The first time J and I went on holiday together, in 1994, we booked it on Ceefax (if you are under 40 and not from the UK, google it!) and it was one of those mystery deals, costing £200 for 2 weeks in a place called Illetas on Majorca. The suburb was one of the nicer ones, removed from Palma Nova and with it’s own beach. We flew from Glasgow, which is remarkably handy to get to from my posting in Warminster……….. In Majorca we hopped on to one of those busses run by the tour company that drops people off at different places. We were pleasantly surprised by the standard of the hotels we stopped outside and got excited about our mystery place. We really shouldn’t have. We arrived at a huge block that had a feeling of anarchy about it as soon as we walked in and reminded us of the council towers we had passed on the way to Glasgow airport. In the room next to our ant infested hovel that featured cupboards hanging off the wall, no aircon and no real bed, there were a group of Geordie body builders busy using a rope to hoist the luggage of the extra people who were going to stay on the floor of their hovel but couldn’t afford the room. Jodie cried. All I could think is ‘thank fuck I didn’t book this’.
We got this feeling again as we arrived in our Uber at our Airbnb in Lisbon, set amongst €1 shops, building sites and graffiti. I had booked this, and was nervous.
I remember that one of its strong points was the fact it had a lift and we were a bit over lugging our packs up steep narrow stairs. It was a small lift, fitting one person and a bag, so I lugged my pack up steep narrow stairs to be met by our hosts, Mario and Fransisco, who were absolutely charming.
The apartment had been Fransisco’s studio, who had become an award winning advertising / film maker, after moving to Lisbon from Angola where he had been a soldier, hunter and guide. They had converted in into an Airbnb with two rooms and they lived somewhere else. They were lovely people who made us feel very welcome and left us a bottle of wine. The way to the FTs hearts.
My run the next morning showed that we were on the edge of the old town and perfectly located for exploring (though not running as we were on top of another bloody hill!) and eating well.
On the eating front, we decided to be brave, and throw ourselves into the small very traditional restaurants, catering for locals with, at most, a hand written menu. I thoroughly recommend this course of action. I ate tasty, fresh and interesting food, mountains of it, and we drank nice wine all for a few Euros. There was always someone who could speak enough English to help me get a broad understanding of what I was going to get. I use ‘I’ deliberately as being a veggie can suck a bit in meat loving Portugal. On the upside, Portugal’s colonial past means there is a large Indian community so we were able to enjoy some very good veggie Indian food.
Lisbon is a lovely low rise old city, with fascinating churches, cobbled streets, little old trams, funiculars, cafes and rather wonderfully, little places selling Ginja, a cherry based spirit that you get in a shot glass and gives your insides a lovely glowing feeling. There are places that just sell Ginja, so you pop in, say ‘two please’, get them, down them, then wander off, all in less than a minute. The ne’er do wells love them.
There is a tourist version too, which involves drinking out of chocolate cups, then eating them. I was torn between the authenticity of the former…………and chocolate. It is a disappointing day that doesn’t involve Ginja.
We also had beer for breakfast one day. It was at a small stand in the street. It just looked nice……
Lisbon food and booze
We broke out of Lisbon for a day trip to the very famous Sintra – the cool hilltop refuge of the royals and aristocracy. It was a bit too famous and felt like a tourist sausage factory. There are three bits to the visit; a fascinating Moorish castle, the village itself, and the Kings old house. This last one is a very OTT affair. It reminded me a bit of the kind of place a villain from a James Bond movie would have, if he were Julian Clary or Liberace. It was a dominating lump on top of a hill, it had a sweeping drive and a bit of a tunnel but was yellow and red and contained some of the oddest furniture.
I also kinda broke out of Lisbon on my long training run. I needed to do about 31km and found a route on mapmyrun that was just that, and took in the old town, some suburbs and the coast. Perfect. It was a bit hilly to start with, and whilst not always beautiful, if took me to some interesting parts of town that were safe. This is quite key coz just picking a route for that kind of distance in a strange town is not without its hazards. Think about the major cities you know, and the proximity of places where you can get a perfect latte to the places where you run the risk of being perfectly mugged.
All went well for about 25km, until I was forced away from the shore due to building works. I was pushed up hill and as I knew I had to get back up to our place at some point, plotted a new route that took advantage of this forced rise until I got home. Things you wish you hadn’t done.
Very quickly I found myself in places where latte was not an option, and the graffiti suggested the alternative was. I often judge places I run in by the cars I see and whilst I saw a few BMWs, they were so conspicuous I concluded that they probably belonged to the dealers. I have no photos from this stretch as my iPhone was put away and I ran like I knew where I was going.
I then found myself on the edge of a place with a few shacks below a cemetery, a bit like a small shantytown. I then came across massive earthworks that blocked my way, forcing me back down hill. At the 34km point I was at the bottom of the big hill I lived up. I had 1km to go. I walked. At this stage I noticed that the sweat running down my legs was pink……. The mild chafingI had been experiencing appeared to be less mild than I thought it was after 34km. Yuk.
Being from Sydney, we love a good ferry, and Lisbon has these too so we took one across the harbour to ………. It is near the base of ‘big Jesus’, a smaller version of Rio’s very big Jesus. I ate lovely fish and we took the elevator to the top of the hill before walking back to the ferry. …….is a very odd place. It has all the characters of a big town; tower blocks, trams, shops etc…….. but few people. It was all a bit deserted. We have found a few places like this and on my run I found a small enclave of old houses, set amongst new ones, most of which were boarded up. It showed just how tough Portugal has been doing it (in 2013, there was 40% youth unemployment and now it is 20%).
My last adventure was a haircut. Getting a haircut in a new country is always a gamble and this time I lost. Denzel’s skill for the trade matched his enthusiasm and I haven’t had such a dodgy Barnett since J gave it a trim a few years ago.
Portugal is getting hotter, as is the rest of Europe, so we have decided to head somewhere that has a hotel with aircon and a pool that is within our budget: Evora.
Lisbon and around