Tag Archives: Camino de Santiago

Boarding the plane for my trip home after hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lisbon, Portugal, and Home: Part 2

In fall 2014, after hiking the Camino de Santiago trail, I had a bit of a problem taking my trekking poles on board at the International Airport in Portugal. Now I am ready to depart and head home. After going through security, I was running very late, so I quickly checked the boarding board above the walkway, and my flight said, “Boarding, go to gate.” I started running, but it was a long way to gate 45A. When I got there, people were lined up in the hall, being checked though security again. I was the last person checked and then the boarding began at random. There were no special boarding privileges for first class, handicapped, or families with children—it was all on a first-come, first-served basis.

We boarded buses and were taken out onto the tarmac to board. S.A.T.A Airlines didn’t even have a terminal! We waited on the hot, locked bus, where it was so crowded that many of us were standing. Finally, our bus pulled up to the airbus and we boarded. Some of the passengers were already seated, but when I boarded, chaos ensued.

The handicapped had been allowed to board at the back of the plane at the same time as the other 4 bus loads of passengers boarding from the front. Everything came to a standstill when I was halfway down the aisle. The stewardesses could not help, as they were too far away.

I knew I had to put my teaching experience to work. The woman in front of me had a big suitcase and she was determined to get to her seat. I gently tapped her and said, “Come back.” It took quite a bit of convincing and with me carrying her suitcase to slowly move back the way we had just come. At the same time I told people behind me to all back up we had a problem up ahead. Slowly the word was passed back and everyone moved back.

Then I went on alone and helped a handicapped woman to her seat. I still had my hand up, telling everyone to wait. Then I helped an elderly man carrying a woman’s walker. He was all worked up and did not want to be separated from the woman’s walker—perhaps it belonged to his wife. Finally he sat down, while I put the walker in the aisle. Three more handicapped came down the aisle and sat down.

Finally, the stewardess came down the aisle and took the walker for storage, and another stewardess helped the woman behind me with the large suitcase, and I went to the next to last row in the plane. As I walked down the aisle, the stewardess thanked me, and the passengers who had witnessed the scene all clapped and thanked me. One said, “The airlines should hire you.” By now, I only wanted a safe trip home. It had taken an extra half hour to board this plane.

It was a safe flight to Boston, and except for a crying baby directly behind me, I had no major concerns. When I arrived in Boston, I only needed to pick up my trekking poles in checked baggage. I went to the oversized cargo area and waited and waited. Finally, after there was no sign of my poles, I was told to go to another office. S.A.T.A. had no office but was sharing space with Swiss Air. When I found the office, a sign on the door said, “Closed. Open tomorrow.”

I now had to catch a shuttle bus to Portland, Maine. I followed up by calling the next day, and AAA also called several places, to no avail. My trekking poles and I had parted ways, but I was safely home. I hope my next trekking poles give me as much happiness and as many miles of trails as the last ones!

(posted August 11, 2015)

Azulejos (painted ceramic tiles) in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lisbon, Portugal, and Home

On my final morning before flying home, I woke up, turned over, and went back to sleep. Sleep seemed more important than touring—a sign it is time to go home. I love to see the sites in foreign countries, learn the culture, and absorb new international trends. For everything to see and do, I leave so much more than I have time to accomplish. There will be another time, and my mind can focus on only so much. Now, after completing my hike of the Camino de Santiago, I am anxious to go home, be with family, and take on needed responsibilities.

I took a final half day of sightseeing in Lisbon. I stopped for an espresso and pasties de belém, a delicious Portuguese pastry. I walked many of the city center streets, enjoying the window displays of elegant shops. I admired the culture of this lovely city, and I enjoyed looking at the azulejos (painted ceramic tiles), which you can see in my photo at the top of this blog post. I returned to my hotel in a grand square of the city, checked out, and took a cab to the airport.

At the international airport, the craziness began. I was taking a SATA flight, an airline that was unfamiliar to the locals—even the management at the grand hotel was unfamiliar with this Portuguese airline. I learned it was bought out as a recent merger and the name had changed. I entered the terminal, which was crowded with travelers, and walked around, trying to get oriented.

I came to long lines for ticketing for Swiss Air, Delta, British Air, and Lufthansa, but no signs for S.A.T.A. International. I kept walking, over in an area of construction, I happened to see several people with luggage going into a back room of the terminal. I decided to check it outand followed them. Back there was this one terminal for S.A.T.A.! There were 14 people in line waiting for the terminal to open.

We waited half an hour before an attendant came. By then, the line for this international flight was very long. Two more attendants came and worked the counter, but the line just kept getting longer. Finally, two more staff joined in behind the counter, and by then I was able to get my boarding pass, and was given the okay to take my trekking poles with my carry-on backpack. The attendant said I was the last person to secure a seat. It was an expensive trip home, but I had no regrets.

I headed through the crowded terminal to security and boarding. Every airport in every country is different. At one point of the terminal, passports were checked. The waiting lines were very long. There was no problem until after I checked through security.

A supervisor spotted my trekking poles and stopped me. He was emphatic, “No!” He took them off my pack and told me to go to a special S.A.T.A. office. I said, “Where?” He walked me a few yards and sent me off with an attendant. He opened several gates, and we kept moving in the opposite direction of all the hundreds of passengers waiting to go through security and on to their boarding gates. He passed me on to another attendant and we continued through the terminal to the small unmarked office in an area I would never have found by myself.

We went to three places before we got to the right place. I was left at the window, and after waiting for a woman and daughter to take care of their lengthy business, I presented my problem of the trekking poles. The office clerk had no idea and went for help. Meanwhile, I was becoming about missing my flight.

I thought about leaving without my poles, but they had been around the world with me to seven continents! They had a lifetime guarantee, had been sent back to the company for new parts, and they had personal meaning. The woman returned and asked for my boarding pass and left again. Now I had to wait! She came back with the supervisor and the supervisor came out in the hall to help me. Together, we walked to the oversize baggage department. She waited with me in line.

I was practically jumping up and down with worry about missing my flight. The attendant wanted to charge me $200.00 for taking the trekking poles on board. Fortunately the supervisor was there and she said, “No.”She was pleasant and a blessing to me. Now my poles were to be picked up in Boston. I thanked the supervisor, hurried off again through the passport line, and then the security check.

Now I was late! The same security supervisor recognized me and told me to take off my boots. I was the only person in sight that was asked to do so. Never before have I been singled out in such a manner, but I passed the security check. Now I hurried to my terminal, hoping there would be no more obstacles. I was anxious to go home.

(posted August 4, 2015)

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)