Posted by: Marco | March 21, 2011

Adeus Portugal

I am writing this on the bus from Faro, Portugal to Seville, Spain. We spent our last night in Portugal holed up in a pensao near the bus station. It was clean and cheap. It was a bit of a return to reality after a glorious month in luxurious digs in Carvoiero. The sun is shining and there isn’t a cloud in sight…again.

 

A & O looking out over Lisbon

We spent our last few days in Portugal in Lisbon, the capital. We packed up our stuff, rented a car and drove the 260kms north to the big city on the coast. Lisboa, as it is called in Portuguese, sits astride the Tagus river (Tejo). Portugal, of course, was a great seafaring nation and it is obvious when visiting the capital. Monuments to the great explorers abound. The waterfront along the tidal Rio Tejo is a vibrant space, well used by citizens of this lively city. We watched hundreds of sailboats compete in a regatta in full view of the downtown.

 

To save money on accommodation, we camped within the city limits, in Campismo Lisboa. We are now officially winter campers, as it was March 18-19th. Of course, the mercury dipped to about 8C overnight and soared up to 24C in the daytime…so “winter camping” might be a stretch. The campsite, which cost 24€ per night, is located in the 900 hectare Parque Monsanto. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore this magnificent green space. We did check out a few other parks and squares (called praça), however.

In 1755, Lisbon was nearly levelled by a huge earthquake. The worst hit parts were razed and rebuilt in the style of other great European cities. In this part of the city, Baixa, long, straight boulevards and giant public praças are commonplace. The Avenida de Libedade rivals the Champs Elysées for grandeur and visual impact.  In the older parts, the roads remain narrow and twisty. Lisbon also boasts an iconic, but little known, tower: the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Monument to the Discoveries

 

Where Lisbon really shines is in its attitude. Just like in the Algarve, where we spent the previous four weeks, the people are easy-going and unpretentious. Everyone we dealt with was friendly, helpful, and cheerful. Small inexpensive restaurants line the streets. A filling and tasty supper costs 5.50€ and a medium-sized beer is a half-litre! Dogs are loose in Lisbon, as they are elsewhere in the country. Somehow, that small difference makes the place feel more friendly and laid-back. Sure, Lisboa is more rundown than many European capitals but it retains an unmistakable charm.

One curious incident happened on our first bus-ride into the city on Friday night. Our usual modus operandi is to park the car at the campground and leave it, taking public transport into the city. This forces us to live like locals, figure out schedules and really get a lay of the land. The ride from Campismo Lisboa to downtown took at least 45 minutes. And it was crowded. During that first ride, as we stood shoulder to shoulder reading the signs saying “Beware of pickpockets”, our bus was stopped by Lisboa Policia. Very quickly, one officer boarded at the centre doors and escorted two young women off. Another officer boarded the front of the bus and started shouting at another female passenger. He followed her as she made her way towards us. After taking a quick look at Anique to make sure she wasn’t a perpetrator too, he told us all to check our bags. Then he promptly escorted her off the bus and into the waiting police car which was jamming the insanely busy rush-hour street. It was an exciting welcome to Lisbon. Nothing else sinister happened….we felt completely safe everywhere else.

The only other event of note happened during supper on Friday night. We were sitting and eating in an outdoor patio of an inexpensive churrasqueira when what is now called “The Piri-piri Incident” occurred. Wanting to add a little zing to her fried chicken, Shannon picked up the bottle of Piri-piri, a Portuguese-style hot sauce. Little did she know that hot-pepper flakes were blocking the mouth of the little bottle, forcing her to squeeze…a little too hard. The bottle-top gave way under pressure. Shannon’s chicken drowned in piri-piri and, worse, so did her fleece. The waiter was quick to act. He came with hot water towels and a whole new meal. He was very apologetic. Shannon’s sweater has recovered with very little scarring, the chicken, however…

On our way back to Faro, we took the scenic route over the 14km long Ponte Vasco de Gama (the second longest bridge in Europe),through Setúbal, by ferry across the Rio Sado to the resort town of Troia, and down a sandy spit of land between the rio and the Atlantic, and south to Faro. We saw thousands of cork trees and almost as many storks. This bird is ubiquitous in Portugal, at least in the parts we’ve seen. These large birds build their immense nests on the tops of poles, chimneys and other tall man-made structures. This is nesting season, so every nest was occupied. These graceful flyers are a delight to watch.

So, as our bus nears the Spanish border marked by the Rio Guadiana, we say goodbye to Portugal and its many charms: the weather, the people, the wonderful oranges and lemons, the free dogs, the laid-back atmosphere and the gorgeous coastline.

Adeus e muito obrigado, Portugal.

 

Owen at the controls of the funicular tram!

For our pictures….click HERE!

 


Responses

  1. Ok so I am sold on Portugal.

    Paul

    P.S. Glad to see Owen sporting a stylish new head covering…

  2. Owen, I see you’ve got a new “beautiful hat”! I hope this one makes it home with you!


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