Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Lisbon and home – Days 255 & 256

Our cruise fellow diners
Not quite our final entry on our South and Central American trip as we’ll do one more summarising our impressions of the various countries we visited along with a breakdown and total of what it cost us, including our cruise back to Europe and flight back to Birmingham UK.

After writing the last entry, paying our bill and collecting our passports, we had our last evening dinner in the restaurant of the Monarch, only to find our Spanish fellow diners paid for a cake and a bottle of champagne for all of us, which was a very nice thought. Instead of eight of us on a table for ten as it had been for most of the nights, we were joined by the other couple allocated to our table who had eaten every other night in the buffet. Finally we were a full table, but it was a bit strange that they left it to the last night. Everyone on good form except Jimmy who was really suffering from toothache, he put on a brave face but was clearly in a lot of pain.

We're dancing alone on the floor for Jackies birthday
After dinner we went to the final show, entitled ‘Rock never Dies’, which featured the Monarch resident band, who turned out to be fabulous, playing music from 50’s Rock and Roll to Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ Excellent musicians and a really good show. Have a look at this very short Youtube video I took of the opening bars of Smoke on the Water, featuring one of the male dancers dressed in a tutu and dancing en pointe to it – bizzare or what!

Us on bord with Partick (who we visited the Panama Canal locks with)
Went into the Rendez-Vous bar afterwards, less Jimmy and Jean, where the band were going to continue playing, they did but it was very middle of the road, so after a few numbers (and drinks) we headed for bed after midnight, knowing we had to be up early the next day.

We docked earlier than expected, waking Jackie up at 04:00am, we headed up to early breakfast mayhem at 06:00 and then gathered in the disco bar where we were to wait in groups before leaving the boat. We were really pleased to see Jimmy and Jean in there waiting to bid us farewell, Jimmy had had almost no sleep with his toothache and was hoping to find a dentist to take it out. The whole process of disembarkation was smooth and well run, we were led off, showed our passes for the last time to be electronically checked out, walked into customs where our baggage was waiting already cleared through and out into the sunshine of lovely Lisbon.

Waiting for the walking tour at Praca Luis de Camoes
Taxis were in short supply but we found one after a short walk and arrived at our hostel, very near the airport, the Lisbon Cosy Hostel. The taxi driver had never heard of it and didn’t know the address, but I had it marked on my smartphone, using the map on my Navmii satnav app (an absolute must and we can thoroughly recommend). He followed the directions it gave and we got there safely.

It was quite a nice hostel, but check in was at 3:00pm and there was no way we were getting in sooner (it was only about 9:30am), so we logged into the internet, caught up with emails, did the last blog entry and sat there spaced out through lack of sleep and too much alcohol the night before. We thought that on this cruise we would be able to avoid jet lag, but it’s funny how we could undo all that by over indulging the night before!

Lisbon from the Miradourode Sao Pedro de Alcantara. The fort on the hill is not ancient, it was built only 76 years ago by the Portugese facist dictator
The Elevador da Gloria
Anyway, we forced ourselves out to join the 2:00pm free walking tour of Lisbon, which meant we had to catch a bus back into the centre, getting exact instructions from the Hungarian owner (his wife is a local from Lisbon). After travelling along the seafront back past our cruise ship, giving it a final wave goodbye, we ended up at the bus station, grabbed some lunch in a take away café and joined the group of about 12 of us for the tour. The guy leading it was very good, but neither of us were really in the mood and lack of sleep was really taking its toll. We did learn a lot from him though, did you know that Lisbon is the second oldest city in Europe? No-one guessed that the oldest is not Rome, but Athens, or so he said. So Lisbon is older than Rome!

The Igreja de Sao Roque, which may look a bit boring on the outside...
After about two hours we decided enough was enough when we stopped at a bar very close to the bus station we needed to get back to the hostel and he told us the last half hour would be in the opposite direction. We gave him a tip and headed off, catching the bus back, finally checking into our room, taking a shower and heading out to a local restaurant the owners had recommended, Nico Grilo. We had the Portugese speciality of sardines which were delicious, washed down with a couple of beers and headed off to bed.

But inside it's very ornate. All the alcoves and the altar are decorated in gold, most of them in gold leaf, but the one you can see to the left of the altar is solid gold and cost more than the whole of the cathedral. It was built in Rome so it could be blessed by the pope and then shipped to Lisbon in three ships. I've forgotten just how much money he said it cost and what its worth today, but it's a huge sum of money, many, many millions of Euros!
Our guide explaining why the doorway is low (people used to be shorter!)
Up at 07:30am, breakfast at 08:00 in the hostel and then an Uber taxi to the airport. The flight was scheduled for 10:40 and we were herded onto the plane early, ready to take off before 10:30, this must be a good sign we thought, but no. The English captain came on the intercom to say that, although we were ready, French air traffic controllers were on a ‘go-slow’ and the earliest spot he could get for us was an hour and a quarter away, so we sat on the tarmac, hemmed into economy seats going no-where! Finally we got away and had a good two hour twenty minute flight back to Birmingham. We landed, taxied round to the terminal, stopped and then taxied off again and round the apron a couple of times before coming to a stop on the other side of the airport well away from buildings. “You may have noticed we’ve been taxiing round the airport for a while” the captain announced, “that’s because there was an aircraft parked in the bay we were directed to. They have no idea why it is there and can give me no indication of when it might leave, so we’ve come here”. A while later he told us that Swissport, who operate the ladders and baggage handling, were not answering their phone, so he couldn’t tell us how long we’d have to wait, but he would keep trying. Ten minutes or so later he told us he had now had contact with Swissport, told them where we were and they would send equipment in five minutes, but “knowing what they are like it will be more like ten or fifteen minutes” he said in a very apologetic and frustrated voice.

The Elevador de Santa Justa
It all eventually arrived and we disembarked the aircraft about two hours later than we should have done, hoping that Abi, who was collecting us, hadn’t got a parking ticket for overstaying her 1 hour permit.

It all worked out and we got back to her house and collected the secondhand car she had found and collected for us. Lots of work for her but we are very appreciative of her efforts. In no time we were back in the groove of things and, already it seems as though we’ve hardly been away. Oh well, let’s start planning the next trip! 

This is actually the entrance to the main railway station
Arrivig back at Birmingham airport

And finally back to Birmingham and little Sooty cat, who we'll be housesitting for once owner Abi heads off on her holidays

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