Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Lisbon, Portugal

After a rather late finish on Friday night (we couldn't have our Captain's Cocktail outfits go to waste, could we?), Saturday began at a perfectly reasonable hour in good time to explore Lisbon. And explore we did...

Upon first impressions, we were less than impressed. This was mostly due to the weather - over-cast and not particularly warm (despite the fact that the Pharmacy claimed that it was 22°C) - but also due to the abundance of 'shabby' and distinct lack of 'chic' that we were confronted with as we docked. 
Nevertheless, we headed for the promising sight of a large dome (bound to be a point of historic or geographic significance?) where we also located a huge flea market, already in full swing before 9am local time!

Curiously we wandered on, not entirely sure what it was we were expecting or wanting to see; up and down numerous stone staircases, along winding streets (many of which were beyond dodgy), round and round in circles we went. Finally we came to the Castelo de São Jorge (one of the few landmarks we knew we were expecting to find) and decided to buy 'student' tickets to have an explore of the ruins and a good view of the city. Our first day on land did not bless us with the best weather, so although we may have headed off in good spirits and a distinct lack of clothing first thing, by this point our tourist jackets (I like to think these are rather like alcohol jackets) were wearing off, so we retreated inside the café for hot drinks and Portuguese custard tarts – yum!

Through the haze and from the various 'Lisboa' postcards, we managed to make out some other landmarks while we were up there which we decided we should aim for once we had finished wandering along battlements (actually perhaps we were more ‘pinned to the inner walls of unsafe battlements through fear of tripping, stumbling and falling to our deaths’ than any romantic image of 'wandering' one may have created in their heads). Those landmarks were Praça do Commercio, trams and far, far in the distance, Marquês de Pombal.

Through our expert map-reading skills (it turned out that even my own father got lost in Lisbon’s ‘imaginative’ streets, so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much for this), we managed to circle the castle what felt like about five times in an attempt to move away from the old city with its creepy, hairy, elderly folk of questionable gender brandishing walking sticks to direct tourists back onto the beaten track, and instead to move towards the modern parts of the city with more... signs of civilisation shall we say?!

Eventually we succeeded in moving around and away from the castle and ended up following the map effectively for at least 3 'ruas', before going down one the wrong way for a little further than was ideal. Instead of getting too distressed however, we embraced sight-seeing opportunities, refused drugs, listened to a brass band attempting to play Daft Punk and, despite over-whelming intrigue, resisted the urge to join the world's longest queue for which to the human eye really was just a closed-off piece of road with a hole in the middle of the road (who knows?)... having somehow encountered and taken a few snaps of those all important postcard features as a-spied from the Castelo, we headed back in the right direction to make our way to the top of the city so we could continue our search for 'the big monument thing' - upon our return to the cabin in the evening, we discovered that said 'big monument thing' does not even appear on the map of the city that Thomson provide as they have obviously decided it is too far out for your average tourist (and upon returning home we discovered that the ‘big monument thing’ is actually 20km away from the port... no wonder feet were broken)... however, having accidentally left our Thomson map in the cabin, we were equipped with a proper city map, for those staying a while, courtesy of Lisbon tourist information services.

Again in true tourist style, having not got far along the road we realised it was time for food, so we stopped for a leisurely lunch at a Portuguese/Italian restaurant, accompanied by a guitar-playing busker, a political demonstration and a constant flow of men attempting to sell 'Ray Ban' sunglasses.. It’s difficult eating onshore when you know what you could be eating back on the ship , but we tried and enjoyed chicken, capers, olives, spaghetti and A LOT of oil and smoked salmon lasagne accompanied by a Super Bock and sat outside, determined to make the most of a less-than-ideal weather situation.

Full to the brim, it was probably a good job the monument was so far up the hill as it gave us a good chance to work off food in preparation for whatever treats the evening may bring.

Tourists and cyclists en mass, dodging traffic, posing for photos (the sun having finally made an appearance), assuming the role of photographer, and then practically gliding back down the hill in contrast to the struggle up it, we managed to make it to our checkpoint just in time to have to turn around and go back the way we came (with slightly less detouring) before the ship sailed off without us! We made it back on the ship with moments to spare having got utterly confused by HOW to get in/on!!

If there was to be one complaint about cruising, I could maybe go for spending a few more evenings/nights in ports of call (which I think is actually possible if you’re willing to spend a little more time and money). The problem with the late appearance of the sun was that we enjoyed very little of it, as although it was of course then sunny aboard, we were greeted again by the crazy winds, which do tend to bring with them a ‘slight’ chill. Nevertheless, we endeavoured to find a sheltered spot, and fortunately stumbled upon my parents who were just about to head to the restaurant for a spot of afternoon tea! We remained on our loungers for a respectable amount of time, but no sooner were all layers finally off (I say all layers, we began with MANY (so many and so black in fact, that my mother proclaimed that we looked like old Turkish widows on holiday) and wound down to bikini level) than we were on the move and our sunny, sheltered spot was turning into a shady nook. Horns were honking, cars were zooming across mighty bridges as we sailed underneath them (awesome experience), and Jesus was waving us goodbye.

So we returned to our window seat, where I was served a lager Shandy... horrendousness beyond all that is horrendous, but with PORK SCRATCHINGS (because they DO exist, and what’s more, they also SERVE them on board) to make a little of the sweetness go away! Bumped into ma and pa again, who were just on their way back to the cabin via the photo gallery, where were off to amuse themselves with photos of us shaking hands with the captain, eating lettuce and generally feeling very silly in front of the ridiculous backgrounds around the ship.

Dinner was such a palava that I’ve actually forgotten what we even ate. We were a tad late getting ready having been completely distracted by photos, and apparently a little lateness really throws waiters. Scenes were made, funny looks were given, but a lot of laughs were had.

After the madness that was Lisbon, an early night was in store for us all – so in true Lorna & Laura make an exit style, we marched off brandishing the evening’s wine bottle in search of an ice bucket for soothing broken feet and hot water for more general soothing before settling down to bed. Slept like a log.