Monday, March 27, 2017

Day 0: Welcome to Lisbon, Portugal!

Sept 16: Shortly after sunrise, after a long (overnight) flight from America, my flight started descending towards Lisbon, Portugal. I had a window seat and gleefully looked out the window for my first glimpse of Portugal. This was to be my first time here, so it was somewhat of a momentous occasion for me. It's always fun to visit a country for the first time.

View from the window of my flight as we're about to land in Lisbon. That's the Tejo River that runs through Lisbon.

Outside, I saw mostly endless ocean views before the land became visible. I saw a lighthouse on the coast--quite probably where Cabo da Roca pointed out to the sea. The plane continued to descend--quite low at this point--and I could see traffic moving on the roads. The landscape started looking mostly like farmland, but quickly turned into an urban mass of a bustling city. A long, narrow strip of water I identified as the Tejo River. At least that's what my map called it. Later, I looked at an English map and it called the river the Tagus River. I liked the local name better. I could say Tejo. It's not a particularly weird or difficult word to say.

The ground looked so European. From the air, I wouldn't have been able to tell if I were over Spain or France or Italy.... they all looked the same to me from the air. I could definitely tell it wasn't England, though, since the cars were driving on the correct side of the road. =)

I'd be hiking the Portuguese Way from Lisbon to Santiago, Spain--nearly 400 miles in all--and I knew the route followed alongside the Tejo River for a few days after leaving Lisbon. I'd be seeing a lot more of this river. I had no companions for this hike, although Amanda planned to join up with me further up the trail near Porto and we planned to hike the trail together the rest of the way. That was still a couple of weeks off, though. For now, I was on my own.

The plane soon landed, and our pilot told us that a British Airways plane had taken our usual gate so we'd have to exit on the stairs then be bused to the terminal. I was near the back of the plane and one of the last people to get off, and I stopped for a couple of seconds to take a photo as I emerged from the plane and was quickly scolded for doing so. Photographs, they told us, were strictly prohibited for security reasons.

Which didn't make any sense to me. It's the outside of a plane. What was so sensitive that we couldn't take photos of it? We just had to look at photos online to see what the outside of the plane looked like. Welcome to Portugal--but don't take photos!

An atrium at the airport after I made it through customs and immigration.

I got in the last of the buses, and we were shuttled to the terminal where I entered a long line of people waiting to get through customs and immigration. The line was long, but I figured it would move quickly as they usually did. That was not to be.

It took nearly two hours for me to work my way to the front of the line. Interminably slow. Europeans had a short line and were whisked through in seconds. Why couldn't they move some of the folks on the European line to help out with the non-European line? Most of the authorities on that other line appeared bored stiff waiting for a European to show up.

I became friends with the people in line near me, like a West Virginian couple ahead of me who had come to Lisbon for a vacuum convention. It was a company-wide thing bringing in employees from all over the globe, but they hoped to do a lot of sightseeing while they were in the area.

I also befriended another fellow about 20 people behind me as we passed each other at each "switchback" in the line. (Is there a name for those sharp U-turns in a long line? Because if there isn't one, I think it should be called a "switchback.") He was from Dublin and joked about needing a lunch service like we had on the plane and that he hoped to "never see me again." Alas, that only lasted for 10 minutes until the next switchback. "Drats. It's you again."

"Can't wait to see you again around the next turn!" I replied.

It was a grueling line. They should have provided restroom breaks along the way. Instead, people would leave the line to go to the restroom and have their new friends in line save their place.

Finally I made it near the end of the line and on the last switchback I told the guy from Dublin that I had had enough of him and that I was now going to leave. =)

The guy at the booth took my passport, asked a couple of questions about how long I planned to be in Portugal and what I was doing there (about a month, to hike the Camino de Santiago from Lisbon). He stamped my passport and gave it back and I was free! I was officially in Portugal!

I looked around for directions to get downtown and found a bus, but it was so crowded, I wasn't able to get on the first bus. Or the second bus. Finally, after what must have been close to an hour after leaving customs and immigration, I squeezed myself onto a bus and headed downtown.

