The Rough Guide’s Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth tells us that the best way to get to the heart of Lisbon is by taking the 28 tram. So we set off on our bikes, up a very steep hill, for the terminal by Prazeres, the city’s main cemetery.
The Electrico 28 is a ‘Match-box’ classic, a preserved 1930’s tram. We speak to one man who remembers, as a child, hanging perilously off the side, ‘hitching’ a ride on his way to school….It has been refined from the original version by closing the sides to stop people hopping on and off, but as it hurtles through the city, lurching around corners, it feels like the tram itself might hop off the tracks at any minute.
Lisbon is very hilly, and the 28E weaves its way up and down these hills, the breaks straining hard on the way down. Some of the streets are so narrow that a car wouldn’t fit through, and you feel you could touch the walls of the houses on both sides.
Where the roads are wider and cars are allowed, the tram often stops and rings a furious bell at a car that has parked over the tracks. If the car is just parked near them, the tram driver may take a chance and scrape by, paying scant regard for the car’s lights or bumpers. It seems to criss-cross the town, so that by the time we arrive at the other terminal, we have completely lost our orientation.
We love the old trams, and hop on and off them as much as we can in our time in Lisbon.
We are charmed by the city’s feel, and we spend quite a few hours just walking around, taking in the atmosphere of the old houses, cobblestone roads, little shops and numerous cafés…. When you look more closely though, you see that a lot of the houses are closed up, abandoned, maybe just the shell of a façade with a gaping hole behind it. There is so much unused property, right in the heart of the city, it’s insane. We wonder how this will change in the years to come.
We are parked up about 4km away from the main square, along the river in Belém. Philippe from the Portuguese bakery in Cardiff tells us via a text that Belém is the best place to get Pastel de Nata from. Obviously, we have to test this statement, so we try quite a few. It’s hard though to say that they are the best. Mainly because it’s difficult to remember the taste of the many Pastel de Nata we have tried everywhere else across Portugal – basically every time we go to an internet café !!!
We are surrounded by a number of other campervans some of whom seem permanent residents at this car park, despite a great big sign forbidding the parking of ‘autocaravanas’ (that’d be us). Everyone is very friendly and look out for each others’ vehicles. It feels very safe and is a very convenient place to be, as there is a train station as well as tram and bus stops within a few hundred metres.
We make good connections with the local Tango scene, taking part in a few events and classes. The level of dancing isn’t riveting, but the atmosphere is very friendly and I realise again that this is far more important to me than the percentage of high-level dancers.
There is so much potential in this city, it’s overwhelming. We feel we should be out there, voraciously sight seeing, visiting historic places, going to concerts, meeting people etc. but instead, with each day, our strength seems to be waning until one day I kind of fall ill.
Maybe it is because we are surrounded by noise at night: a busy road has heavy lorries rumbling by, occasionally thundering over a manhole, trains arriving every ten minutes, a big bridge making a ghostly howl every time a lorry crosses it, airplanes coming in to land, and the pontoon on the river rubbing against the posts growling like a hungry lion…. I didn’t think it was disturbing my sleep until we escaped and parked up by the sea, some 80km south of Lisbon. Ah, the peace! Only the crashing of waves, but somehow this is an entirely different sound, it seems to clear the brain and replenish the body. Go figure why the crashing sound of a lorry on a manhole has an entirely different effect.
We have few more photos of Lisboa on Flickr
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One evening, as we come down a narrow set of steps in the Alfama district of the city, we get stopped by a woman who instantly involves us in a long story about her plight. She says she is ashamed of her situation, she doesn’t want to beg for money but if we could have a look at her wares, maybe we would like to buy something? I tell her that we are travelling light and therefore don’t want to buy anything that we don’t actually need, but we’d be willing to have a look but here is nothing there for us… Her story is heartbreaking and quite confusing, how she hasn’t got enough money for food, she moved to Lisbon to support her daughter in her studies but her daughter left her and now she is all alone, can’t pay her bills or get food or medical treatment for terrible tooth problems. Maybe she will die, she says, as she has a strange feeling in her throat that means she can’t chew and swallow food properly.
We offer to make her some soup in our campervan but she says she can’t get to Belém, so we arrange to meet her the next day in the same spot with the soup.
The following day, we pack a whole box; soup I made especially for her, home made apple puree and a Kombucha culture with written explanations on how to feed it. We return to our rendez-vous at the appointed time and wait. Standing in front of an Electrics shop that has a huge television screen in its display, I’m idly watching the news, when suddenly the Charlie Hebdo shooting appears. It’s hard to understand what happened, as the subtitles are in Portuguese and of course we can’t hear the commentary. It’s hard to comprehend the ferocity of hate that leads to such an act. Frank and I both stand there, agape, speechless.
The woman doesn’t turn up for her food either.
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