OK, OK. I know what you think. “What’s with the new look of the blog?”.
Take a deep breath:
The theme I was using up until now is a legacy theme that is not entirely compatible with blogger.com’s new frameworks, which means that some features I wanted to add couldn’t be added. The new theme standards adheres to a different XML schema, allowing blogger.com’s advanced functionalities such as support for newer widgets, deep integration with Facebook and such. While I could have worked on adapting the old theme to the new blogger.com standards, it would have taken quite a while. So I did my best by downloading a new compatible theme and adjusting it.
If your level of understanding in Web programming is equivalent to my level of understanding of women, then you probably didn’t understand anything of the nonsense above; well, you asked for it. If you have suggestions about colors etc, let me know; otherwise, get over it.
Anyway. The morning after the Córdoba fiasco I woke up to a much‐desired day off. I had a train reservation for 12:30pm, arriving Madrid at 2:30pm; then somehow get to the airport, for a flight to Lisbon leaving 5:45pm arriving 6:00pm (Lisbon is GMT).
Slow morning and I didn’t get out of bed before 10:00pm. Checked‐out and went for a local cafe for breakfast—well, if you can call it “breakfast”. Yet another Bocadillo with some unrecognized meat inside it. Disappointed, went to the Jewish part there into some place called “Juda Levi Cafe” for some hot sandwich and respectable ice‐cream to finish.
Altogether, so far, the Spanish cuisine (or what I had the chance to sample from it) is quite disappointing. Having chatted since then with friends in Canada, who happened to have travelled Spain before, I realized that I’m not the only one who considers the Spanish cuisine a bit… well… Strange.
Hopefully I’ll get to try better Spanish food over the last four days of the tour.
Took the taxi to the train station, the usual pre‐boarding luggage screening and off to Madrid; Madrid has two main railway stations—Madrid Atocha was my destination (I think it’s the bigger one of the two); from there, a short Cercanias ride (one stop), then hop on the metro all the way to Madrid Barajas Airport, terminal 4—arriving almost 3 hours before the flight’s scheduled time.
Madrid’s Bajaras Airport is a huge, huge airport. It has four terminals, and the terminal I was at had, I believe, more than 100 gates. Convenient enough to get around, though; it’s properly signed and it’s hard to get lost in here. I decided to walk to the gate and simply park my ass there until the flight, then I realized that my flight has been delayed by an hour and no gate has been determined yet.
Long, long stay at the airport; had the opportunity to sample yet another cup of coffee, which was when I finally concluded: whatever the Spanish call “coffee” is not coffee at all. While at first I thought I had been unlucky, I later realized that I can’t be unlucky so many times in a row. I can’t believe I am saying this, but hey, even Canada’s coffee is better.
Fortunately the one‐hour delay was the last announced delay; boarded the flight—one of the narrowest, most uncomfortable aircrafts I ever been on, with my knees actually touching the seat in front of me—took off, and arrived at Lisbon one hour later, fifteen minutes after enjoying magnificent views of Lisbon’s metro area from above.
Portugal, like Spain, is another country I was a bit suspicious about travelling to. I knew less about Portugal than I knew about Spain; in fact, I didn’t even know anybody who ever travelled to Portugal. Also, like so many other imbeciles, I was led to believe that the two countries (Spain and Portugal) don’t differ much.
Lisbon (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisbon) is Portugal’s largest, as well as capital city. 2.8 million people live in its metro area, making it the 12th largest metro area in the European Union. It is also one of the oldest cities in the world. Unfortunately, due to my somewhat questionable physical condition (very tired) as well as schedule, I didn’t get much time to explore the city, but I will return.
An airport bus for €3.50 takes you to the city centre—less than eight kilometres away, stopping in a few popular places along the way. My hotel, 4‐star HF Fenix Urban, was located right at the city centre—and with the hot weather outside, I was happy to arrive at a temperature‐controlled area. Quick check‐in and I laid on the bed, happy to finally be at my destination after a long day of travel.
At night, I decided that it’s about time for a proper meal. Hell, it’s a day off; I should be able to get something to eat, regardless of what time restaurants open here. Dressed up, went downstairs; the hotel’s receptionist recommended a place called Zeno, for fine Italian food, located about 10 minutes walk from the hotel.
On my way there, I was already impressed with what Lisbon has to offer. One thing Lisbon has many of is statues and monuments—especially at the city centre area, as well as the touristic areas to the south, by the river. My route involved crossing a giant roundabout called Marquês de Pombal:
—then walking down an avenue that appeared to be one of the main avenues in Lisbon. Quite a few statues and monuments along the way, looking brilliant with all the lights around.
