“Obrigado” not “Gracias”

Madrid’s morning rush hour is every bit as chaotic as the evening one, and as any traveller knows, taking the Metro all the way to the airport can save you loads of money, but also involves heavy lifting, swift manoeuvring of luggage through annoyed commuters and ridiculous numbers of stairs to and from platforms. It doesn’t really bother me, but the four American girls on the travelator in front of me are clearly used to better.

“Oh my GOD! And then I had to take a side seat next to this guy and – I mean – I didn’t feel SAFE.” I’m not surprised – if you’re going to yell your way through every conversation then people will give you funny looks.

And so to Portugal, a relative newcomer in European history, having only been a republic since 1910 and a member of the EU since 1986. Lisbon, though, reeks of history as soon as you step out of the Metro by Rossio Square.

The statue is of Dom Pedro V, the King of Portugal from 1853. But to be honest, there are so many pracos scattered across Lisbon it seems that just about any Royal, religious deity or slightly famous uncyclist most probably has a plaza and a statue dedicated to them. The rather lovely mosaic here is typical of the streets around Rossio, lined with polished stone which glistens at night. It reminds me a bit of the Old Town in Dubrovnik, combined with the steep streets of San Francisco. Only narrower, and with smaller forms of public transport.

This is the Elavador de Gloria – transporting weary tourists and locals to the Bairro Alto (High Town) for over a hundred years. It officially takes about twenty passengers at a time, though if you’re brave enough to stand and can squeeze yourself in, the driver won’t turn you away. It’s one of three sets of funiculars climbing some of the steepest inclines in the city. Best of all, it’s run publicly, so travel passes and tourist cards get you a ride for free.

Despite its array of narrow, winding streets and alleys, Lisbon seems relatively easy to navigate. Basically, if you head down hill you’ll eventually reach either the old town or the waterfront. On the hill opposite Bairro Alto is St George’s castle – more of which later. It’s also an idea place to stop off for a drink at a hillside cafe and take in the view.


Friday night is music night. Although in Bairro Alto it’s probaby the case just about every night. Many of the bars have live acts on – at Portas Largas there’s what appears to be a Portuguese / Brazilian mash up going. It’s infectious – and about 20 minutes after I took this photo, you couldn’t move for the crowds.

Here, formal mixes with the very informal. Posh restaurants and cheap cocktail bars rub side by side. It’s a feast for the senses – and unlike some destinations, you never feel as though you’re being ripped off. The music continues into the night, though beyond midnight any places are winding down, doubtless for the streets to be hosed down the following morning. There’s a whiff in the air of stale alcohol and spilt food – but not in a bad way. It feels like everyone had a good time.

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