My flight from Madrid to Lisbon was went fast and smoothly, except for a ‘training run’ landing – I was sitting next to a guy who obviously didn’t like flying and the landing only served to enhance his dislike! He was pretending to read the in flight magazine yet I could see his knuckles turn white while he gritted his teeth as we came towards and bounced around on the runway. I’m so glad it doesn’t faze me.
I was met at the Lisboa Airport by one of my couch surfing hosts, Andre. He had very kindly agreed to meet me and save me from dealing with public transport, for which I was extremely grateful! We went to a lookout quite near their house, and I got some great, albeit windy, views of Lisbon, including a huge bridge that looks just like the one in San Francisco. I tried the local beer called ‘Super Bock’, and found it was quiet nice, and we discussed all things Portuguese and Australian. I tried to get my tongue around the local phrases – I find Portuguese more difficult than Spanish, and reading Portuguese – forget it. They have all these little lines and squiggles above the letters (accents), that change the sound of the word completely. I could guess many Spanish words by how they were written, but not so in Portuguese. I think I eventually got the Portuguese phrase ‘Hello, my name is Belinda’ down quite well, but it took some practise!
Two things I noticed immediately about Lisbon – they have tonnes of mosaics everywhere, even covering the exterior of the houses, and they sell loaves of bread in the supermarket that have the crusts cut off. Not just the end crusts, but the four sides of each slice of bread! I thought this was hilarious, so had to take a photo, and I’m sure everyone in the supermarket thought I’d lost my mind, taking photos of bread. However, I’d never seen this before and was quite amused. What do they do with the crusts I wonder?
Andre and I picked my other host, Pedro, up from work, and he proceeded to cook a delicious fish dish for dinner – one of his specialities I heard. Most of you would know of my love for food, yet lack of desire for cooking, so I was in ‘Lisboa Heaven’ to have dinner cooked for me! These two guys were great, so funny and intelligent and they could both speak English really well so I had an easy time conversing with them.
I went to a local market the next day, and discovered just how many hills Lisbon has. Geez, one gets a workout just walking to and from work I bet! I have no idea how some girls tottered around in high heels on the cobble stone/ hilly roads and footpaths, but they did. Forget that, I’ll stick to my flat sandals thanks. I noticed that some doorways to houses were so small – Andre told me the Portuguese are not a tall race, yet these doors were really short – that some men had to duck to get in and out of their own homes! You could find almost anything at the market, and I even saw two police officers buying some goods.
Some areas of Portugal could have done with a good clean, mostly the buildings, and you could sense a slight difference in the development when compared to Spain. However, the two countries were on par with the cost of things, items in the supermarket and trains etc. I saw decorations in the street that remained from a recent festival, and it gave a nice community feel to the city. I found my way to the centre of the city, and the associated tourist shops, and managed to get myself a cheap (€2.50) country flag patch. I made my way back to the boy’s house as Andre was going to show me the ‘must see’ nearby town of Sintra in the afternoon.
I was a little perturbed by the number and frequency of men who were looking at me and staring/leering as I walked past. Comments were made and even though I couldn’t understand the words, I got the gist of it by their expressions. I’d not had this much attention an any other city and I wondered if I was wearing something wrong or too revealing – it was the same type of skirt / singlet combination I’d been wearing for the past month, and I didn’t understand why only now it was causing any issues. Unfortunately women everywhere have to put up with men and their leering, but for some reason it really rattled me in Lisbon, and I found my confidence was taking a battering. Andre assured me I wasn’t wearing anything wrong, and we concluded it was just ‘dirty Portuguese men’ (although I’ll point out that not everyone was like that, only a select few) and was most likely because I was walking around on my own, rather than with someone.
I nearly died when I saw the price of fuel, it was €1.569/L, which equals about $AU2/L!
Sintra was a tiny but very pretty little town, and I found many items made from cork. I’d never seen cork used to make things before, and it was everywhere there. Postcards, bags, bracelets, watch bands, lighter covers, you name it and it’s probably made from cork in Portugal. I was interested in getting a cork item, yet they were well above what I thought was an acceptable price so I settled instead for a beautiful bag with traditional Portuguese pictures and meanings hand woven into the fabric. The shop lady carefully explained to me in her limited English the meanings of the pictures and for only €12 I figured it was a bargain!
We tried some traditional Portuguese tarts, which were very good, and apparently the Portuguese pastries are craved by those who travel outside their country – with the belief that no one makes pastries as good as they do! I will stick my neck out and say that in Australia you can get tarts and pastries that are very similar, but I think that’s because of our multi-cultural influence. In fact I think we have excellent food choices in Australia, for the same reasons, and apart from the Spanish tapas, I’d not come across any food in Europe that I couldn’t think of a similar item we have available at home. I laughed when I saw boomerangs for sale in the tourist shops, with ‘traditional’ dot paintings on them, and watched in amazement while workmen fixed a footpath by hand, with the little cobble stones in keeping with the surrounding paths.
After another special home made dinner by Pedro we headed out for a few drinks. Drinking on the streets is ok in Portugal, and people often buy a drink from one bar and socialise outside while heading to the next bar – with a drink in one hand and cigarette in the other. I was asking around to see if any bars had – or knew of – Angostura Bitters to make the drink ‘lemon, lime and bitters’, or as I like it LLB and Gin! One bartender had heard of it but didn’t have it in his current bar, so I settled for a scotch instead.
I went to the beach in Cascais for my last day in Lisbon, and met up with a guy from the couch surfing website who was keen to visit Australia. We talked about all things Australian, and compared our two countries. The financial crisis that Portugal is in, and the knowledge that their country will likely follow in the footsteps of Greece was explained to me, and I found it difficult to fathom living in a country knowing it can not support you. The foreseeable future for all Portuguese people is gloomy and even those in Government jobs are not guaranteed of keeping their jobs. I heard later on that the Government will be taking a large percentage of everyone’s Christmas bonuses this year, and there will be many other financial cutbacks and losses.
The standard wage for a good job in Portugal is €1000 – €1200 per month, which is equal in Australian dollars to $1300 – $1600 per month. People live off this amount. Yes the cost of living is less than ours, but remember this amount is also for full time work in a good job, which can take years to get to. Initially many people start earning €800 per month, or $AU1050. Those not working full time or earning the highest rate live off less. And the Government is going to eliminate those jobs and/or take some of what you earn. These figures are applicable to police officers in Portugal as well as other Government and private sector employees.
As is the case for most places I visit, I didn’t have enough time to see everything, and would have liked to visit Belem, St George’s Castle and have a better look around the city – however, these places are on my list for next time. I said a sad farewell to Andre and Pedro and headed for the next stop on my list – the University city of Coimbra.