Our day in Lisbon began with a quick breakfast in Vince, then we ventured beyond the campsite’s gates to look for the bus stop. Yes I do know a bus stop is a sheltery thing in a lay-by with a big pole beside it, but in a capital city it’s making sure that it’s the right bus stop which is the most important bit. All we knew was that we needed the 714 service and that the buses passed the campsite every fifteen minutes. We didn’t have to wait long for one so we jumped on board, paid the nice man and took a seat. Then Gill asked me if we were going in the right direction. We looked at each other. Then hoped for the best. Fortunately, we discovered later, the 714 is a circular service so it only goes one way past the campsite – impossible to get wrong, even for us!
We were blessed with another sunny day; temperatures are falling as we head north but there’s still plenty of sunshine to go round. The sun really shows Lisbon off at its best. Clean white buildings reflecting the light, set off beautifully by their orange pantile roofs. We’ve been in some dirty, dingy cities in our time but Lisbon was a delight to the eye.
We learned that Lisbon’s beauty came out of tragedy. A trading port for many hundreds of years, the city was totally destroyed in a massive earthquake in November 1755. After the tremors had subsided, the city was further devastated by the subsequent fires and a tsunami which roared up the Tagus river from the Atlantic as a result of the seismic activity. No accurate number of those killed or injured exists but it’s been estimated that there were up to 100,000 fatalities.
Sebastiao de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquis Pombal is credited with directing the rebuilding of the city, and with facilitating the design of the world’s first earthquake-proof buildings which still stand today. Modern seismology owes a lot to this State Minister of Portugal as he sent a survey to every parish to determine the water levels in the wells before the earthquake, the behaviour of the animals before it struck, and exactly which buildings were destroyed and which survived. He even had prototype buildings constructed in the square by the competing architects, and had soldiers march up and down on them to test their ability to withstand repeated vibration.
I have to be honest and confess I knew none of this until we took an interactive tour at the Lisboa Story Centre, which gave us a quick insight into the history of the city without being too heavy or too laden with detail. We really enjoyed it. Another of our favourite attractions was the 148ft neo-gothic Santa Justa Lift. Opened in 1901, it’s a wrought-iron tower designed by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard which has a lift to take you up to a viewing platform, high above the city. It was a little windy, and pretty chilly but the views were marvellous.
The city is gearing up for Christmas, and for the first time this trip we find ourselves getting in the mood for the festive season. It was difficult not to, as we walked past roast chestnut stalls and puppet shows, buskers and beautifully lit Christmas trees. It still felt weird however as we were walking around in bright sunshine and even stopped off for an outdoor cocktail or two by the river!
Gill had her bargaining head on as we were approached by one of the many street vendors who spotted me shading my eyes from the sun. Regular readers may remember my old pair of sunglasses getting slapped off my face in the sea by a dirty great big tidal wave (or large ripple as Gill called it) a couple of weeks ago.
“They call me Mr Glasses,” he said, “Good quality, high fashion, latest designs.”
“How much?” Asks Gill.
“You try them on, sir”
“How much?” She asks again.
“You no worry, good value.”
“How much, last time.”
“Hahaha!” Says Gill and walks off.
“Twenty!” She keeps walking.
“Fifteen!” He’s running to keep up now.
“OK ten euros then!”
I almost expected him to say “…and I’m cutting my own throat at that price,” but he didn’t quite. He did give me that look however, which says what kind of a man allows his wife to do all his bargaining for him? He’s clearly not married to a feisty Scottish lady like I am. And whatever he thinks, I’m now the owner of a good quality, highly fashionable pair of absolutely genuine fake Ray-Bans for €10 so who’s the loser now, eh?