Monday, September 22, 2008

What I did on my holidays

I had a marvellous jape planned for my tales of Lisbon, but alas I have decided that it's just too much work, and that if I wait any longer then even fewer people would still care about the trip than is already the case. So, that's that.

Anyway, the trip to Lisbon was pretty cool, although I did find I enjoyed it a bit less than I thought I would, a little less than Barcelona, and certainly quite a lot less than Rome. I'm not sure why this was; perhaps I am just that bit more stressed this year and so less able to relax. Perhaps I'm just bored with my holiday scheme of "fly into a city and spend a few days getting lost therein". I'm certainly thinking of doing something different next year: possibly riding in Corsica, or perhaps a cookery course in Italy.

The flights to Lisbon itself were mostly fine. My initial fears of losing my bagage in Heathrow's new Terminal Five proved to be unfounded, as it survived the trip both ways! Somewhat surprisingly, the tacky souvenir shops in Terminal Five hadn't cottoned on to the commercial opportunities offered by this; they weren't selling "I Survived Terminal 5" t-shirts.

Terminal Five itself is a big, new shiny building that was quite obviously designed by an architect with thoughts more for winning awards than building a functional building. When we left the plane from Edinburgh, we were ushered down a corridor to a big board showing where all connections were, then to get to the connections we had to walk back down this corridor and onto shuttle buses. However, due to the crowds, they only allowed one-way traffic along the corridor at a time, so we had to wait while the entire plane (and any other planes that arrived near the same time) disembarked, and gathered in this small area, before we could move on. There was a certain amount of sarcastic commentary offered at this point.

The flight from Heathrow to Lisbon was notable for three things. On arrival, we were treated to piped in music that included a version of "Wonderwall" even cheesier than the infamous Mike Flowers version. Then, during the flight, we were offered some top-quality in-flight TV... but no sound. Apparently, that is reserved for first class passengers. They did show "The Office" (US version) with subtites, but they were in Portugese. Finally, the flight allowed the use of cell phones on board. Somehow, we managed not to crash into the ocean and wind up on a semi-mobile deserted island on American TV. I considered availing myself of the opportunity to text from the clouds, but couldn't be bothered.

On arrival, having endured the brief terror of wondering if my luggage would actually arrive, I enjoyed a long (and correspondingly expensive) taxi ride along the coast to Carcavelos, and to my hotel. I marvelled at the weather being bright and sunny, enjoying a heat provided by a glowing yellow ball in the sky that is quite unfamiliar to we Scots.

The hotel, sad to say, was a little underwhelming. Although, that said, it was not quite as good as the five-star hotel in Barcelona, but was a bit better than the three-star hotel in Rome, which suggests that its four-star rating might be about right. On arrival, I sought to set up internet access, this being a matter of great import. However, the book of hotel services that I expected to find (you know, the one giving restaurant and bar details, useful telephone numbers, and the internet access details) was slightly less useful than is normally the case, mostly by virtue of it not existing.

So, I went and asked at the front desk, where after some problems with language barriers (uh oh...) I was informed that there was free internet available from "those PCs over there". Said PCs proved to be busy for the entire duration of my stay, except for two occasions when I found them not in use... because the network was down. Huzzah! Oh, and worse still, I found that "those PCs" were connected to the network wirelessly, so if they'd just have given me the WEP key and password, I could have used the internet in my room at my leisure. Huzzah again!

Still, my room was bright and comfortable, and generally nice. The advice to request a room with a sea view was good, and I spent quite some time on the balcony just chilling (in the heat... hmm, maybe I didn't quite think that one through). However, one thing that is increasingly annoying me about hotel rooms: there was no big central light. This made reading at night extremely difficult - in fact, the best place to read was in the bathroom, which was hardly ideal.

After unpacking, I went out for a walk, and also in search of food. I found much evidence of the existence of a local McDonalds and Pizza Hut, but not the actual restaurants themselves, and neither did I find the fajitas bar that I had had recommended to me by my guide book. At length, after picking up a few items from a local supermarket (not an easy task without any knowledge of the language), I returned to the hotel and availed myself of the restaurant there. This proved to be a mistake, as the food wasn't terribly nice, and proved doubly so on the Friday when I got the bill (let me just say: ouch!).

Tuesday saw me leaving the hotel and hopping on a train into Lisbon proper. I then proceeded to wander around the town aimlessly. It's a lovely town, full of narrow winding streets, and lots of steep hills. Oh boy, are the hills steep! On the plus side, once you've climbed these hills, there are some wonderful places to find a good view of the city.

Somehow, despite not having any particular destination in mind, nor any fixed agenda, I managed to get completely lost. This proved a tad worrisome, until I found myself within five minutes walk of the zoo. This being one of the places I most wanted to see, I dashed inside and looked at the animals. They had lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), rhinos and elephants, and even such imaginary creatures as the triceratops and giraffe. The tour was finished off with a viewing of the sea lion and dolphin show, which was quite impressive.

Then I hopped onto the subway by the zoo, and travelled back into the centre of town. Lisbon's subway system is roughly on a par with that in Barcelona, and therefore more elaborate than that in both Rome and Glasgow, and less elaborate but considerably more pleasant than the London equivalent.

I spent a couple more hours in the centre of Lisbon before finding a local outdoors eatery to have dinner (that well known local favourite: pizza), where I also pretended to be a hobbit by ordering one of their giant beers, which comes in litres. (The local beer, Super Bock, was quite nice, but poses no threat to Estrella Damm.)

