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Twenty years have passed since my last visit to Lisbon until last week, when I visited the Portuguese capital again. Then, twenty years ago, my impression of the city was not very positive: I found it dirty, dark, with some of the buildings looking totally abandoned and having the feeling that they could fall apart at any time. Last week, my impression of Lisbon was very different: it still looks a bit dirty and some of the buildings (maybe the same ones) look even ruinous. I had the same impression that they could be falling apart at any time. But, somehow, I was feeling it different.
What has changed, then, to make myself having a different impression? Yes, the city has experienced some changes (a little, not so much) but I guess it has been myself who has changed. At that time, twenty years ago, maybe I was influenced by the changes of my city, Barcelona, after the Olympic Games of 1992. Right after the Games, the city changed a lot. Lots of new infrastructures, whole neighborhoods changed completely. Most of these changes, basically, meant that old buildings, facilities, public areas, etc, were transformed into new, aseptic areas. Everything everywhere was looking new, fresh and, of course, much more expensive. But back then, we liked all this very much. We were transforming an old, dark and deteriorated city into a more cosmopolitan city. Cosmopolitan, in our case, means that the city has been dedicated and committed to our new Gods here: the tourists. I remembered walking down the Rambla with my father when I was a kid. Having breakfast or a soda in some nice terraces, enjoying the city center. Nowadays, I only set up my feet there when it is absolutely and completely imperative. Our city center is almost forbidden to the locals. I even left the city and live in the suburbs.
Of course Lisbon has also tourists. All nice cities have them and it is normal. There is also nothing wrong in having them, when tourism is managed carefully and you just cannot open a hotel in every corner, set up terraces absolutely everywhere and operate thousands (yes, thousands) of illegal touristic apartments without any control. I was happy to see (and to eat in) many normal cafés, restaurants and “pastelarias” everywhere in Lisbon. But what I mean by normal cafés, restaurants and “pastelarias”? I mean exactly the fact that you can enjoy good food, good service and a good price. That you will be served by professionals who know their job. Not by hipsters who just opened a “cool and trendy lounge” just for some other idiots to seat there hours with their MacBooks, using the free WIFI and posting stupid things on the social networks. I mean restaurants were you seat, you order good Portuguese food, they deliver it on time, you enjoy (in most of the cases) very good food and pay a reasonable price for it. And yes, they also normally offer free WIFI connection. So, those who cannot stay one hour without posting their amazing life in “facebook” or “Instagram”, do not worry. You can also do it in Lisbon. Keep breathing.
It is true. In all these restaurants, decoration has not changed much (or at all) in the last two or three decades but it is also part of the charm of this city. I had a great lunch in a restaurant established in 1782. None of the waiters had a long beard, nor tattoos all over their arms and neck and I could not find any info displaying the next DJ’s performing soon. They do not need it. They just offer great food, very good service, a great location at “Praça do Comércio” and good prices. Then, I had a beer with a couple of small tapas in “Praça Figueira” for 3€ and a very good espresso for 60 cents. I think this is obvious but just in case anyone does not know yet: the food in Portugal is just magnificent. I enjoyed here like almost nowhere else.
In three days only, I changed my impression of the city dramatically. The first day, I experienced disappointment: My expectations were high, after so many years and many excellent comments from friends. As I said, I found part of the city dirty and not very well kept. The second day, I started to feel and appreciate the charm of it. And, finally, the third and last day, I was sad to leave a city with a personality. A fact that I do hope the people of Lisbon will appreciate and keep for years to come. I hope to come back soon but, next time, with my wife and kid so they can also enjoy Lisbon and its people. This, people and its attitude, is what makes the difference and, from what I have seen, Lisbon is and will be, hopefully, a great place for a long time.