I have been in Lisbon for three full days and I can officially say I'm smitten.
So what is it about this city?
There is something about Lisbon, and the Portuguese people.... I could sense it the first day, but couldn't put my finger on it until now.
Lisbon has not lost itself.
Often when visiting big cities in Western Europe, travelers are stuck in an interesting conundrum. The goal of visiting any new place is to try to get a sense of it. The issue is, it is really hard to do this when you spend a short amount of time in a big city.
Yeah, you went to all of the top sites. Yeah, you tried the famous dish.... but, did these things help you get the feel of the city?
That is what travelers are really after... and, of course, it is the most elusive part.
There are often two major stumbling blocks when really trying to get the feel of a new city. Either the city is too massive, or the city has lost itself.
The 'massive' issue comes about when the city hits the "New York" level. At this point, you could live years in the city and not fully get it, so you are surely not going to get it in a few days.
This is New York City. This is Istanbul. This is London. This is Madrid.
So what do you do? You gravitate towards the top sites, the big names. You try to find a few restaurants off the beaten path. This is your only option when trying to conquer a gigantic new space. If you are lucky, you might leave with the feeling you were starting to understand what culture in that city is like... or at least you think you do.
The ladder issue is a far worse issue - the city has lost itself. Tourism has seeped in. You cant visit unnoticed. With only a few days, it is impossible to see all the big sites and get a feel for what the city is really like.
Because tourism has become such an integrated part of the culture, anywhere that a visitor would stay is not the true city anymore. Tourism can spread like a virus into the areas surrounding big sites. Shops now sell trinkets. Restaurants have English menus. That part of the city is no longer the city.
This is Dubrovnik (the beauty makes up for it). This is Prague (sorry Prague). This is Rome. This is Florence.... this is most of Italy, to be honest.
The real city still exists, it is just harder for a visitor to find.... and even if you did find it, I doubt the locals would be happy that you are there.
However, sometimes travelers hit the jackpot and find the perfect goldilocks city. There are beautiful sites, but they are manageable to see. The area around these sites is still the city. The culture can be grasped just by walking around and seeing it.
This is (parts of) Berlin. This is Sarajevo.
However, I have never felt this more than I have in Lisbon.
The feel of the city can be captured by walking down the streets. The locals mill about in the tourist areas as well. They speak English because they learned it in school, not because they want your money. The cultural of Lisbon has leaked into the city itself.
This can best be described by the fact that for the first time in my life, I don't feel the ravenous desire to see every top site. They aren't necessary for getting the feel of Lisbon.
I am not sure why this is or how long it will last, but go.... and soak it up.