By this time, it was rapidly going dark. After a time, I returned to the hotel, to my book, and then to my bed.

On Wednesday I woke up unreasonably angry. I therefore climbed the Eiffel Tower and menaced Paris for a while. Biplanes were sent to shoot me down. It was all rather exciting.

Meanwhile, in reality, I instead decided to venture down to the beach to work on my tan. Sadly, the weather chose this day to be somewhat overcast, which amused me to no end, I can assure you. However, the army of English tourists I had been advised I would find seemed to by mythical, which was nice (not because of an anti-English sentiment, but rather a pro-empty-beach one). After a while, book finished, I made my way to a local cafe for lunch where I had another genuine local speciality: a burger.

In the afternoon, the clouds cleared and the day warmed, and so I returned to the beach. Somehow, in all the excitement, I forgot to take my sunglasses with me, which was a bit less ideal (I must have swapped them out when I returned to the hotel to collect another book). And the afternoon passed in much the same vein. Oddly, by the end of the day I was completely untanned, despite having applied subblock in the morning but not thereafter. Since a tan is actually a sign of skin damage, though, I'm not too dismayed.

In the evening, being determined to find it, I sought out the local Pizza Hut. There, I fumbled my way through the Portugese menu, and was thus left with a feeling of some accomplishment (the Portugese for chicken is 'frango'. The Portugese for bacon is 'bacon'). As my meal was being delivered, I noticed that the second menu on my table was, in fact, written entirely in English (the English for chicken is 'chicken'. The English for bacon is 'bacon').

And that was Wednesday.

On Thursday, I set about finishing off the trip in style. I therefore set out to see some of the key museums in Lisbon. However, I decided to eschew art on this trip (having done art in Paris, Rome and Barcelona; frankly, once you've seen one painting...). I therefore hopped on a train to Belem, where I visited the Museu da Electricidade, which is a converted coal-burning power plant. It's very much a museum for engineers, and I rather enjoyed it. By the time I left, I had a fair idea of how the whole thing had once worked.

Then I went in to Lisbon proper, where I went to the Museu Militar, where they had lots of cannon and other relics of the Peninsula War (of Sharpe fame). On arrival, I was handed a leaflet about the museum, written entirely in German. When I asked for an English version, I was told they had run out: I had to make do with German. Useful, that. (I mean, really. If it had been French, I would have been doing great. Italian or Spanish, I could probably have managed. Heck, even Portugese isn't too dissimilar. But instead, I had to carry around an utterly useless leaflet in a language I can't read at all. Fantastic!) Still, useless leaflet notwithstanding, the museum was quite interesting, as far as such things go.

And then, it was on to the third and final museum of the day, the Museu da Agua, which was a water-lifting plant back in days of yore. This had also been recommended as a museum for engineers, but alas was somewhat underwhelming, especially after the Museu da Electricidade. Still, a good excuse for a few miles walk, I guess.

Lunch on Thursday was in an open-air Italian restaurant, where I had a very nice, but very expensive, lasagne. Oh, and a giant beer. And coffee - actually, the coffee in Lisbon was a thus-far unmentioned highlight of my week. (One more thing about the expensive restaurant: before I left, I withdrew my holiday cash from my bank account. I then considered that money 'already spent', such that as long as I was paying cash for everything, I could have no concerns about how much things were costing. There was very definately something quite liberating about doing that.)

A bit more wandering took me to one of the city's Irish pubs, where I had a quick beer, noted that the had live music later that night, and then left. I returned to the hotel but, determined not to end the trip without sampling some of Lisbon's nightlife, I changed, deposited most of my stuff, and then returned to Lisbon.

Initially, my plan had been to return to the Irish pub to hear a little of the live music, before moving on to Lux, which is allegedly Lisbon's best nightclub. However, things took a slight detour when the live music was delayed a great deal. When it did begin, it was actually surprisingly good. I therefore remained there for some time, at which point I decided I couldn't be bothered clubbing, so I just went home. (And yet, somehow, this proved to be an altogether more satisfying venture than my foray into Barcelona's nightlife.)

Friday was the day of returning home. So, I packed, bade farewell to my hotel, and headed back to the airport. However, this time I decided to avoid the long and expensive taxi, and instead hopped on the train to Lisbon centre, and then a much shorter taxi trip to the airport. This meant that the total cost of the trip was less than a third of what I'd paid the first day, and due to some fortunate timing it didn't take any longer.

Then I waited in Lisbon airport (which is definately preferable to Barcelona airport), hopped a plane to Heathrow (where the in-flight TV started off as a horror movie, and then turned out not to be "Parade of the Skeletons", but rather a retrospective on the dubious talents of serial-torturer Donatella Versace), then a long wait in Terminal Five (where, I noted, there is neither a McDonalds or a Burger King - I thought they were everywhere), then a flight back to Edinburgh, and then home.

And that is what I did on my holidays.


Captain Ric said...

Woo hoo! I win!

rj said...

Why did the captain win?
Your holiday sounds fun!

Steph/ven said...

I have no idea. I think he's clutching at straws.

However, just in case, I think I should give him an excellent prize, so here's a question mark:


Captain Ric said...


Steph/ven said...

See, they did actually have giraffes in the Lisbon Zoo. Tucked in between the triceratops and the unicorn paddock.

They also had okapi, and those really are an animal that should be imaginary.