Portugal trip, part 1

I’ve never been through Heathrow before yesterday. I’d been told on many occasions just how big it is, but you really have to see it to understand. The signs tell you how far, in minutes, various gates are. And even then, that was just Terminal 1, from which I didn’t stray.

I passed most of my 3 hour wait in what, if it were to be built in Glasgow, would be a reasonably sized shopping centre. I even spent some time at the Sony stand, looking at their shiny Vaios. I wonder if I’d have time to pick one up on my way home, and save on the tax…

By the time my flight to Lisbon touched down, it was decidedly night time. All of my journey so far had made use of public transport, the only part left was the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel, a 5 minute drive at most.

The taxi driver ushered me into his cab as fast as he could, probably wanting to get back to the airport as quickly as possible to pick up more foreigners. His English was as poor as his driving skills, but he made up for both of those by his keen business sense. The charge from the airport to the hotel was €20, and when I questioned this as being a bit much, he hastily waved a crumpled up sheet under my nose marked “Taxi pricings 2004” which said near the top “All airport fares: €25”, as if he was doing me a favour. He clearly dealt with this query on a daily basis. He wrote me a receipt so I can claim the money as an expense, so I’m more amused than anything else with one of my first encounters with Portugal. I’m even more amused in that the hotel is directly beneath the flight path of most planes making their final descent into the airport. I could almost have just jumped out with my bags, and made it here in one piece.

My trip here was quite a surreal one, in that I stopped at both England and Portugal who, on this day, were up against each other in the quarter finals of the world cup. I was relieved to hear on the plane that Portugal had won on penalties, as I’m quite sure a Scotsman doesn’t look all too much different to an Englishman in Lisbon.

Lisbon’s clearly a city steeped in history, but the history seems to mix well with the modern transport system, the masses of tarmac dedicated to car travel, the tourists, and the dodgy businessmen. I was accosted by no less than 10 different men attempting to sell me shades. “Armani, cheap for you”, they would say. My favourite, however, was one old man with a stooped back, a well-worn fedora-style hat, pin-stripe jacket with white t-shirt beneath, and an intruiging black and white beard, who quietly said to me as I walked past “You sir”, pulling a couple of brown-coloured packets out of his pocket, “Marijuana, for you, very cheap”. You wouldn’t see it on Buchanan Street, that’s for sure.

One thing that astounds me with every city I visit is that the public transport is all linked together very nicely. For my own convenience, I rarely stray from using the metro/subway. Lisbon has a metro system very similar in style to the one in Prague. It’s cheap, ticket checks are lax, it goes very deep into the group at points, the trains are huge (if not entirely clean, but that’s a trade-off I’m happy to make), trains run at all hours (almost; 06:30 to 01:00 daily, with some smaller stations shutting earlier), and trains appear within a couple of minutes of your arrival on the platform. They also have excellent signs telling you what happens if you dare approach the doors when they’re closing:

Image:Stuck Man

The city, despite looking rather elegant, and surrounding itself with statues, bridges, fountains and all sorts, does have some flaws. Never have I seen so many homeless people scrabbling through bins looking for something they can scavenge. Indeed, as I sat in McDonalds (hungry, and still exploring), I was accosted by a woman with a paper cup demanding money for her daughter, who then also asked for the tabs on my chips and drink which were part of some promotion. I don’t know what I could have won out of the promotion, with no English on the cartons to help me, but I assume there was the promise of free food. Barely phased at no prizes from me, they went onto check the bins for similar cartons which had not had their prizewinning tabs removed.

The temperate climate and numerous people also means that a urine-coated corner is never too far away, a fact only exacerbated by Portugal’s win last night. I even walked past a man this afternoon who, in clear view of all around him, decided to urinate up the side of the building he was walking past. Perhaps he thought he’d kill off some weeds.

I’m going to go and look for a decent place to eat tonight. The tourist guide the hotel handily placed in my room has a number of places listed, one of which specialises in steaks. That’s my sort of restaraunt. I also spotted a couple of Italian places, which always get my vote. It’s unfortunate that people here eat so much seafood. I’m just not a fan of seafood more complex than a fish supper.


Posted by Stephen Strowes on Sunday, July 2nd, 2006. You can follow me on twitter.

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