Saturday, July 30, 2005


Despite the fact that over 200 million people speak Portuguese as their first language I must admit that my knowledge of this second Iberian nation does not stretch very far. I have heard of the explorer Vasco de Gama and of course that a Lisbon politician is now President of the European Commission. At school I was taught that it was the Portuguese Kings who refused sponsorship to Christopher Columbus and I have read that the country gained EU membership in 1986. I also know of Figo, Costa and Euro 2004. Then of course there was Glasgow Celtic 2 - 3 FC Porto.... but that is about it.

As you can easily ascertain, I may live in neighbouring Spain but I remain completely ignorant of the Portuguese culture and people. What is more, I am inclined to think that I am not alone in that most Spanish people are hardly aware that Portugal exists. In my time in Madrid I have never seen a Spanish News report nor been part of a conversation concerning this side of the peninsula border.

And so without a notion of what to expect I arrived in Lisbon at six o clock this morning after a six hour bus journey from Madrid. I am here but a few hours but I can happily say that I have been more than pleasantly surprised. Having taken the Metro from the spectacular bus station I arrived up into what seems to be the main city plaza (Praca de Figuera) and set about finding accomodation. Naturally given the early hours it was a slow process of trekking the city cobbles and visiting numerous pensions only to receive the usual uncertain "pre-checkout time" responses. However given the charm of both the streets and the city's early risers it was an enjoyable intoduction to the small capital city. Searching for budget accomodation in Lisbon is merely a question of finding the right price as luxury is not for sale. In end I found a double room with a balcony overlooking the main square at a cost of 30 euros a night. My accomodation is basic, bright, spacious and clean.

Since then I have done nothing but lazily wander the narrow streets from the city centre to down as far as the sea front. I am very impressed by the feel of the city and the friendliness of the people. I am seeing at first hand how Portugal is surely the poorer of the longer established EU member states. Amazingly in the main square there are numerous boarded up vacant premises and certainly judging by their outward appearance most city centre buildings are in serious need of restoration. Certainly no European tiger economy has yet hit the Lisbon Townhall, with plastic water pipes running along the street edges and most elevators lacking doors. However none of the above is to be taken as criticism but rather observation. The city is fresh and bursting with character.

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