Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
“It’s not Lisbon,” the guide on the free walking tour said. “If there’s one thing I want you to take away with you when you leave Portugal, it’s the correct way to pronounce our city’s name. It’s Lisboa. Repeat after me, Leej-boa.”
The Portuguese are proud of their country, of their culture, their history, their heritage. However our guide Rafa brought up a good point that I had been struck with throughout our travels – that unfortunately, their country was always looking to the glories of the past, to the detriment of their future. This seems to be a recurring theme within many of the places we’ve visited on our European honeymoon thus far.
In the case of Portugal, they look to the glories of their sea-faring past, when intrepid Portuguese sailors covered the globe. Indeed, there are monuments to famous adventurers such as Vasco da Gama all over the city.
This comes with a price, with an inability to plan effectively for the future. As Rafa said, he is the only one amongst his childhood friends who has a job – albeit one where he has no salary and relies on tips. Chronic unemployment is rife for young Portuguese people, and they are leaving the country in droves to try and seek employment elsewhere in the EU. This comes with its own price – for instance his brother who is working overseas would like to come back to Portugal to raise a family but can’t find a job to do so.
The effects of this brain drain on Portuguese society on its future prosperity is certainly grim. It’s a sad situation which I fear will have repercussions on Portugal sooner rather than later – perhaps even on their status in the EU. It’s an important thing to keep in mind if ever you are in Lisboa.
As mentioned earlier, heritage is what drives Lisboa and the Portuguese, and it is certainly what drives its tourist trade. We visited a number of different landmarks throughout the city that hearken to its glory days – monuments, buildings, castles. Food is historical as well – we visited the iconic Pasteis de Belem, famous for their Portuguese tart recipe since the 1800s. (Obviously we visited a few other restaurants as well – Restaurante O Recanto, Churrasquieria Santo Antonio and Super Mario amongst them).
As we went through the city, I couldn’t help but feel as though Portugal could do more to help their young Lisboetas. There’s a strong emotional and artistic side to many Portuguese which could definitely be taken advantage of in livening up the city – sponsored public arts, concerts, festivals that create a celebration of the present and the future, rather than a constant yearning for the glories of the past.
Still, you can’t fault the Portuguese for feeling a sense of soldat –a primal longing, nostalgic love of what has been had in the past, that cannot be had again. I feel that same feeling when I think of Lisboa, as I think the next time we return, the city and the country will be irreversibly different. Portugal is on a path that it must correct for the security of its own future.