Lisbon – 17th November 2018
It was around 6pm in Barcelona, I had just reached Meeting point hostel after a busy day at CEM Olympic. I had 4 days to go as far as I could and travel as much as I could before catching my flight back to Lahore. I had spent close to a month planning this trip. Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, was the first city on my itinerary.
Portugal is a very interesting country with a very unique course of historic development. It was home to the most sophisticated and technologically advanced explorers and navigators of the discovery age. The likes of Henry the Navigator, Christopher Columbus and Vasco De Gamma helped Portugal become a Global superpower in the 15th century. The Iberian Peninsula has had complicated regional dynamics with Portuguese and Spanish national ideologies competing for dominance over the centuries.
After much struggle we managed to buy a ticket to Lisbon on the first flight that departed in the morning. We got back to our hostel to pack up our stuff; I found it really challenging to keep everything while ensuring that my backpack didn’t weight more than 7 kg. I was flying to Lisbon on Air Portugal but my following flights from Seville to Madrid and Madrid to Barcelona would be on Ryan Air. Budget airlines in Europe are cheap but they only allow you 7kg, if you exceed that you have to pay extra and I was in no mood of doing that. I got a quick dinner from the Turkish restaurant at the corner of the street. I decided to take a little nap before my flight. This nap turned out to be a nightmare. I had planned to wake up at 2:30 am and leave for airport by 3am. Our flight would take off at 6 am and I gave myself good 2 hours to reach the airport because I was not really sure about the route. However, I woke up around quarter past three. My friend Zohaib would be traveling with me, I dialed his number and it turned out that he was asleep too. I called him several times but to no response. Time was running out so I rushed to the reception downstairs and asked the receptionist to give me the card key to Zohaib’s room. He was reluctant at first but he gave it to me eventually, he was from Argentina and working part-time at the hostel and studying at the University of Barcelona. Thankfully I had done some bonding with him a night before over Argentinian tennis player Juan martin Del Potro. Our mutual love for Del Potro was definitely a major factor for him to accommodate me. I rushed to Zohaib’s room, woke Zohaib up and 10 mins later we were walking out of our hostel.
It was 3:30 in the morning, the streets were empty and though the beach was far away, I could feel the cold sea breeze sweeping through the city. It had rained a little in the night so the air was chilly. The public transport becomes less frequent during late hours of the night so we had to ensure that we got on the bus because the next bus would come after a 20 min interval. Google maps is so helpful and it makes you respect the people who traveled across the world before the advent of internet and Google. After switching a couple of buses we reached the airport in time. At terminal 1 of the Barcelona Airport, we got our boarding passes and checked in with half an hour to spare.
Before leaving, I had done a very extensive research on Lisbon. I knew I wanted to go to Belem Tower, Jeronimos monastery, parça do comèrcio, Rossi Square, 25 de Abril bridge, Alfama and Padrao dos Descobrimentos. However, I didn’t know to cover them lol in the limited time. So I spent my hour at the airport reading a lot of blogs on Lisbon’s public transport and figuring out the shortest routes to every spot. A week before leaving Pakistan, my friend Mustafa Hamayun had gifted me a customized pocket diary, I wrote down every piece of info in that little pocket-sized diary. You see how I put gifts to good use. If I could cover all these places in the fourteen hours I had in Lisbon, it would truly be an incredible feat.
*Pro tip: if you are traveling to Lisbon, buy the 6 euro unlimited transport card. It’s valid for 24hrs and covers all buses, metros, trams etc.
We landed in a Lisbon after a 2 hour flight. It was around 8am and the Sun had still not risen, early hours of the morning are always cold, and our first few hours in Lisbon were no exception. We bought the transport ticket and by now I had read enough to get a basic idea of the transport system in the city. Lisbon has four metro lines: pink, yellow, green and blue. We took the Red metro from Aeroporto to Oriente. At Oriente we bought a night bus ticket to Seville that left Lisbon at 10pm. Now we were bound to return to Oriente by 10pm to catch our bus to Seville. All the tourist places were a good one hour away from Oriente. So we got back on the Red line metro, switched to the green line at Alameda station and then took a bus from Cais Do Sodre to Belem tower. We had reached our spot one of seven in Lisbon. Instant satisfaction!
On the tram to Belem Tower I googled and came across an amazing free walking tour of Alfama neighborhood at 3pm. The walking tour started from the Lisbon castle, and I had to get to castle by 2:50 to catch the walking tour. Thanks to Lums, by now I have gotten used to deadlines and although these bus and tour deadlines look intimidating they are not as bad as the deadlines we face in Lums every week. This was a free walking tour, and the website said that our tour guide would be standing outside conquista souvenir shop with a blue umbrella.
The Belem Tower was built-in 1514 to enhance defenses of the city at the mouth of the Tagus river. It is also a UNESCO world heritage side. It is said that the Tower was built in the center of the river, however, the river was redirected after the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake.
We took a walk around the beautiful monastery, due to shortage of time we didn’t go inside, however, if you have ample time I would recommend you to see it from the inside. It’s an absolute beauty. The structure has been an integral part of Portuguese history for the last 5 centuries. It was the burial-place for royals and is famed for being the place where Vasco Da Gamma spent the night before leaving for his expedition to the orient.
Next, we walked to the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, which was 15 mins away from the Bellem Tower. This iconic structure represents the golden age of Portugal during the discovery age when Portugal was a naval power house with extremely sophisticated navigation machinery. We paid 3 euros for an 11 euro entry ticket, thanks to Zohaib.
*Pro tip: Most entry tickets in Portugal and Spain give you discounts if you are a student and under the age of 25. Always avail those.
