Underneath the Sun: Lisboa
Our first destination – Lisbon, actually Lisboa (I will never call it Lisbon again and I will tell you why later). From a North American standpoint, little is known about Portugal (Churresquira and tarts anyone?) It is not a destination high on many North American’s lists. Of the many foreign languages heard on the tourist streets, only a handful seemed to have an American/Canadian accent. I find that to be kind of a good thing although the destination is very popular with Europeans, so it is still a busy place.
From our initial impression, Lisboa is a place you could easily fall in love with. It has an easy vibe, full of colour and exuberance. If you don’t look too closely the summertime feels like a paradise of alcohol, great weather, and city life. You won’t struggle much here. Most people speak English, people are friendly, and nothing seems overly complicated to figure out.
Underneath the surface though, lies a cloud hanging over a great city and its people. If you dig a little deeper, you may see a shadow dampening the seemingly endless sun and colourfully tiled buildings of Lisboa. You notice a bit of darkness reflected in the décor of a metro stop or two, of the melancholy in their national music of Fado. Heck, we were there in Lisboa THE day after they won the Eurocup (2016) and besides one or two random bursts of song on the metro, and some late night yelling, the city itself seemed eerily calm. NOT what you would expect in any other EU nation. This is something you may not notice right away, or even give it a moments thought, but for me, it was just something I had in the back of my mind. Odd.
Luckily it all began to make sense after we took an amazing (and I say AMAZING) free walking tour with Chill Out. Rafa was a different type of guide; passionate about his city, the history, and about opening our minds. I will let you take the tour for yourself but he left us with a lot to think about in the 3 hours (It felt short – we wanted more). He gave you an understanding of why the people are the way they are using history, imagination, and descriptive imagery. A historian, storyteller, free-spirit, and guide all in one, his description of “saudade ” is a thing of beauty. Weaving emotion, longing, sadness and passion into a word that he summarized as the soul of the Portuguese people – saudade – the presence of absence. You will have to listen to it yourself. This explains the underlying facade that while things might be fine and dandy on the surface, there is always that feeling of emptiness underneath (whether it is saudade for a person, place, item, or time). Portugal once was at the peak of the world and is waiting to regain it’s greatness again.
At times, Rafa can make the group uncomfortable by asking tough questions, but it is only because he wants to break down barriers and use the diversity of the group to start a discussion. While some may not appreciate it, I applaud it. As a tourist, I am there to get to know a country and it’s people, despite my own shyness and personal barriers. It is difficult to really experience a place by staying in your bubble. Luckily, Mike and I have the fortunate luxury of time during our year and want to gain a deeper understanding from all our travels. Rafa’s pride in his city is why I will not call Lisboa, Lisbon anymore. It is Lisboa, so Lisboa it shall be.
Lisboa is only the first stop in our long journey and while it’s been difficult to get out of our comfort zone, it has already awoken a new perspective on travel that will hopefully continue to grow.
More about Lisboa, the sites, and our experiences to come!