Stockholm. Berlin. Warsaw. Prague. Rome. Paris. Amsterdam. Bruxelles. Barcelona….
All of these cities are very different, they all have their own cultural background and are in many ways unique, which is exactly why so many people love visiting these cities. You hope to experience something completely new and outstanding when you go there.
But while I love all these cities for their uniqueness, I cannot help but notice that these and other major European cities are also becoming more and more similar. They all got their fast food restaurants; They all have their H&M shops; They all got their overpriced street cafes; They all got their urban nightlife, where hipster youngsters celebrate their individualism.
If you visit all these amazing European cities during the main travelling season, it is easy to get the impression that the cities are more influenced by the tourists than the other way around. The cities adapt to the constant stream of travellers coming in.
Which brings me to the weekend that I recently spent in Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon is not an insiders’ tip anymore, it has been a very popular destination among tourists for quite some time now. The beautiful old town, the perfect weather and the closeness to the ocean just make it too attractive to remain a secret. Therefore I expected the city to have adapted to that kind of mass tourism in the described ways. And especially in cities that are a bit smaller, this can noticeably influence its charme.
All the more delighted was I to find out that none of that was the case in Lisbon! There is no McDonald’s or KFC or H&M. There are no overpriced cafes. There are no groups of badly dressed tourists squeezing themselves through narrow alleys. Nowhere in this city do you get the feeling that Lisbon is trying too much to adapt to the people who come visit.
Instead, you have small cafes everywhere, full of portugese people, drinking their Galão (a kind of Espresso with foamed milk) for 80 cents and chatting with friends and family members. You have old women leaning out of the windows in Alfama (the historical city district), just observing the street life. You have old buildings with high ceilings and beautiful staircases in top quality locations that haven’t been renovated in decades.
Now of course I realize that not everything that I found positive during my stay there is necessarily good for the city as well. If coffee and food is very cheap there this is great for me, but it probably means that the people in Lisbon just couldn’t afford higher prices. And if houses don’t get rennovated, it probably means that there is just no money to do so.
But this is exactly what adds charme to any city! This is what makes different cultures different! The fact that Lisbon doesn’t try to rip off tourists, even though they certainly could, and that they don’t sell prime locations to international corporations even though they certainly could, makes the city all the more outstanding. Not everything looks perfectly polished in Lisbon, but this is exactly what I loved about it.
If you compare Lisbon with other beautiful and attractive cities in Europe, it has a uniqueness that is hard to find nowadays. People there seem to keep doing things their way, regardless of what is popular elsewhere in the world. And while they do their own thing, they are incredibly welcoming, friendly and passionate at the same time.
This became clear once more right before I flew back. I was already at the gate in the airport, waiting to board. A little boy was in in the queue in front of me, maybe three years old, and had been crying for a while. His mother had been unable to make him stop. So the portugese stewardess walked right up to the little boy, picked him up from the ground and just kissed him on both cheeks. Within seconds the boy was smiling again!
This is exactly the kind of friendly, passionate attitude that I noticed everywhere in Lisbon. People, very much like the city itself, don’t seem to care too much about being „efficient“ or „productive“. They rather do things their way and do it with heart. And Lisbon, as well as its inhabitants, has a lot of it.