We went on the top of the structure. Good panoramic views of the city and strong breeze make it absolutely worth every single penny of the three euros.
We got on the tram again; our 6 euro transport ticket was doing wonders. We missed our stop but somehow the tram ended up at the exact location that we intended to reach, the famous Arc Augusta of Lisbon. The Arc was constructed in 1755, the same year as that of the great Lisbon Earthquake to celebrate the reconstruction of the city. It’s a good photo place and you should definitely visit it if you are in the city.
Our Alfama tour had to start at 3pm and we were going in time. We still had an hour or so, everything was under control but we were extremely hungry. We put the time to good use and took a walk around the arc. We randomly ended up in a street that had a crazy elevation. In the entire struggle, we somehow ended up at a halal Indian restaurant named India Palace. Maybe I was too hungry or maybe their butter chicken was too good but I loved that butter chicken. It was absolutely beautiful. I have never had butter chicken like that before. Khoka Cola’s butter chicken in Islamabad comes close though.
After lunch we walked through the beautifully paved streets all the way to the top to Lisbon castle where our guide was waiting for a guided tour of Alfama neighborhood. He was an interesting guy; he had just completed his masters in Portuguese literature and was a native of Alfama. His English was pretty good; he had spent a semester studying in England. Great guy! Most of the historical references mentioned earlier are what he told me.
Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon, in that aspect it’s the Old Lahore of Lisbon. The neighborhood was designed during Muslim Moorish rule. In fact the word Alfama itself comes from the Arabic word of Al Hama, which means hot fountains. Portuguese language has borrowed a lot of Arabic words. Pretty much most of the words starting from ‘Al’ are borrowed from Arabic, testimony to the eight hundred years of Muslim rule on Spain and Portugal. Our tour guide was an interesting guy and he knew a lot about Portuguese history. After the tour ended and other tourists started to depart, I asked our tour guide if he was free and would like to discuss Portuguese history, culture, politics and tradition with me over a cup of tea in one of those fancy road side cafes. He had to get to a family dinner, he was in a hurry; however, he asked me if we could walk together till the bus stop, I didn’t mind that. The next 30 mins, as we walked through the beautifully paved streets around Arc Da Augusta in the drizzle despite the cold November breeze from the Tagus River were the most insightful thirty minutes of my whole trip. He told me a very interesting thing that day, if you ever take a close look at a primary school geography book in any country you will be surprised to see how every world map in that book shows that particular country as the center of the world as a result everyone thinks that they are center of the world. Interesting perspective. He further told me details about the Great Lisbon Earthquake (1755), the fascist Estado Novo (second republic) regime that lasted from 1932-1974, the influence of Moors on Portuguese culture and the impact of Portugal’s pursuit for naval supremacy in the 15th century on the world in general.
It was getting dark and cold and the rain had also picked up pace. I had a beautiful raincoat that I carried throughout the trip. The rain coat was beautiful because it developed holes in it right after the first rain in Barcelona, so I had to wear it in such a way that those holes were always in the opposite side from where the wind was blowing. A lot of calculations went in wearing my rain coat, it was quite an adventure. We started our walk to the bus stop at the city Arc da Augusta. By now we were quite tired after walking through the city all day and we needed a good, solid dinner before we boarded our overnight bus to Seville. Our quest to find a nice desi restaurant took us to different corners of the city, we got lost we found our way and the cycle repeated multiple time till we finally ended up in a Bengali neighborhood somewhere around Martim Moniz metro station. After enjoying Portuguese cuisine all day, it was nice to taste some east Pakistani/Bengali cuisine. We had dinner, recitation of the Quran played in the background and all walls were painted with names of Allah, everything looked nice but really out of place.
By now the rain had stopped so we rushed to the metro station and reached our bus station. We were sitting outdoors, it was the coldest day of my life and reminded me of the time when I made the mistake of walking out of a ferry in Davenport, Tasmania at 5 am wearing a hoody to discover that it was almost zero degrees. Thankfully, this time it was not zero degrees and I was carrying a couple of layers of clothing. I wore everything I had, it was funny because my backpack only had an Ipad in it. Despite the cold breeze from Pacific and cold November night I put my head against the bench and slept for a good hour till the bus came, it was the most comfortable nap I had ever taken thanks to four layers of clothing I had on. While I was asleep I could hear the conversation that Zohaib was having with another man, the guy was from Pakistan and working at farm 200km from Lisbon. He was also traveling to Barcelona and was waiting for his bus just like us. He told us that he was from Faisalabad in Pakistan with a nostalgic tone. After listening to him for a while you could tell how discontent he was despite earning pretty well, he was discontent with his Portuguese employer and salary which was low according to him. He had some complications with his documents in the embassy and he sounded quite worried for them. He too was wearing a couple of layers of sweaters and jackets. It was quite cold after all, but what made the night colder was his perspective of living in this country. Portugal was far more developed than Pakistan, but I can say with certainty that this man would trade Portugal’s prosperous promises with anyone to get back to Faisalabad to his friends and family. Maybe he was in Portugal, and he was working very hard in the outskirts of Lisbon with all his physical might, his mind was busy figuring out a way to make more money in Portugal, his eyes had seen the ‘Portuguese dream’ that this country offered but his heart remained in the bazaars of Faisalabad. He was physically present in Europe but a part of him stayed back in his hometown and perhaps it will always stay back there in form of his culture, language, traditions, cuisine, music and family. None of which were available to him at that lonely farm in the outskirts of Lisbon. It was on that extremely cold night, as my back rested against the bench at the bus station not too far away from the point where Targus River met the Pacific ocean that I realized the importance of homeland.