Travel memory- Portugal

Just know that while I write this, I’m listening to Springsteen.

It’s balmy in Sydney today, the sun is shining, I can smell spring in the air (it’s the Jasmine. Jasmine = spring) and The Boss just turned 65.

So, naturally, in my head, I’m somewhere else- having a really great time!

It was weather just like this in June 2012, when I was in Lisbon with my music-industry friend attending Rock in Rio (ironic title), headliner: Mr Bruce Springsteen.

Let me take you back…

It’s the long weekend, Bruce is playing on Sunday- so the plan is: Lisbon Saturday, Rock in Rio Sunday, drive up the coast Monday, back down again Tuesday and return to London.

Four days in Portugal hanging out with rock Gods… what does one wear?!


Dinner on Saturday: Black leather dress, black heels, drop silver treble-clef earrings.

Festival: hot pink shorts, black halter, black espadrilles, black floppy hat, faux-fur vest for warmth, and a cross-body party bag.

Road trip: stone coloured shorts, blue jeans, pink-and-white striped button-down shirt, Polo shirt, and a blue blazer. Guess what? It all fits in a carry-on bag!! That’s some epic packing right there.

Booking tickets over to Lisbon proves tricky. The only direct flight is an Easyjet that arrives super late, and is inexplicably expensive- so I end up booking a German Wings flight (yeah, I’d never heard of them either) via Stuttgart. Unfortunately, out of Stansted- the only London airport so far out of town you’re halfway to your destination before you’ve even started.

I’m out the door at 3.30 am making my way to Victoria station for the coach to Stansted, but when I arrive at 4 am- the coach station is closed. Turns out at this time, a nondescript bus stop is the beacon for the National Express coach. Remarkably, it actually does stop there.

Tip: sleep. Stansted is very long way away and there ain’t nothing to see on the way.

The National Express delivers me to the airport with impeccable timing:  I arrive at 5.55 am, check in at 6.15 and still have time to get a coffee, an adapter, and The Hunger Games (because it was 2012 and all the rage).

I’m not going to lie- I barely notice the flight because I’m so absorbed by The Hunger Games. German Wings… probably good? Who knows!! The Hunger Games– most definitely excellent.

My changeover, however, is stupid. There’s no one at the transfer desk to check me in to my next flight. I end up wandering about the airport with my best lost-little-girl look until someone from Lufthansa takes pity on me and checks me into my German Wings flight. Bless them.

Lisbon is warm when I arrive. In my head I swap languages and manage to ask my taxi driver to take me to the Corinthia Hotel. Its 1.30 pm, hours before my friend is due to arrive. I check in to a smart suite with a view of the large stone aqueduct that runs through the city. Lisbon is not pretty. It’s like so many European cities, particularly on the coast, full of ice-cream coloured concrete buildings, uniformly rectangular and weathered looking. “Strange,” I think, “I thought it would be nicer than this.”

My friend’s plane is delayed (Easyjet, amirite?!) but dinner isn’t till 8 pm, so I pick up our Rock in Rio VIP passes from reception, then go for a swim. June in Lisbon means the occasional misting rain from the humidity- but the pool is in doors under a glass roof, and the mist eventually stops.

My friend’s plane is now cancelled (seriously, Easyjet) and he’s on the next- so I have to meet him at the restaurant- Bica do Sapato– owned by John Malkovich (naturally).

From the taxi, the city still seems kind of unremarkable. A beautiful fountain stands in Lisbonthe middle of a roundabout, but nothing else extraordinary makes itself known until we drive out near the water and I’m suddenly zipping through such a monumental palace my jaw drops. So here is the Portugal I expected! The old wealth from generations so long ago, most people have forgotten Portugal was once a force to be reckoned with. The structure towers over me, lemon yellow and huge- but the taxi keeps going, dropping me at what appears to be an industrial building- but quickly turns out to be a series of bars and clubs and restaurants inhabiting what could only have been warehouses at some point.

Bica do Sapato is impressive looking in funky converted-warehouse style, and dinner is lovely. My tiger prawns are so big I think they’re going to stand up on their tails and fight back. In true European style, dinner takes a long time, stretching late into the night. Eventually I can’t stifle my yawns and it’s time for us to go back to the hotel.

Sunday in sunny Lisbon means waking up at 10.30, drinking coffee on the vast patio till 12- then declaring Mojito-O’Clock. When we’re tired of that, it’s lunch at one of The New York Times’ top four restaurants in Lisbon- Cervejaria da Esquina– which looks unassuming and tastes exquisite.

Once we’re stuffed full of seafood it’s time for the festival!

