Twenty-nine years ago, I lost my heart to San Francisco when I lived there for six months, working in restaurants after graduating from University. I have not since returned, though if I close my eyes, I can picture the hills, the cable cars and the bridges as if it were only yesterday. It was therefore a great pleasure to visit Lisbon last week and to discover that it shared many ingredients with San Francisco, including hills, cable cars (well, trams) and a red suspension bridge.
We had wanted to go to Lisbon for years. When we lived in Mozambique, many friends went there to study Portuguese and returned full of stories and photographs of a vibrant and beautiful city. This was not something we could do, as we had children at school in Maputo, so our language learning was based on books and cassettes. Even after returning to Europe, life got in the way and we never got round to visiting Lisbon. Then, a couple of months ago, we made a snap decision that it was time to see it for ourselves. I had three main goals: to speak some Portuguese, to do some walking and to see beautiful things.
I was glad to find that quite a few Portuguese phrases came back and it seemed that people understood my horrible accent. I don’t think many tourists speak Portuguese judging by the reactions from restaurant and hotel staff, who seemed amazed that we knew any words at all. When we explained that this was due to living in Mozambique, they generally looked a bit solemn. They would explain to us (as if we didn’t know) that Mozambique was a former Portuguese colony and we would nod, equally solemnly. We weren’t sure if their solemnity was due to embarrassment at the awful way Mozambicans were treated in the past or sadness at the loss of the Portuguese Empire. In any case, speaking about Mozambique didn’t seem like a natural ice-breaker so we returned to safer conversations about food and wine.
Walking was easy: most of the main tourist sites were close to the centre and were easily managed on foot. Fortunately we are quite fit at the moment so the hills didn’t pose too much of a problem. Seeing beautiful things was just as easy. The steep slopes and narrow alleyways gave dizzying glimpses of vertical and horizontal panoramas: slices of shapes and angles. There were colours and patterns everywhere, especially on the painted azulejos (tiles) covering many of the houses. Here are just some of the many photos I took over three days of walking and gazing at this fascinating city.