Beautiful landscaping in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lisbon, Portugal

On the train to Lisbon, Portugal, I thought about why I was coming here. My decision to go to Portugal, after walking the el Camino in fall 2014, stemmed from a few years ago, after meeting and making friends with Fernando, a former Minister of Finance of Portugal. Fernando and I met on a National Geographic Expedition to the permanent ice cap of the North Pole. For several weeks, our group went by ship and then by zodiacs to the islands. There we watched several of the scientists study the fur seal colonies, others studied the arctic birds, and all of us had an interest in the tundra and searching for polar bears.

It was a great adventure, and ever since, Fernando and I have been corresponding. Fernando would always ask, “When are you coming to visit me and my family?” Now I am finally coming, but Fernando has had serious health issues resulting from a car accident. He had gone to Paris for treatments. I had not planned to be here for two more weeks. I did not know exactly how long it would take me to walk the el Camino, so my arrival was sooner than expected. Now what would I do without him as my special tour guide?

At Porto, Portugal, after I boarded that train, I was happy that I had a nice place to stay in Lisbon, and I was ready to relax for a few more hours on the train before my final destination. A young woman sat down next to me, and after a few minutes, she got up and moved to a different seat. In a few more minutes, she got up and moved to a third seat. She never engaged in conversation with anyone, and kept her head down, engaged with her smart phone. A few minutes later, the train conductor came along the isle, checking tickets. When he stopped at this woman, he stayed by her, making a phone call. Then he asked her to come with him. At the next station, she was escorted off by two police officers!

After the woman left the seat beside me, another young woman came and sat next to me. She did have a ticket. She was from this area of Portugal, and she made a great tour guide for me. Outspoken, witty, friendly, and knowledgeable, she taught me a bit of the sociology, economics, and geography of Portugal. As we headed south, the climate and scenery changed from cool to warm, and from farming and vineyards to palm trees and beaches. It was quite a change, as the heat hit me in Lisbon, and I set my watch an hour forward.

From the train station, I took a taxi to the hotel, as the subway was not operating. For the final leg of my journey, I had planned to stay in luxury, as a reward after roughing it on the el Camino. The hotel was expensive and grand. It is located on Praca Marques de Pombal, a grand square in the center of Lisbon.

I began to work on getting a plane ticket for home. My return flight ticket was dated for two weeks later. When I was preparing for the el Camino, the expected walking time was 36 days or longer, and I made it in 29. I thought, I will plan extra, because I am older and slower—but now I am ready to return home two weeks early, so I need a new ticket—and besides, the Paris airport is on strike!

My first shock was that this swanky and costly hotel had no connoisseur. They are usually very helpful. The laundry service was of no benefit to me either. I had to hand wash my clothes. I needed a SIM card for Portugal, but in the meantime I used the phone in my room. I made a quick call to my husband and one to AAA back home, asking to find me a plane ticket. Those two very short phone calls cost me 79 EU, or more than $100.00! I had to wait to see what they could find for a flight home.

Now it was time for me to see Lisbon. The Praca Marques de Pombal dead ends onto Ida Da Liberdade, a boulevard with elegant shops along the Rio Tejo, harbor, and Atlantic Ocean. I spent the rest of the day leasurely walking this whole area: window shopping, watching the stylish pedestrians walk by, and stopping at the antique venders selling antiques in the large strip between the streets of the grand boulevard. I stopped at The American Disaster, a retro ’50s diner, for a late lunch.

I was impressed with Lisbon: clean, historic, lively, cosmopolitan, and safe. I looked up at the elegant facades on the buildings; around me, the grounds were well landscaped (as you can see in my photo at the top of this post), and under my feet, the wavy patterns of black and white cobblestones were on many sidewalks and streets. The window displays impressed me more than on the Champs Elysées in Paris, and the clerks here were friendlier. There were GOCAR Tours, where you could rent a car, which was parked on the boulevard, and self-tour the city. Segway rentals were also available, as well as the more widely known rent-a-bikes. I stopped at the Fado Museum, which opened in 1998, and is devoted to fado (music) and guitar, which are symbols of Lisbon and this region.

In the evening, I walked uphill to the Parque Eduardo VII for a view of the city and the Tigus River. Strolling in the park until dark was a beautiful and fitting end to the day.

(posted July 28, 2015)