I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The last supper

Once upon a time I had a flight booked from Auckland, New Zealand to Apia, Western Samoa. It was a 1pm flight, taking 4 hours, arriving at 5pm local time on the previous day. This was the only reason I wanted to do it, to engage in timezone tourism across the international date line. For various reasons that flight never happened, and in fact now cannot since Samoa hopped across the line (though I've now got my eyes on the Cook Islands). So crossing the border from Spain into Portugal by train, arriving at one station 55 minutes before the last, would have to suffice.

It wasn't a pleasant experience. I was asleep, which was fine, until I wasn't because the border guards woke us up demanding to see passports. Between Spain and Portugal. What?

The extra hour in bed was cracking. It was a nice and long ride anyway. We got in just before 8am and were leaving from the same station 13.5 hours later, mercifully, which made left luggage a breeze. Breakfast custard tarts were bought, metro day passes sourced, and we'd found a municipal swimming baths near the station where we could have a swim. It was about 25 metres away but 400 metres in height or so it felt.

They wouldn't let us swim. They also barely spoke English, though a cleaner helped. The pool was tiny and a class was on. We could get in, in shifts, first people at 0930. We needed ID, flip flops, and hair nets. All a bit much for a quick dip, we negotiated and negotiated and eventually were, after a phone call to someone important, allowed in just to take showers.

Oh, my god. A proper shower. Not on a train. Not in what feels like a temporary cardboard structure as in some of the hostels. Not cramped. Hot water, high pressure. Bliss. Cleansed and changed clothes, and after that sleep, with a whole day still ahead of us: c'mon Lisbon, what've you got?

I actually already knew what Lisbon had to offer, 'cos I've been here twice in the last 4 years. I love the place. Unlike Barcelona I had no desire to escape memories. The weather was beautiful and I wanted to ride some trams.

Metro. Tram 12. Up and down steep hills, screeching around narrow corners, crawling through streets barely wide enough for the vehicle and 2 pedestrians, we could've knocked on doors. Dave shepherded s off in a part of the city I'd not been to before, where we stopped for a beer and some pastry (actually, in my case, a slice of pizza with bacon on). Back on the tram into the city and cue an outrageous amount of cooing over the city from the newbies. One of those moments where you watch other people experience a first-time joy you remember having yourself, about the same subject.

I forget the order in which we did stuff, but there were trams and funiculars and, finally, the lift. I'd never been on it before, It was huge but only holds 15 at a time, the opposite of most office block of hotel lift space/body ratios. Combined with an interminable 15 minute wait between each ascent/descent - we had to wait for 2 of our group - and colour me unimpressed.

Oh, lunch. We'd had lunch. A huge feast of fish dishes and other stuff plus wine and beer, my sea bream was bloody lovely. The dessert pie was wonderful, and I hoovered up the remains of two other desserts too. Apparently I was quite hungry. Or our restaurant, in capital 23 of country 23 was at number 23 on its street. The end felt nigh.

At the bottom of the lift we split up. A side trip to Belèm for some, a wander for one, and a rule broken by me and Jason. One of the things we were all absolutely forbidden from doing is visiting places of worship and museums. This is not your average cultural tourism, as if that wasn't obvious. Well, Jason and I went to a museum, rules be damned. We're renegades like that.

It was the museum of beer.

We didn't visit the actual museum part of the building, rather preferring to sample some of the wide range of beers from Portugal and her colonies while enjoying the aircon. Within a couple of hours, most everyone else joined us and a plan for food was devised, settling on Goan cuisine. The Brits abroad wanted a curry. Enough cured meats and cheeses. Enough.

Tripadvisor told me about the best place to go, a short but vertiginous walk back through town and into a shady cobbled residential side street which caused some raised eyebrows. Slavery to the blue dot worked once again and we found the restaurant. It was shut. Bollocks. Double bollocks, as it was in fact meant to be at yet another no.23 address. These things tickle me.

Never mind - two doors up we piled into a Pakistani/Indian restaurant staffed by a smashing Nepalese chap who indulged us wonderfully. The starters were corking but main courses somewhat lacking in spice. Well, a bit more than somewhat, I've had hotter yogurts than the madras he served. But it tasted lovely, once the disappointment over heat was dealt with.

Back to the metro. Two tubes. Back to left luggage. A supermarket run, and onto the train. Whereas the previous few days had involved vast distances but few countries, here was a single train which would see 3.

It's our last night on the rails. We've only been and gone and done it. Over the course of 17 days we've been, by rail, to England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain, and Portugal.

Time to go home.

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