Visiting Lisbon (again)

I stayed in Lisbon for a couple days prior to my Lagos adventure. For that stint, I had been in the northern part of town — more the hustle and bustle of workers and shoppers. This time, I was going to be in the old town, Alfama. It’s tourist-centric because of its historical riches like the Se Cathedral, St. George’s Castle, and so many Moorish-tiled buildings.

Alfama also has extreme hills and nothin’ but cobblestoned streets. Narrow, winding ones at that. Knowing this, I sprang for a taxi to minimize my luggage lugging to the Airbnb. That was great in theory, until, the driver pulled up to a curb and put the car in park. He pointed up a very narrow, very steep hill and said (in semi-English), “That way for a few minutes and to the left.” He apologetically explained to me that the street was too narrow for cars. He unloaded my suitcase, shrugged his shoulders, smiled as though he had confidence in me, and abandoned me to Lisbon. Thankfully, I had my trusty Google Maps, because his directions would have gotten me nowhere.

Although my suitcase converts into a backpack, I was too exhausted and annoyed to deal with it, so I just started clack-clack-clack-clack-clack rolling it over the cobblestones. The effect of the noise was heightened thanks to the tall stone buildings on either side of the narrow streets. I echoed my arrival through the streets of Alfama and finally found my destination. The Airbnb description had said there were stairs to the apartment but that you could “go around back to avoid them.” I stood at the base of a long, stone staircase with no ‘back’ in sight. I considered staying the night right there but finally gathered enough energy to carry my friggin-friggle-fraggle suitcase up the stairs and into a very cute apartment.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, one of my aspirations is to do travel videos. I recorded one in Montserrat (it’s in the editing process) and thought Alfama seemed a good place to record another. I’m always quite self-conscious as a solo-traveler talking to my camera on a selfie stick. But that’s part of the reason I do it; I believe it’s good to not take yourself too seriously and to sometimes extend past your comfort zone. My biggest struggle is a lack of script. I do a smidge of research before visiting somewhere, but once you start talking on camera about a place, you kind of become the expert and probably should know what the heck you’re talking about! Instead, my video footage included a lot of, “And I think that park is maybe where the King did something at some point.” Riveting stuff. (Probably much like my blogs. But, here you are reading so historical expertise must not be what the people want. Yay, the people!)

It was a sunny day and between my video shoots, I would take out my Kindle and infamous ‘water’ bottle to enjoy the plentiful parks (where a King did something at some point). However, I realized that hiding my wine in my water bottle was unnecessary. Lisbon must have liberal open-container laws because most people around me had wine bottles and beer bottles. There was also music everywhere. Cellists on sidewalks, guitar players on balconies, drum circles in park squares. Perhaps because it was a Saturday, folks were out enjoying their weekends and soaking up the sunshine. At one point, I sat in a park and watched a group of scouts play tag for at least 45 minutes.

Part of the beauty in re-visiting a city (even if it’s only been four days since your last — and first visit) is the ability to pardon yourself from being a tourist. On subsequent trips to a city, I no longer feel a need to check-off important sights. In fact, in Lisbon, I had the sense that I had ‘seen everything’ on my first trip and enjoyed proving myself sorely incorrect as I happened upon new, amazing places — including the awesome vegetarian restaurant that served local, craft beer. Score!

I had read there was an English mass on Sunday morning in Lisbon and the timing complemented my plans to head for Cascais. I strategized how to drag my ever-growing suitcase to the church and then the train station. While pondering the daunting logistics, I found myself standing outside St. Anthony’s church. Whenever I see an open door at a church, I visit. I walked right into the middle of Saturday evening mass. It was in Portuguese but I decided it must be God’s sign to focus on travel and allow this to be my mass experience. I had one more spiritual encounter that evening — when standing outside the Se Cathedral. It was quiet and peaceful, in stark contrast to the daytime mayhem of tourists, rickshaws, and sidewalk vendors.

I have mentioned that I hate travel days. Especially when they involve the aforementioned frickin-frackle-frag-matazz cobblestone steps. I hauled my luggage to a taxi point and was driven to the train station for Cascais. Trains depart every 20 minutes, which is convenient, since I had to stand in line for 30 minutes to use the automated ticket kiosk. A seemingly homeless man was acting as the line attendant and helped people to more efficiently make their screen selections. When it was finally my turn, he asked me a couple questions and expertly chose the appropriate ticket. I tried, unsuccessfully, to use a credit card. He told me to try cash and when he saw me use a 5-Euro note for the 3-Euro ticket he asked if he could have the change in exchange for the ticket help. I am a fan of enterprising individuals and he provided genuine assistance so I was glad to provide him help in return for his services.

While sitting on the train, the young woman next to me asked, in stilted English, if I knew whether her stop was part of the route. Thanks again to Google Maps, I was able to see the train route on my phone and confirm she was on the right path. The self-contented feeling of being able to help two perfect strangers spilled over into the reverential feeling of watching the waves of the Atlantic Ocean assault the shoreline as we approached Cascais.

I had a good feeling I was going to like this beach side town.

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