We disembarked from our final cruise in Stockholm on July 7th and took an Uber to the airport. Air Portugal was over an hour late opening their check in desks to process our checked bags. There was a very long line at security with only two TSA officials working. At one point one machine broke and they herded us into one even longer line. At this point we realized we would not have time for lunch. Even after arriving three hours early, we were still rushed through no fault of our own. After security we had a really long walk to our gate where Bill was able to grab a Coke and tuna sandwich at a little nearby mini mart. Good thing since nothing on the flight was provided but expensive food and drinks. After all that, our flight was still an hour late leaving.
But that isn’t the end of the story. When we were coming in for a landing I remarked to Bill that we were coming in too fast. We could see the ground getting close but the plane wasn’t slowing down. We hit the runway hard with a bounce and the pilot had to put the reverse thrusters on hard to slow us down. It threw everyone hard against the seats in front of them. With crying babies and screaming children, for several terrifying seconds I didn’t think we would stop before the end of the runway. As we got off the plane I told the flight attendant standing at the door, “That was the worst landing I have ever experienced”. Her response was, “Me too!”
With no skyway, we had to leave the plane by walking down steps and then boarded a bus to the terminal. After getting our luggage we re-evaluated how to get to our apartment. Our original plan was to go by subway and then walk to the apartment. When Bill checked the cost of an Uber, we were pleasantly surprised at how cheap they are in Lisbon. We could actually travel by Uber cheaper than the cost of two subway tickets. We were happy and relieved at this point in the day to take the easy way to the apartment.
We arrived at the apartment and were apprehensive when we saw the outside entrance located in an alley with garbage cans overflowing with trash. But when we went inside we were very pleased with what we saw. It had a nice size sitting area with an attached bedroom, fully equipped kitchen with a stove, oven, dishwasher and large refrigerator. Only thing missing was a microwave. The bathroom was large with a big shower. Best of all it had air conditioning that worked. Unusual for Europe.
Lisbon is the capital and largest city in Portugal with a population of 545,800. Around three million people, or one fourth of Portugal’s population, live in the surrounding area. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the second oldest European capital city after Athens. In 1755, two thirds of the city was destroyed by a powerful earthquake.
Lisbon is called the “city of seven hills” and I had read about how steep and hilly Lisbon is. But nothing prepared us for reality. It felt like everywhere we wanted to go was uphill. More hilly than San Francisco! And it often felt like going downhill was almost as hard on the hips and knees. The cobblestone streets are very narrow and all the sidewalks are made of small tiles that can be slick, especially when wet. Fortunately we had no rain.
Those hilly streets really wore us out. The heat didn’t help. We quickly realized we wouldn’t get far walking, so we bought a 48 hour Lisboa card. Somewhat pricey, but with the card we had access to the bus, subway, train, tram, as well as free or discounted entry fees into several of the top attractions.
We had a love hate relationship with the trams (known as tram line #28). Operating since 1914, they are an iconic part of Lisbon and a favorite of tourists. Unfortunately, we were there during high tourist season and the trams were always packed. Packed in like sardines, we usually had to stand as we hung on, weaving up the steep narrow streets with hairpin turns. The streets are so narrow we saw a tram driver holding a mirror on a short pole out the window so he could be sure he didn’t hit a car that had not parked close enough to the curb. It seems different tram drivers had different rules. Some let you exit from the front or rear of the tram. Some drivers had a rear exit only policy. We missed a stop because it was so crowded we couldn’t get to the back to exit. And you never knew what policy a particular driver had until time to get off or by watching the locals. One rant here is the lack of courtesy by tourists. While the trams are a favorite of tourists, they are also a means of transportation for the locals. It seems some tourists have an entitlement attitude regarding seats. I saw many young tourists sitting and never offering their seats to elderly locals, including a man with one leg. It was shameful and bothered us every time we rode a tram. Why haven’t young people been taught simple courtesy for the elderly and handicapped?
Lisbon also had several funiculars throughout the city. A funicular is a cable railroad, especially one on a mountainside, in which ascending and descending cars are counterbalanced. The fare was also covered with the Lisboa card. They were used more to get up steep hills rather than to get around the city. We rode one up and then back down just for the experience.
Similar to what we saw in Vietnam and Thailand, they also had tuk tuks, also called rickshaws, available for hire. They were brightly decorated to catch the eye of tourists.
We often settled for less desirable restaurants near the apartment because we didn’t have the energy to walk up another steep street or take another crowded tram. I think visiting Lisbon off season would be much nicer, but the steep streets will always be there. It is so hilly that the closest subway station is about ten stories underground. We often had to take several escalators followed by steps to get out of the subway onto street level. After seeing those, I was especially glad we didn’t try to take the subway to our apartment from the airport. And even more grateful we didn’t have to lug suitcases up or down those steep streets!
We did visit the Hard Rock Cafe located in a beautiful old building in a nice area of Lisbon along a lovely tree lined boulevard. We bought Bill a shirt but also had a nice meal before taking the subway and tram back to the apartment.
Lisbon is an old city, and it is a very dirty city. Trash is piled everywhere, with overflowing trash cans. The streets are littered with trash and cigarette butts. On several occasions we saw dogs on leashes urinating or having a bowel movement on the sidewalk with no one picking it up. It surprised us that people didn’t take more pride in their neighborhood communities and the city.
In spite of all this, Lisbon is a picturesque city with much to see. It would take weeks to see everything there if we had the strength.
The Rue Augusta Triumphal Arch was built between 1755-1873 to symbolize the strength of Lisbon as they rebuilt after the earthquake.
On the light poles throughout the city they have the symbol of Lisbon which is two crows standing on the bow and stern of a ship facing each other. This symbolizes two ravens who protected the body of the patron saint of Lisbon after he was martyred.
Lisbon has its Golden Gate Bridge called the 25th of April Bridge. Ironic since Lisbon is so similar to San Francisco in terrain. It commemorates the date of the Carnation Revolution in 1974 that overthrew the Salazar’s Estado Novo regime.
Overlooking the bridge and the city is the Sanctuary of Christ the King, inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer. Built in 1959, it was erected to express gratitude because the Portuguese were spared direct destruction during WW2.
On Sunday they had the World Bike Tour event which closed some streets and clogged others.
We have much more to share of Lisbon in the next posting.
Next up: More Lisbon Portugal Part 2