When I arrived in Lisbon, I didn't have a reservation to stay anywhere. It wasn't until my flight was already boarding that I was sure I'd be on it. I had been flying stand-by and the flight was full. There was a good chance I might not have gotten on it for several days. I was pleased I got on, but once I was on the plane, I didn't have a chance to make reservations.

But it's a big city! And September 16th--the off-season, right?

The Golden Tram 247 hostel would eventually become my home for the night. I liked the mural on their wall!

The bus stopped before reaching my stop in downtown because a street was closed and some sort of protest going on, so I had to walk an extra five or six blocks. Not a big deal, though. I walked on a parallel street to avoid the protests and chants. I had no idea what the protests were about, but as long as they weren't protesting Americans or tourists or--worse still--American tourists--I wasn't going to worry myself about them. =)

The first hostel I tried said they were full, but that they had a private room available for 70 euros. "I think not," I told him kindly, and left to try another hostel.

The second hostel also reported being full. This started to concern me a bit. Why are all these hostels already full? It wasn't even late in the evening. It was barely after noon! The folks at this hostel, however, suggested that I try a third one a couple of block away, even taking me to a window and pointing down the street to its location.

So I went to the third hostel, and they too told me they were full. Crap.

However, these nice folks suggested that I could use their Internet to search for a place nearby with availability. I logged in and ran a search and noticed that most places were reported as being full, but one hostel a few blocks away still had some space. Awesome! I made the reservation right then and there online. I didn't want those spaces to fill up during the five minutes it would take me to walk there.

I headed to the fourth hostel of the day--this time, the Golden Tram 242. When I arrived, they weren't ready to admit me saying that the hostel rooms were still being cleaned, but that they'd be ready in another hour or so. I could wait in the common room on the second floor if I wanted to, though, which is exactly what I did. I'd rather have walked around Lisbon a bit or grab something for lunch, but I still had all of my luggage with me which I didn't want to lug around--nor did I want to leave it unattended at the hostel.

Also, realizing I had so much trouble finding a hostel with available space today, it occurred to me that I should probably find something for tomorrow night as well. Just in case.... So I booked the hostel for a second night. Better safe than sorry!

View out the window of the hostel.

An hour later, they were ready to officially book me into the hostel, and I took my bed in a room with nine other beds, half of which already looked occupied but nobody else was in the room at the time. I wanted to go out and get something to eat now, but I was also absolutely exhausted from the flight. Jet lag sucks! I ate a few snacks from my pack, then lay down and immediately fell asleep for two or three hours.

By the time I woke up again, it was late in the afternoon. I emptied my pack of a lot of gear I wouldn't need walking around (sleeping bag, ground sheet, etc.) but kept my valuables like the laptop and headed out to get my bearings. I wanted to find the cathedral in particular--the "official" starting point of the Portugal Camino, which I did--then wandered around a bit near the waterfront.

Near dusk, I stopped for dinner at a pizza place before heading back to the hostel for the night. Tomorrow... my hike would begin!

Catedral Sé--and the "official" starting point for the Portuguese Camino in Lisbon.
Arco Augusta, by the waterfront.
My first sunset in Portugal!
I couldn't stay up all night, though.... I had a trail to start walking tomorrow!


Karolina said...

I am curious how ground can look "European"?

About the hostels being fully booked in September - Lisbon might be one of those cities that are full of tourists no matter the time of the year, where accomodation is booked months in advance. Barcelona and Amsterdam are other examples of such cities.

Ryan said...

Large European cities seem to do a better job of building high-density cities. I could see what seemed like miles of five-story (or so) apartment buildings, which I don't see so much in the United States. In the US, there tend to be tall buildings near the center of town, then flatten out and turn into sprawl the further from the city center one gets. The buildings in the center of European towns don't tend to be as tall, but their heights are more consistent all the way to the edge of town.

And there are other details. More roundabouts can be seen in European cities, cars as a whole are smaller, roads are narrower, etc. Taken all together, it looks European. =)

Rose said...

I'm reading this in 2021, but it brings back memories of when I traveled to Lisbon. My group also spent a long time in the passport control line- nearly three hours! I can identify with seeing the same people in the "switchbacks" and eventually becoming "friends." But other than that it was a fantastic trip- great people, scenery, and food.