Tag Archives: Lisbon


Rick Steves aptly describes Lisbon as “a ramshackle but charming mix of now and then.” It consists of an impossible maze of narrow streets up seriously steep hills. So renting a car for the duration of our stay was not even a consideration. Since we are going to spend just over two months here, getting a Viva viagem “top-up” metro card was a no brainer. Not only is it proving to be the most economical way to get around, it’s also quite easy and very convenient. The Viva viagem that covers all public transportation in the metropolis and surrounding areas, including trains to Sintra and Cascais, is scanned on a magnetic pad to open the gates every time you enter and exit the system.

At one point on our journey, the popular number 28 tram trundles down a ridiculously narrow street. Pedestrians must shelter in doorways to avoid being clipped. If you’re parked on a street where the trams run, you’d better make sure your side mirrors are flattened against your car if you don’t want them unceremoninously ripped off.


Seeing the tangle of overhead cable wires fills me with nostalgia taking me back to when I was a young girl in Cape Town when it used a tram system before buses became its mode of public transportation. In this day and age of plastic, it is a treat to ride these vintage trolleys with their rich, warm aged natural wood.

What with being overwhelmed by graffiti everywhere, I was pleasantly surprised that on the whole the city’s subway train stations were clean and free of vandalism. In keeping with Lisbon’s traditional decor, each station was adorned with miles of beautiful tilework.

It’s handy and cost effective to have the Viva viagem card for the funicular at €1.30 which would otherwise cost over double the price for a round trip. I couldn’t be happier to hop on especially when going uphill.

Taking the train to Belem was pretty easy. The 15 min walk down twists and turns from Bairro Alto to the Cais do Sodré Station is non taxing.  So far, we’ve gotten around on the tram, train and funicular with great ease.  Lisbon’s public transportation sytem is extensive and efficient. We have yet to try out the bus, ferry, and host of other modes.


An aerial view: Bye bye icy North America

I haven’t posted for a while. Desculpe. That means sorry in Portuguese. Why am I saying sorry in Portuguese? That’s where I am spending the winter. Where I live in Canada is one gargantuan ice box and I’m sorry but Mother Nature is asking too much of me to live in those conditions!

Our arrival in Lisbon on January 10 had quite an auspicious beginning. After an overnight flight we arrived at 6:30 am. Our Airbnb accommodation check-in time was not till 10:00 am. We thought we’d hang out at the airport until our pick up time. So, off we went to explore  with the expectation that we would freshen up, take a look around the airport shops and so forth.

Alas, the arrivals offered paltry amenities – Starbucks, two or three cafes, a gelato store and a cosmetic shop. This part of the airport had a time warp look  –  about 40 years behind modernity. We hoped the second floor might have more to offer. With two loaded luggage carts, our only choice was to take a rather old and rickety looking elevator.  Things were no better up here – nothing much in the way of stores, nowhere decent to sit and lines of people departing for their destinations. So back to an elevator downward bound.

The doors slid close. We waited for movement, nothing happened, we waited some more, still nothing happened. We pressed the ‘doors open’ button – nothing happened. We saw the word emergency on the panel but couldn’t see any button to press. Michael started banging on the elevator doors and we called out “Help!” but not too desperately or too loudly.

I saw the funny side of things and started giggling. Michael was clearly not amused and I noted the beginnings of anxiety on his face. It took some fiddle faddling to finally discover the scratchy emergency button that blended into the rest of the dull stainless steel panel. From the speaker bit with the tiny holes came a tinny, crackling sound and a man answered in what I understood to be Portuguese. We asked him if he spoke English and couldn’t figure out what he replied. We explained to him that we were stuck in the elevator and the doors wouldn’t open. In the background we heard men’s voices sounding like they were conferring. The man got back to us and said, “Ok. Ok.”

We waited for what seemed forever then the light went out. Fortunately, there was a dim panel light so it was not pitch black dark. We pressed the emergency button again and the voice assured us in mainly Portuguese and some English, enough for us to understand, help was coming. Eventually, we heard metal scratching assuming someone was attempting to pry open the doors.

The doors opened about 30 cm, the elevator jerked and the doors promptly closed again. This happened a couple of times. Some more crowbar work ensued – at last the doors opened fully. By now, the elevator had dropped about 60cm. Discourse took place between us and the onlooking men –  we couldn’t understand what they were saying but we expressed relief. The “crowbar guy” took hold of the front side of my luggage cart and I the handle and together we lifted the cart out. Ditto for Michael and his cart.

Another neon-vested staff member uttered in halted English how problematic that elevator was. Um…have they never heard of an “Out of Order” sign, I wonder. Their laissez faire attitude makes me wonder if this is a normal occurrence.  Our introduction to Lisbon was indeed a panicky one.

Thankfully, our friendly driver, Carlos, more than made up for our mishap. Immaculately groomed and suited, Carlos escorted us to his shiny black Mercedes, giving us an express tour of the city and a quick lesson in ‘how to speak Portuguese like the locals’.

We’ve been in Lisbon three days now and my experience so far has been one of welcoming and extremely helpful locals, many of whom speak English, definitely making it less stressful finding our way around.