Saudade - My Affair with Lisbon

Pati’s Weekly Bite #9 – Saudade – My Affair with Lisbon

The first ten days of my Portuguese trip I spent in Lisbon.

I arrived with very high expectations. I was dreaming about visiting the city for years. So while I was very sad to leave Madeira, I was super excited to see one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Lisbon welcomed me with a bit of gloomy and rainy weather. As much as my first hostel was great and very modern, my room was in the basement with a little ‘never to be opened’ window. 

So I took a walk. 

I am not sure. Maybe it was the fact that I just left Madeira and was already missing the vastness of its beauty and a little bit of a country living. Perhaps it was the weather. Maybe the area that I initially stayed in wasn’t ‘all that’. 

I took a funicular ride and embarked on the nb 28 tram, thinking if I do some very touristy stuff, I will start feeling the Lisbon love everyone was roaming about.

Saudade - My Affair with Lisbon

It was fun; I still wasn’t feeling it. 

I gave it a thorough thought and looked at the photos I have taken during my walks. And I think I figured it out.

I usually arrive at the destination ready. Like, super ready. I have it all researched, I have planned the sightseeing trips, I would be hyped on all the things I need to see and articles I will write. So I would go and see those grand monuments, magnificent plazas, charming coffee shops and seaside bars. I would take all the recommended trips and research off the beaten path destinations.

I get a taste of the tourist scene of the place most of the time from day one, and I keep swallowing it as I go along. 

This time, however, I didn’t.

I knew I have loads of catching up to do ( i am still writing Madeira posts, although I left three weeks ago). I also knew that Lisbon had been written about so many times, and by such big names, I had no chance to rank on Google for any type of post I would write about this city. 

So I had no agenda. No to-do list and places I had to visit to photograph them for my blog post.

And when I walked, I just walked. And this wander took me to very different corners of Lisbon, including those not often visited by tourists. I have seen the true face of the city. And every big city in the world has this other face. 

Saudade - My Affair with Lisbon
Saudade - My Affair with Lisbon
Saudade - My Affair with Lisbon

The majority of people come to Lisbon for a weekend getaway. They walk the cobbled streets dotted with cute restaurants, sit by the river, eat pastéis de nata, ride the tram and admire Praça do Comércio. 

I have seen poverty, people sleeping rough and refugees. Old men were trying to sell me sunglasses as well as a weed. Different parts of Lisbon when regular folks go about their life, shop, drink coffee in not so cute coffee shops, cram in busses and rush to work if they are lucky enough to have one. 

And it wasn’t personal towards Lisbon; this is true in every bigger or even smaller city. 

We often don’t see or plainly overlook the everyday part of it. So I think I wasn’t impressed with Lisbon at first because I wasn’t impressed with how we see the world in general. How we intentionally leave the ugly bits and focus on the pretty ones. I am so glad I have spent those ten days in this city of millions of faces.

And guesses what – I eventually totally fell in love with Lison. I eventually walked the pink street, had excellent meals in cute little bars and restaurants, walked a million miles on cobbled streets and climbed more millions of cobbled stairs!

I sat by the river and watched people have fun and interacting with each other the way we should. I met great people living in Lisbon who took walks with me to other parts of the city, which felt different, more like home. 

Saudade - My Affair with Lisbon
Saudade - My Affair with Lisbon
Saudade – My Affair with Lisbon

Lisbon is a deep-hearted city where the Azulejo tiled buildings hug the grand plazas and monuments. Where you can walk the cobbled streets for hours and never feel lost because you will always find something you will love, something that will feels like home.  Because this city has a heart which is as old as its history.

Saudade is a beautiful Portuguese word untranslatable to English. It expresses the feeling of melancholic longing for something that cannot be obtained, something unspecified yet deeply felt. It is not necessarily a negative expression. It’s more on the romantic side. 

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”

– A. F. G. Bell, In Portugal of 1912

I felt this while I stayed in Lisbon, quite a few times. 

Saudade is a word associated with times when Portuguese sailors went on long voyages discovering new lands.

The wife would feel saudade, the longing for their husbands, remembering the good times but also aware that those times might never return.

Also, the sailors would feel a longing for the life they left behind and for the country they might never return to. But also the happiness of being able to experience and feel what they have felt in the past.

Is Lisbon a lonely or sad city? No, I don’t think so. There is something beautiful about watching strangers passing each other, not knowing anything about each other, but somehow they all have something in common.

Saudade. Longing for something that couldn’t be obtained elsewhere. They try to make their life better somehow, scroll through Tinder searching for the love of their love, shopping, hoping that this new dress will wash away the loneliness. 

I love Lisbon. But I could not live here. In fact, I can’t live in a big city. Not anymore. 

Saudade seems to be more prominent here. And although I could easily imagine myself renting a cute little apartment here, making friends and drinking Portuguese wine in some cool bar. I know… The sadness would get me.

Or maybe, this longing for something unobtainable is what lives in me permanently, and cities like Lisbon remind me of it. 

Or maybe, I have learnt that being closer is the key. Closer to nature, to people, closer to yourself. It’s hard to be closer to yourself in a big city. 

I love Lisbon. I will be back there for the last leg of my Portuese journey. But I will never live there.

I hope that all those people who came here to find something, will find it. But I won’t. 

I am in Porto as I am writing this… and this is a different story as well. About this… in my next post.

Until then, keep exploring, and I will speak to you next week 🙂

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