Portugal / Travels

Lisbon

Lisbon is an interesting city. Portugal as a whole is pretty advanced but Lisbon still retains something of an old fashioned air about it, perhaps partly thanks to the fact the country was under a dictatorship until fairly recently (the 1970s). We stayed in a very central suburb which, unfortunately, is renowned for its nightclubs! Fortunately our room had an acceptable level of sound insulation, and with the windows closed we were able to sleep (thank goodness the room had air-conditioning or it would have been too hot to have the windows closed!) The hostel should probably invest in a bit more soundproofing in its street-facing rooms though.

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Our first morning we took a Sandeman’s walking tour as usual. Our guide was from Cyprus and was relatively new to Lisbon, but I think it was probably largely due to this that she was pretty well-read in Portuguese and Lisbon history. The tour took us around the city centre and included the site of the Carnation Revolution, the peaceful revolution which ended the dictatorship in the 1970s when the navy refused to fire upon the army who had marched on the government buildings (and civilians, despite being asked to stay inside for the day by the army). She also told us the story of the 1755 earthquake (in which most of the city was destroyed, if not by the quake itself, then by the resulting fires and tsunami). As part of the city’s rebuilding, the architect designed what he claimed were earthquake-proof buildings. How did he test his theory? He got a couple of hundred soldiers from the army to come and march around the buildings, stomping as hard as they could, and when nothing fell down – earthquake-proof!

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We also spent an afternoon at the castle in the Alfama district which, incidentally, was the only district to survive the earthquake. The castle isn’t particularly extensive, but has a museum inside it and you can walk the walls, which gave an excellent view across the city. There was also an excavation area which we didn’t hang around to see, because you can only get in by guided tour and that would have required us to wait an hour for the next tour.

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The next day we decided to go out to Belem, a district along the river which is home to a few historical attractions. Andre was keen to ride in one of the iconic Lisbon trams, but unfortunately the one that came along was a modern one. On the third or fourth stop a whole hoarde of people boarded and it got extremely packed. Only once everyone got on did a couple of guys decide they needed to get off, having to shove past everyone in the process. Just as they got off, one of the girls on the tram picked up a wallet she thought one had dropped and tried to call out to them and hand it back. They denied it was theirs as the doors were closing, and the tram carried on.

The girl and a few women around her showed the wallet around to try and see if someone else had dropped it instead but nobody seemed to know anything about it. Andre had his back to them and asked me what the fuss was behind him.

“Someone’s found a lost wallet,” I told him, trying to get a look over people’s heads. “They’re trying to find an owner for it.”

It was when they opened the familiar bi-fold wallet to try and find some ID and I saw the flash of a blue bank card that my heart dropped.

“You do have yours still on you, don’t you?”

“Yeah, it’s right-” Andre started, reaching his hand down to the pocket which always had his wallet in it – which was unbuttoned, and empty. He spun around in a panic and saw the wallet the women were looking through. “Hey, that’s mine!”

The women cheered in relief, handing it back to him. He opened the bill fold. All the money was gone. And suddenly it made sense why the men had jumped off after a whole crowd had piled onto the tram.

Well, that ruined the start to the day. It’s pretty scary to know someone’s taken something out of your pocket, even though we were so relieved to have actually got the wallet back with all his cards, and that they’d only taken cash. But it was a reminder to never have wallets in trouser pockets on public transport, regardless of how well secured you think they are!

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We still went to visit the monastery at Belem though, which had a rather different style chapel in it to most churches we’ve visited. We also took a walk along the river to the Belem tower which used to be a defensive post at the entrance to Lisbon, coming upriver from the sea. It was a pretty hot day though and we weren’t in the mood to do too much walking, so after a late lunch at mcdonalds, where we knew they’d accept card (due to our having no cash on us) and would have air conditioning, we headed back to our hostel in the city.

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We spent our last night getting some laundry done, and while the washing was one went to dinner at a restaurant nearby where the waiter was convinced by our accents that we were British, saying that I spoke English like the Queen! I said to Andre later that didn’t really mean much coming from someone whose native language isn’t even English, maintaining that my accent hasn’t changed that much!

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