Last week, we ventured into Lisbon proper (aside from being at the airport, we’ve only skirted through the outskirts since returning) to meet a friend for lunch and to check out some tile for a remodel project we have underway. We went to the Alfama neighborhood for both. And it was so…. Quiet.
Alfama was the first place we fell in love with Portugal. It’s narrow, winding streets into the maze of which it’s fun to wander and just get lost (and you will). The sound of Fado music wafting through the night air from the Fado bars throughout the neighborhood. It’s distinctive red roofs, cobblestone streets, small doorways (according to our walking tour from December 2019, they used to set tax rates based on the size of the doors, so many of the doors are more like window-sized openings). It was in Alfama that we started our Portugal vacation in the fall of 2018. It was in Alfama that I healed up from a weird, undiagnosed foot injury from which I couldn’t walk properly and was concerned about navigating Lisbon’s streets and hills and, with boot, ice, lack of stress and with good sleep, healed in three days after a couple of months of pain.
And we’ve been back several times. Returning to one of our favorite Lisbon restaurants, Alfama Cellar. Spending a cool December evening overlooking red roofs from the Memmo Hotel. Taking a walking tour in preparation for hosting guests (who we hope will someday come post-COVID, if there is such a thing).
This time, it was different. Granted, we were there on a Monday, but…. Many shops are closed, boarded up, uncertain of their futures. Without typical tourism and without throngs of cruise ships docking in Lisbon daily, there aren’t many tourists to which to sell all of those souvenirs and trinkets. Many streets were empty. Restaurants aren’t open every day (Alfama Cellar was closed, but that could have just been their normal closed day). It was eerie. It was quiet. The Tuk-Tuks were scarce to non-existent.
We all want to put COVID in the rear view and there are some advantages to not having massive floating cities of tourists, some of whom won’t actually spend any money in the port cities, pull up every morning and unleash their temporary citizens upon Alfama’s narrow winding walkways but…. The world needs tourism back, and so does Europe, and so does Portugal, and so does Lisbon, and so does Alfama. Maybe a better kind, but here to hoping it’s return can be hastened as the inoculated head back out there.