Why Lisbon Is the World's Greatest City for People Watching

Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal - SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images
Lisbon, Portugal // Photo by SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

by The Telegraph, February 5, 2018

Lynda Bailey wins £250 for her account of time spent watching passers-by from her Lisbon balcony.

It’s dusk. A man closes the shutters on the window in front of me. He is perhaps 10 yards away across the cobbled Lisbon street, but our eyes don’t meet. I am invisible on this balcony. But then I look up at the dormer window and see that someone is watching me.

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The elegant, shabby building on the other side of the street has 20 windows, each with a balcony. It’s covered in beautiful, blue decorated tiles, azulejos. Some have fallen, some I see being removed as souvenirs by the tourists who climb this steep street to the bars of Bairro Alto every evening. The balconies of Lisbon festoon virtually every building. They are windows on to the street but also into other people’s lives.

Rusty iron brackets attached to the balconies hold washing. In the fierce Lisbon sun the clothes dry in minutes, but they stay for days. The hassled man on the second floor rifles through his balcony clothes every morning for a top and underwear. The housewife above him has sheets that billow in the strong afternoon wind. Once they flew away, but not far. In my building there is an understanding that washing from an upper level blown to a lower one will be removed and left in the communal hallway. On the ground floor an elderly woman irons anything that drops her way. 

On the left-hand side, a young man sits at a table with a laptop every evening. He’s always alone. This evening he types, then walks to the right. The young man next door does the same, but to the left. They must meet! They don’t. They are mirror images leaning against their walls, not knowing that someone breathes and stands just inches of plaster and brick away.

Just below there is a skinny dog. He loves the street as I do, wagging his tail as he scans the people walking up the hill. He barks at them all. Sometimes a shout comes from the interior – saying what? I don’t know. Nor does the dog. He still barks. When he’s finished, he removes his head with an expert twist from the iron design that is his balcony. No washing ever spoils his view.

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And there are tourists. Like me. They stroll, never thinking of being observed from above. Men stride ahead, their phone maps glowing in the dusk; the women walk behind, less intent on getting there. Like the sunburnt-pink, wildly happy packs of young people, they hesitate at the end of the hill, wondering where the road has gone. Then there’s relief and some consternation. It’s at the top of the killer steps that inch up the steep ridge but are just a flat line on the phone. The groups follow the couples upwards to evening fun.

I look up again. It’s the last thing I do before going to bed. The man at the dormer window waves.

How to enter the next round of Just Back

Email your entry in 500 words (with the text in the body of the email), to [email protected] For terms and conditions, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-justback. The winner will receive £250 in the currency of their choice from the Post Office.

The Post Office is the UK’s largest travel money provider. It offers more than 70 currencies with 0% commission. Customers can buy selected currencies over the counter at 8,000 branches and all currencies can be ordered for next-day delivery at 11,500 branches. Orders can be placed online at  postoffice.co.uk/travel-money.

 

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