Thursday 4 October 2012

Lisbon, with regrets

Lisbon in  a day: stupid even to try, really, but we did - in what time remained either side of fitting in a long lunch, and going out to dinner. Passing over, with huge restraint here, the disappointingly wasted time and opportunities that have marked out this famil as the most frustrating and unenjoyable I've ever been on - because really, you don't want to get me started on that - let's focus on what I did manage to extract from the day.

Not the scheduled Segways, alas, because - well, again, let's not go there - though we did keep our appointment with the GoCars, which are the same little yellow Noddy cars I drove in San Francisco. There, I managed to run aground on one corner of Lombard Street; here, the hazard was the series of teeth-rattling manhole covers along the roads, which in a 3-wheeler were impossible to avoid. But it was fun, and fortunately, as in SF, local drivers were considerate - possibly wary - and there were no traffic-related incidents. That was a relief, because the trams here are a menace, and I even got swiped by one as I stood on the footpath, the roads are so narrow.

They're what Lisbon is known for: the steep, narrow cobbled streets that snake down from the castle on its hill. They're not just historic and picturesque, they're also very lived-in, and give the city much of its charm and character. I also liked that there are 34 cats who live in the castle, which delivers great views over the jumble of warm tiled roofs, the wide Tagus River, the 18km-long Vasco da Gama Bridge (surely his parents would have named him more appealingly had they known how famous he would become) and the planes swooping down low over the houses to the airport just beyond.

Narrow streets and wide squares: the main square, so huge it has two names, is an elegant affair with marble steps from the river on one side and lovely yellow-painted buildings with colonnades on the other three. Abandoned by the Government offices that once occupied them, they're now being taken over by restaurants and shops, and a new attraction presenting the history of Lisbon in an entertaining manner. Much of it has taken place in and around the square: the 1755 earthquake, tsunami and fire, an incident of regicide, demonstrations, and of course the Inquisition, with the pyres burning just metres from where we sat eating sardines, anchovies and other fishy dishes.

It's a very pleasant city, and it would have been good to see it properly. Sigh.

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