Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I had wanted to go to Lisbon for a long time, because it was the one place in Europe that had always remained a mystery to me. Even if I knew a few things about it: it has trams, it's hilly, it's near the sea, there are pasteis de Belem, bacalao, I never had even a slightly clear picture of what the city might be like. I made a decision a couple of years ago not to research it, not to find out anything further about it but just to go there and see it without any preconceptions, because it's not often you can do that anymore. 

In the end I went with friends, one of whom had been more than once before so knew the lay of the land, and Joanna of La Mignonette very kindly shared some of her bonnes addresses with me before I left. (Thank you Joanna!) Apart from that, I was flying blind and the plan worked - Lisbon unfolded in front of me without any of those pesky "oh that must be so and so" or "we must go to the..." thoughts to get in the way. 

I arrived in the evening, met my friends at our super modern hotel who had arrived the night before and we went out almost straight away. In the street I saw an old sign and was all OMG look at that amazing vintage sign (well not really, I didn't say OMG but you get the idea.) In daylight the next day I would see that ALL the signs in Lisbon are vintage - in fact you can't even call them vintage - they're just signs. For a typography nerd it's a dream city - untouched signage from the past intact and functioning as it was intended. I didn't take a lot of pictures because they were everywhere, but here's a few:

I mean... On that first night I also stood in front of a beautiful but abandoned building that was all but falling down and tried to comprehend how a building of such architectural merit could have fallen into a state like that. It had an "Aviso" sign on it that seemed to say the city council or whoever was aware of it and there was a consultation about it. It had such an impression on me, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Then over the coming days, we saw many such buildings right in the city centre - a stark and very visible reminder of Portugal's economic woes, that along with the amount of people sleeping rough was sobering. The city was, in the most enjoyable sense like stepping back in time, but then I would start asking myself why things were a certain way, like why aren't there any flowers or plants - is it because it's too hot or because they're a frivolous expense, the first thing to go in times of austerity? (You can see how one can make assumptions when one hasn't done any research.) I found everyone to be extremely polite and civil - no attitude whatsoever from young or old - but very reserved which made me all the more intrigued. I would have loved to sit down with an old man - they stood out to me the most in their uniform of flat caps, open necked shirts and trousers - and found out so much more about the people, how they felt and how things really were beneath the surface. 

Although, coming from London the prices of everything seemed ridiculously cheap: €1 for a beer, €15 a head for dinner in a nice restaurant with wine, we didn't do much shopping, we just lived easily and were able to freely do whatever or go where we wanted without worrying about the cost. (I also felt a bit guilty about this and would have liked to have asked my flat capped senior citizen imaginary friend for moral advice.) 
But of course we went to A Vida Portuguesa (more than once!) which sells the best in beautifully packaged and designed artisanal Portuguese products. I bought a two metre long stripy rug, after thinking I'd been quoted the wrong price it ended up being not €8, but (as I was preparing to pay more) €7. What! Of course the Creme Benamor has the best packaging of anything on earth but I didn't think I'd use it, so I took the similar Alantoine hand cream in the green packaging. 

More to come and with proper photos, once I get them developed...


Nancy Baric *negfilm said...

and cannot wait to see the photographs when they are developed..
such a beautiful city deserves to be captured on film.

chrys campos said...

Lisboa é linda :)

anabela / fieldguided said...

Oh, I know just what you mean... so many reasons why Lisbon is my favourite city in the whole world (although, granted, I've only visited a very tiny percentage of all the cities in the world).

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

It's the perfect city to jump into blindly or , as I first did , without Googling ... Well I had to . It was 1966 , after all !
I'm looking forward to more of your marvellous photos .

Sonia said...

I loved this post. Lisbon is a great unknown city. A little bit stuck in time, a little bit gloomy (despite the bright blue skies :), and that's part of its charm. I suppose the crisis might have had its toll on our mood. But the truth is that we've always been a little more reserved, a little more melancholic than any of our southern European neighbours.

As for the beautiful old buildings in ruins throughtout the city... I remember that the first time I took my husband to Porto (my hometown) he was also very shocked by the quantity of derelict buildings in the city centre. It's a sad consequence of our poor construction and urbanism laws (or lack thereof).

lola is beauty said...

Sonia - I read something about the abandoned buildings that said it was because many renters had moved out of the city centre to the suburbs where rent is 3 times cheaper, then landlords couldn't afford to make repairs to their empty buildings - do you think that's true? Also something that there is some kind of city project to do with "minimal intervention" to make them habitable again but not out of people's price range so that ordinary people can live there again.

It's just something we don't see in London - any building in the centre would be snapped up by a property developer and made into some kind of luxury hotel/tower! But then the buildings are demolished or renovated unsympathetically and no one cares that the majority of Londoners can't afford to use them so it's not necessarily better! The thing I loved about Lisbon was the untouched quality of things like the signs that had stood there for so long remaining the same.