I’ll spare you the details of rocking out all day in the V-VIP tent (though, I’d recommend it to anyone), then watching Bruce from the sound stage; but I will say that Rock in Rio was ludicrous amounts of fun and Springsteen in the greatest performer I have ever seen live. The man is a complete pro. Three hours, he plays, finishing by ringing out a sponge of water on himself and the encore: Twist and Shout. The audience goes nuts, and we do, indeed, twist and shout as fireworks light up the Lisbon sky.

The next day is a slow start. My friend went off to pick up the rent a car; I resume my seat on the couch outside, coffee in one hand, book in the other, my VIP wrist band still floating around my arm.

He finally returns with a little Citroen and we start cruising. There is no way in hell I’m driving in a foreign country- so I’m navigator.

I lead us to Sintra. Sadly, we don’t stop here.Cascais Sintra is the historic heart of Portugal- it has palaces from the 8th century, 17th century, an ancient monastery and a Moorish castle. Even driving past they are beautiful to look at – one day, I’ll come back (you should too). We then back track a little to a place called Cascais, a coastal town that’s polished and beautiful.

We have lunch in an Italian restaurant, on the parapet, overlooking the beach. We wander the shops a little bit. Tourists obviously come here a lot and the stores are mainly tat. It’s a cute little place, and if you’re a beach-y person- a must.

EriceiraAfter we’ve bought a couple of funny little things, we hop back in the car and I instruct us all the way up the coast to a town called Ericeira (pronounced Air-ree-sigh-ra). It turns out this is where the world surfing championships are held; however, appears to be devoid of any hotel over 2 stars.

Before we give up and move on to Mafra, I spot a massive pile by the beach that can be nothing but a hotel. It is massive. Obviously purpose built in the 50s or 60s, it reminds me strongly of the holiday camp Baby goes to in Dirty Dancing.

There is not much to Ericeira – except that it’s super pretty and quaint with excellent beaches and a couple of houses I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on. I suspect if you came here in summer 1. It would be packed, 2. You’d never move from the water and sand.

The next day we go to Mafra to see “The Palace that bankrupted the nation”, otherwise known as Mafra National Palace. Some dude built it in celebration of the birth of his son. It’s baroque and huge. No, wait, wrong word… gargantuan. Titanic. Monumental. Mammoth. Enormous… It’s really, really big. I had to take three photos just to capture the front of it. Like, seriously, it’s really big. The statistics of it seem made up. It’s got a world of silly numbers like 18000 windows, 1500 staircases, a gagillion rooms, so on and so forth. They had to ship gold in from Brazil just to build it. It has a basilica which, it turned out, was the only part open as the rest was under renovation. I imagine its much like Sydney Harbour Bridge- just as you finish painting it, you have to start all over again!

Mafra National PalaceMafra National Palace 2Mafra National Palace 3

We went into the basilica and… oh. It rivals St Paul’s. It’s nothing like St Paul’s, really. St Paul’s is covered in mosaic and gilded to the hilt. This place… this place is marble, top to bottom, inside out, pink and white marble. When you stand under the dome and look up, up, up, your eyes finally rest on the Dove of Peace, flying silently above you. BasilicaIt’s beautiful and tasteful. In every crevice is a flawless marble rendering of a saint. I don’t know all the saints- but I’m pretty sure every one of them is represented. High above the main altar is a marble Christ-On-The-Cross. He is beautiful. There are galleries on different floors speaking of a time when royalty sat here, away from the common crowd. There are no less than six organs. It is perfect. It is a herald. A beautiful work of art dedicated to the love of God. I’m positively weeping, it’s just so beautiful.

We eventually leave, have lunch, and then head down the centre of the country- which is rather unimpressive. We decide on one more coastal town before heading back to Lisbon and go to Oeiras. Glad we did! It’s glorious and we stumble across some eccentricPoseidon Marquis’ house and gardens that takes us the afternoon to bumble around. Whoever this Marquis was, I want to be his friend. He has a folly that was obviously once an extravagant water feature, complete with a marble Poseidon in the centre of it. There’s a rose garden elevated over what was obviously once a series of pools, there are statues and frescoes everywhere… I feel like I wandered into the garden of the Count of Monte Cristo. It’s divine. Time’s ticking on, though, and we have to find our way back to the oddly-positioned rent-a-car place and then inflict torture on ourselves by flying Easyjet back home.

Easyjet was… Easyjet and managed to piss off half the passengers by declaring, just as we’re about to board, there’s no room for our carry-on luggage and we’ll have to pick it up at the terminal. We’re already running 40 minutes late. We arrive about 11 pm. We stand in the passport queue till about midnight. Finally, it’s just the small matter of the Gatwick express, then the bus and a walk home. I make it into my door damn near the hour I left it four days ago.

The holiday is over. Sigh. It felt like a dream.


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