Fog City Boy on the Camino Portugués
Lisbon, Portugal – April 1, 2014
The transit from San Francisco to Lisbon was pleasant enough. Virgin Atlantic and TAP (the Portuguese airline) did everything they could to make airline travel what it used to be! Both flights met my definition of "good flights." In my lexicon, "good flight" translates as "uneventful."
When I arrived at Lisbon, I cleared immigration and customs quickly, found a cambio and exchanged USD 50 for € 28 and change. The 10 percent commission charged by the cambio (this in addition to the spread on the transaction) was exorbitant but I accepted it as a necessary evil. I didn’t want to get caught without at least a few euros in my pocket until I could find an ATM that would provide exchange at a more reasonable rate. And a good thing, too. The kiosk at the entrance to the Lisbon Metro would not accept a charge to my US issued charge or debit cards because neither sports a smart chip that is universal now with European issued cards. Most businesses and ATMs still accept the US based swipe card technology, but kiosks don’t. I understand that US banks and card issuers will go to smart chip technology within the next 48 months. So, using some of my euros, I bought a transit pass and loaded it with € 10 to get me into town and around town for the next couple of days.
The Metro got me to Santa Apolonia Station swiftly enough. It was late afternoon and I walked the short distance to my pension through a charming section of Old Lisbon, a rabbits’ warren of streets, alleys, stairways, and passages. The last image is the entrance to my pension (on the left).
I checked in at the pension and was taken to my room, small but comfortable, with a clean bed, a shower and a sink to myself. Other needs were met down the hall. The building was certainly over 100 years old and was built before electricity and other amenties were commonplace. Water pipes poked through the ceiling and after serving my sink and shower continued through an adjacent wall to serve another room. A perfectly satisfactory, even elegant, setting for a peregrino to begin his Camino!
I flopped down, showing the signs of sleep deficit and transmeridian travel – aka jetlag. In due course, I got up and wandered outside. I found an ATM that happily vended me € 200 and tapped my bank account back home. It was Saturday evening and I wandered the central part of the old city. There were many folks – old and young – out enjoying the evening. There was a bit of rain, but nothing troubling. Many broad plazas and streets that had been turned into nicely paved "malls" sported outdoor cafes. I wandered back toward my pension and found an inviting restaurant that featured fish for dinner (essentially all restaurants in Lisbon feature fish all day) but it also had live entertainment. A guitarist, a fellow playing what I take to be an early form of mandolin, and a middle aged woman who sang Portuguese songs with gusto. She didn’t need a microphone to fill the room! The food and the entertainment were good, and appreciated by the crowd.
The next day I rode one of the little yelow trams that are the Lisbon equivalent of cable cars in San Francisco. The traditional trams are single-truck and very narrow guage. They ascend and descend the hills of this very hilly city at high speed. They don’t slow much for blind intersections. They are crowded at all times and a fun experience. Lisbon gift shops all carry a supply of models, drawings, and figurines celebrating the little yellow trams.
In the old part of Lisbon, streets and sidewalks are made of cobble stone. Often with interesting designs in black and white stone.
Because Portugal and Spain were neutral during World War II, many historic structures remain to be enjoyed today.
Again, Lisbon is a city of hills. Entrepreneurs built elevators to service the hill climbing and hill descending population charging more to ride up than the fare to ride down! Here’s a famous one built early in the 20th century. There is an observation deck at the top. I rode it up for a normal fare on my metro card. (The elevators are reminiscent of the esclators Ginna and I found in Hong Kong several years ago – serving the same purpose for the populace, though using different technology, and for free!)
The people seem busy and happy and quite fit, though there are signs of discontent with the economy and the austerity measures demanded by Portugal’s EU partners. Graffiti is ubiquitous and even more common than in San Francisco. Most is simply in the form of individual tagging and thus quite oppressive, but some carries a political message. Here’s a government office building that has been pelted by bags of red paint, reflecting some of the discontent.
I have had a good time in Lisbon and am ready to set out on my Camino in an hour or so, after posting this chapter to the blog. Not all the experiences in Lisbon have been positive, though. I was pickpocketed on one of the trams on Sunday and spent part of Monday cancelling a credit card and a debit card. Fortunately, my passport was in the safe at the pension, and I have a standby debit and a standby credit card that will get me through until the replacements arrive. I bought a new sim card for my cell phone which gets be connected to the web – that’s the good news. The other news is that calls to and from the US cost € 0.60 per minute (that’s about 78 cents per minute). I’ve instructed my family not to call to tell me they love me. Just think good thoughts!
And it has rained every day, not alot though, until yesterday. And there was a robust thunderstorm last night. But, hey, I haven’t melted yet. And I have a poncho to protect me and my backpack.
And then there was the couple next door to me in the pension. An older couple and no doubt quite deaf. They spoke loudly to each other, and through the thin wall, to me. They talked all night long (or at least until 3 a.m. on Sunday night). I didn’t go to sleep until 5 a.m. and then slept only until 10:30. The same had been true on Saturday night, though they knocked off early – about 1:00 a.m. Yesterday I asked for a different room and the house responded graciously. I slept well last night.
Part of the pilgrimage is encountering adversity, accepting it, and continuing on the journey. Row all the way to the finish.
Here are pictures of the Lisbon Cathedral Se, the starting point for my Camino. Last night I asked a passer by to take my picture standing by the first way mark on the Camino Portugues. It is rather unobtrusive, So I have included a closeup.
As soon as I post to the blog, I will head to the Cathedral to get the first stamp on my Credencial del Pregrino.
With that, I’m off!