I’d romanticised the idea for quite some time. Leaving London. An opportunity for new habits. A break from routine. A new life free from context. It was salivatingly appealing and, quite frankly, well overdue. I’d imagined making friends in Copenhagen, learning Spanish in Barcelona, even furnishing an apartment in Tel Aviv. The possibilities of a new city are life-changing. Your friends disappear, your references fade, you are empty and yet you are full of potential all at the same time. But I was never truly inspired to take the leap – until Lisbon. That was five months ago.
It wasn’t the sunny weather, friendly people (why wouldn't they be with the climate?), the ocean so close you can see your dinner; it wasn’t even the ridiculously affordable rental market. It was the collaboration, camaraderie and crowd of shared work hubs that buoyed and transformed a city of just 500,000 into a bubbling melting pot of global proportions. On a balmy weeknight or weekend, a melody of accents and languages washes over Lisbon’s various tiny squares. Across the last five years, teams of international innovators have been rolling in to snap up the generous grants – a sign of progressive leadership – dreamt up as a way to battle a dwindling economy. And it's worked. What’s not to love?
Built on seven hills, this big little city is all blue and pink skies, mismatched terracotta roofs and tiled facades. And that’s just one of many views. In Lisbon, you’re never far from a lookout point or ‘miradouro’. Stepping off the cobblestone path and onto a terrace presents the waterfront escape in its many different lights. Down below: sorbet-coloured blocks line the streets, locals drink coffee around kiosks, and the deep blue of the Tagus river sweeps towards the Atlantic.
On any given day, among the crowds of tourists vying for their Insta-view, I bathe in the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the panorama. Thanks to the long days of summer, this ritual can happen any time between 7am and 9pm. A two-and-a-half-hour flight south of London, my rush slows to a wander; I am no longer racing the clock. In Lisbon, my minutes turn into moments.
Overstretched, overtired and overwhelmed, in London the need to ‘keep up’ is a cultural obsession. From ‘Lean in’ to ‘Girlboss’, T-shirt slogans motivate us to do better and to do more, faster. It’s all about online, overtime and quite often – when you add it all up – underpay, and we’re making ourselves sick. But it’s not our fault. Part of our daily norm, we’re socially conditioned not to know any better. I felt like I was going through the movements: waking up early and working late, only to spend my ‘free time’ talking about work or – worse still – complaining about it. It was an endless cycle that chewed up my weeks and, ultimately, my quality of life.
Lisbon’s narrow streets and go-slow pace afford time for a story; the architecture tells of a long and rich history, where neoclassical monuments stand alongside ageing buildings peeling and fading in the sun. I take a breath, and continue in auto-cruise. It really is cathartic losing yourself in a place you barely know. Navigating the winding arteries past public street art, looking up steep climbs and down steep slopes. Being alone in a city I just met. It is a true art and one that is rarely channelled in this hyperconnected, bustling world. To be disconnected in the 21st century is like a rare jewel and this seemingly unattainable notion of ‘aloneness’ has been turned into a cashable commodity. See: every yoga retreat, run before work and spa day escape.
On the edge of Europe, I’m swapping chaos for calm. I wake up to the sun, I walk home in the sun and I often eat dinner in the sun – although since dinner is traditionally eaten after 9.30pm, that’s not always the case. It is amazing what a consistent climate can do to you. Meanwhile, low-cost living means more ‘me’ time; I can get a mani-pedi for €25, my haircut costs half that and my permanent tan affords little reason for makeup. Like a uniform, the sun-kissed glow gives Lisbon’s residents a sense of collective identity. It tells you where we’re ‘from’ and hints at our quality of life. I visited the silvery coastline twice this week. Once on a Tuesday.
Filled with pride and full of potential, the city’s sunny disposition fused with the boom of creative entrepreneurs from across the world makes for easy inspiration. Pair that with the increase in tourism – another government initiation – and Lisbon is on the up. The cranes that reach into the capital’s skyline are a symbol of this progress.