Making friends with Lisbon

Certain people seek out travel because they crave unfamiliarity. There’s a thrill to the unknown and the anonymity that comes with being in a brand new city, and that’s what compels them to go new places. As much as I’d like to say otherwise, I’m not one of those people. I’m more inclined towards being a homebody, and I value the feeling of safety and security and my support system. If we're being honest, big cities are intimidating and overwhelming to me at first.

So, knowing this, why do I like traveling as much as I do? It’s not the newness that I’m interested in; instead, I'm in it for the phase that comes after the initial discovery. I go places looking forward to that point where you start to get to know a city and understand what makes it unique, and getting there takes a little more time.

It’s a lot like making new friends; sometimes getting to know a person is uncomfortable at first. Although I recognize the need for small talk and am perfectly able to engage in it, it’s not something I take pleasure in. However, it’s worth it when the guards are let down and I can start getting to know someone on a meaningful level.

Hear me out: that friendship process also applies with cities. The initial meeting can be awkward; logistics and navigation are the main concern, and I will probably make a fool of myself trying to figure out public transportation. However, once I get my bearings, I remember why I keep spending all my money on plane tickets. Suddenly the focus is on discovering those qualities that make a city distinctive, and once I pick up on them, I’m probably going to fall in love with that place. The biggest difference between my approach to cities and my approach to friendship is, although I’ve always kept a small circle of close friends, there doesn’t seem to be a limit for how many cities I can know and love.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my go-to method for getting to know new places is through photography. Besides writing, it’s the best way I know how. I make sense of the world around me through observing and documenting, and I can’t imagine going somewhere new without a camera. A few weeks ago I spent a bit of time in Lisbon with the goal of figuring out the city by observing from behind my camera. For the most part, my short little visit was wonderful (think late nights at fado houses, obligatory consumption of lots of amazing seafood, the most beautiful brightly tiled buildings, and a charm unlike any other European city I've been to). However, there were some not-so-pretty moments as well, as is to be expected with any trip. Nothing ever goes quite according to plan, sometimes in major ways (I spent my last day in a hostel bed having an allergic reaction after a baker gave me false information about ingredients... seriously, trust me when I say that part wasn't pretty). All in all, though, I think it’s safe to say that Lisbon and I are friends now. I could try to describe my perception of it, but I think the photos will do it more justice. Here are my photographic notes on the elements that make Lisbon what it is…