Lackluster Lisbon wasn't as sparkly as I thought

lisbon portugal mass tourism

Now, before anyone trips over themselves to tell me how great Lisbon is and I'm crazy for not agreeing, allow me to explain.

I don't disagree Lisbon is beautiful. I don't disagree there's a lot of rich history. I don't disagree Lisbon has a special place in Portuguese culture.

Maybe it was just a bad month for me. Maybe the juxtaposition from Cape Town was too stark. Maybe it was because I had a rough time at work. Maybe it was because I had never been to Europe before and didn't really know what to expect.

There were people everywhere, but it felt empty. There were plenty of places to go, but they all looked the same.

I've thought about this a lot, trying to work out why I feel so ambivalent about it. While those were certainly contributing factors, there was still something missing from the city by the sea. There were people everywhere, but it felt empty. There were plenty of places to go, but they all looked the same.

I heard about the history, but I couldn't feel it. I was immersed in the culture, but I couldn't see it.

We watched a really incredible documentary about how mass tourism is having an extreme effect on Lisbon and most locals and native Lisboans have been displaced from their homes with nowhere to go. My very good friend and fellow Atlass Rebecca Stone also wrote an eye-opening article on the subject as well. 

Many Lisboans are angry and bitter about how much of their city has been lost because of tourists. I think I felt it the first day I set foot in Lisbon even though I didn't understand it yet. A month later it was very clear. Everything was catered to me and my expectations. Menus were in English, the food was American, the aesthetic was hipster L.A.

It was an odd experience. The buildings maintained the original Portuguese aesthetic and were adorned with the famous Lisboan tiles. But they encased shops, restaurants, and bars I could have found anywhere in the US.

That's what I mean when I say Lisbon was empty. At first glance, the spirit of Lisbon is still intact. But when you look closer, the inside has been hollowed out to cater to tourists.

I don't mean to be all doom and gloom -- it wasn't awful, and I definitely had some good times. But that nagging feeling I was somewhere I didn't belong was ever-present in the back of my mind for the entire month I was there. 

 

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