the end of the Iberian peninsula next to its larger neighbor, Spain, and when I look at a map of Europe my eyes automatically pull toward the more traditional travel destinations. I’ve got to thank the travel gods that the tickets were cheap that week because Lisbon turned out to be my favorite European city so far.
During the age of exploration, the small nation of Portugal was a premiere world power and trade with the New World made Lisbon one of the wealthiest cities during period. Walking around the gritty and ancient cobble stone streets I could see hints of this former opulence frozen in time. The palaces and squares of the Lisbon pale in terms of grandeur compared to a city like Paris, which has enjoyed an unbroken streak of wealth and power, but the subtlety of Lisbon makes for a richer visual story. I was perfectly content and engaged just meandering through the streets and taking in the city on foot.
I had booked a four-bed dorm style accommodation in a hostel downtown and near the waterfront. Hosteling is gambling. Sometimes you cross paths with interesting characters and sometimes you get a roommate that has sub-standard personal hygiene. I wasn’t so lucky this time and my roommate’s clothes were rank with old sweat which forced me to spend time outside of my room. The upshot of this is that I was spending a lot of time in the common areas, drinking Portuguese wine, and getting to know the other guests that hail from different walks of life. Chance encounters like these are almost impossible in a routine life but are natural and par for the course for the adventurous traveler.
Every city has its unique characteristics. Lisbon has a friendliness and openness that was refreshing after spending a lot of time in Tokyo and Paris which I would consider less accessible. Tokyo and Paris take effort to extract the most out of the respective cities but Lisbon opened up and unraveled for me. This kind of energy tends to rub off on you and gently guides your interactions toward being positive experiences. I’m not quite sure if it is a cultural thing or a side effect of the mild weather but the people of Lisbon definitely augmented my experience there.
I’ve been to so many places that sometimes I reach a destination and feel nothing and move on. The memories of the place wash away like footprints in the sand. Other times, when luck is in my favor, the place and its people leave an impression and I carry the memories of my experiences with me. In this case I’ll look back at my trip to Lisbon as a short but satisfying period of time in my life. My favorite travel experience of 2017.