The room was dark, the bed was comfortable, and, despite jet lag and the bracing excitement of the day, I was ready to fall asleep. Outside were unfamiliar sounds; silence punctuated by my new life—restaurant employees dragging garbage cans over the ancient calçada—bump bump bump bump—late-night merrymakers passing through our charming Mouraria square, a neighbor’s soft music rich with the zhs and suzh of the Portuguese language.
I was here, in Portugal, and tomorrow I’d awaken on Portuguese soil. And not just that, but in the country’s capital, throbbing with a life I yearned to discover.
Those first few years were exhilarating. Each morning, after uma bica and a bun, my husband and I would leave our flat, heading on foot in any direction we fancied. Regardless of what we chose, adventure appeared. From the spectacular street art (some hidden, some city-sanctioned) to kiosks and cafes filled with tourists and locals alike, a quick listen to a tour guide telling the history of this great city, and buskers along the Rio Tejo, we were enchanted. There aren’t too many Lisboan streets that we haven’t traipsed, photographed, and fallen in love with.
Along the way, I’ve had the good fortune to meet and interact with many Portuguese people. Even with the language barrier, I’m able to communicate with a couple that live on the same floor as I do, one building over. We’ll both be gazing out our windows, look over at one another, and do our best to say hello, ask how we’re doing, and remark on the weather. Seeing tour guides and their customers hamming it up with them in the beco, it didn’t take me long to discover that the two of them are local celebrities. Who knew?
Then there was the older woman who stopped me on one of Lisbon’s hilly sidewalks, telling me of her vision impairment, taking my arm, and asking me to help her cross the street.
We developed a soft spot for the father and son that own our favorite bifana bar, behind the Mercado da Ribeira. I’d often tell Papa that he made the best omelet sandwiches in the city. He’d glow. When Papa became ill and eventually passed, we mourned with his son.
These and dozens of other experiences have deeply affected me, sinking into my being and influencing every part of my life.
Lisbon is in me. It wasn’t something that I had any say over; it swept me off my feet. True, I didn’t grow up here and still struggle with the language. Yet the fabled Lisbon light, the beauty and contradiction of old and new, the diversity, the obvious delight when I reply to a local’s question about how I like the city, the hole-in-the-wall eating establishments that blow my mind, the pride of small business owners, fado in the streets, and the incredible kindness of the people gives me immense pleasure to say that, while I’ll never be a native, I am—through and through—a Lisboeta.
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Read more of the Lisbon In Us series and other fascinating stories about Portugal’s capital city at getLisbon.com – the unusual Lisbon guide.