Lisbon; Höstel, by Ikea - complete with insane manager; Custard tarts and the lack thereof; Mosteiro dos Jeronimos; Torre de Belém; Elevators, trams and cable cars; Drunken race for the Elevador de Santa Justa

The hostel we stayed in in Lisbon was a little… odd. It was very new - couldn’t have been older than a year - and completely furnished in Ikea-ware. And when I say completely, I mean it - top to bottom. Beds and bed linen, flatware and cutlery, and all the furniture. It seemed like an extravagant expense for a hostel, where no one really cares very much about the cutlery. The place was spotless and well-equipped (with a Playstation, no less). It was easy to see why it had a 95% approval rating on Really, we should have been overjoyed to stay there for a few nights, but the woman managing the place was weird and insane. She lived there 24/7, spent all her time smoking at the window or cleaning feverishly, and hovered incessantly around us waiting for us to use a dish so that she could wash it, or drop something so she could pick it up. When we buzzed at the front door to be let in she’d wait at the interior door of the hostel, four floors up, turn the light on in the stairs - even in full daylight - and hold the door open until we made it all the way up. She probably be very nice to meet socially but sleep-deprived and passive-aggressive, she created a very claustrophobic and unpleasant environment, not helped by her penchant for grisly, bloodthirsty American crime drama television, which she had on the television constantly. Not my favourite breakfast viewing, I must say.

Our first day in Lisbon consisted of wandering aimlessly and pleasantly through the streets on a museums-and-monuments tour. We made the hike to the Castelo de São Jorge, an old castle perched on top of a steep hill, and decided the admission price wasn’t worth it, so hiked back down. We got gelato, checked out the Mercado da Ribeira, which was closed, and the museum-excavation of a Roman theatre. Finding groceries consumed most of the late afternoon and early evening, and cooking and eating them consumed the rest of the evening, but I got to use some of the spices we bought in Marrakesh.

The second day we had a €15 pass card which covered all public transit and most of the major attractions, so we found and rode the Elevador de Santa Justa, a nineteenth-century wrought-iron elevator six or seven stories tall which has great views. Then we took the train out to the neighbourhood of Belém to see the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and the Torre de Belém. Sheryl was also looking for the famous Belém pasteis da nata (custard tarts) which she found and which were even better than she remembered. I declined, not being a fan of custard in any of its forms.

The Mosteiro (monastery) is a huge and beautiful stone building in the Manueline style, with a lovely vaulted ceiling in the chapel and an excessively-ornamented cloister which was a lot of fun to photograph. The Torre de Belém is a squat stone tower originally used as a battery to control river access to Lisbon. It had nicely restrained stonework which, for mysterious reasons, someone had decided to drape giant garlands of fishing floats over, which made for a truly absurd and hilarious effect.

Lisbon is rich in public transit, and coming back from Belém we decided to try and take as many of them as we could. We took the train back and then rode the Elevador da Bica, which is not an elevator at all but a funicular - a cable-car. It’s very small and cute and we rode it up to the top of the hill and then back down again. After that it was a little electric tram or trolley streetcar to complete the set, and then back to the hostel for dinner and too much sangria.

Before we realized it, the time was twenty-five minutes to eleven, and we’d wanted to ride the Elevador de Santa Justa to see the city views at night, and the last trip up was at quarter to eleven - in five minutes! So we raced frantically and drunkenly through the streets of Lisbon to the foot of the Elevador, only to find that it had been closed for what looked like hours. It’s still a mystery to me - maybe they aren’t observing summer hours yet. We ran up to the top of the hill where there’s a walkway bridge to the top platform of the elevator, hoping we’d be able to get through that way, but it was closed too. But the run wasn’t a loss, because as we sat outside the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo, we were able to listen to a very atmospheric rehearsal of some organ music for an upcoming show, which echoed from the walls of the ruined convent behind.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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