Arrived at the restaurant, which appeared classy. Quick service, but very expensive in Lisbon terms: €18 for soup and pizza. Was it good? Well, better than anything I had in Spain that’s for sure, but still left much to be desired.
Oh my Lord, do I miss Italy or what.
Back to the hotel…
… and off for a great night sleep.
Throughout my first few hours in Lisbon, I tried to absorb as much “Portuguese air” as I could. Well, I was, indeed, surprised. People in Lisbon—the capital city, and also the busiest—appear to be much less aggressive, somewhat quieter. More polite, that’s for sure. They are less likely to interfere with your personal space, which, for me, meant the world.
I was happy to be there.
The next morning I woke up in quite the peculiar way. I woke up in all sorts of ways before, but I guess that one was a first.
At some point, I guess it was around 8:00am, I was in the middle of some intense dream; I cannot recall the entire plot of the dream, but what I can recall is this: at the end of it, I was at the presence of some vicious dude. There was some dialogue between us, a really unpleasant one; somehow, for some reason, I felt a very strong need to slap the son‐of‐a‐bitch. That in itself is very peculiar as I have never in my life initiated any sort of a physical fight.
I remember the situation being very intense; I think I felt threatened, that’s why. I remember planning the slap—which direction it should come from, at what angle, velocity and so on. Due to the position of the figures in the dream, I figured that the quickest way would be a slap with the back of my hand.
And so I built energy within me, and at the moment that felt most appropriate, I slapped the villain a slap that, had he been real, would probably never recover from.
And that was when I woke up. The dream was so intense that the slap was actually real—however, instead of slapping an imaginary villain, I slapped a much more tangible wooden frame of a bed‐side lamp, conveniently located above my head and to the right. The result: a somewhat crooked lamp frame, that took some convincing to restore to its original posture. Oh, and quite a bit of pain in my right hand.
As you could guess, it’s pretty tough remaining asleep after such an incident. I woke up instantly, the back of my hand hurts like shit, realized what happened and I couldn’t stop laughing. Initially I thought about calling reception, explain the incident, apologize and offer to pay for any damage—but what stopped me from doing so was my imagination of the poor receptionist’s face once I tell him / her about this unusual turn of events… Can you even imagine this?
“Hi, this is Isaac from 106… Errr… Ahh… (whisper) oh it’s so embarrassing (stop whisper)… I accidentally slapped the living shit out of one of the lamp frames… now, what time did you say breakfast is served?”
Doesn’t sit well, does it.
Quick shower, went for good breakfast at the hotel and off to explore the city.
The avenue I ended up walking the night before on my way to the restaurant turned out to be Av. da Liberdade—indeed, a major avenue in Lisbon leading to the old city area. That area, Rossio Square being its major point of attraction, is very pretty and is considered to be a top touristic attraction. Scores of tourists flocked the streets, temperatures being too high for me to feel human with.
While Lisbon’s old town is indeed a pretty area, it looks somewhat worn down. You are not going to find the breathtaking beauty of Prague here, or the romantic atmosphere of Budapest at night; you will find, however, lots of statues, monuments, squares and fountains. The true beauty of Lisbon, so I have later learned reading about it, is actually outside the city centre / old‐town area.
As this is one of Lisbon’s main touristic areas, there are quite a few gift‐shops and a striking number of street peddlers approaching you and trying to sell you something—be it cigars, spices and I’m pretty sure someone did try to sell me marijuana.
So far, I learned an important law in travel into tourist places: when someone approaches you, it is always for your money.
Lisbon is a relatively wealthy city (10th richest in the European Union, judging by GDP); however, prices here are low relatively to other major European cities. As in most touristic areas around the world, walking down the streets you can’t avoid encountering a few unpleasant sights of beggars doing everything to attract your attention. Lots of locals also tend to gather together around benches in the various squares, shooting the breeze, passing the time with the look in their eyes showing quite a bit of desperation.
Restaurants abound, most of which are tourist traps. The Portuguese are very strong in pastries, it turns out—and restaurants offering pastries / desserts / coffee are usually well‐populated with tourists.
One restaurant there was very big on seafood. Look at that:
I ended up sitting at an Italian restaurant that offered interesting items for prices not requiring anybody to sell their house. A Quattro Stagioni pizza and I was set to go and explore a bit more.
Hopefully this next picture won’t make you as dizzy as it makes me: the ceiling of one of the arches at the entrance to the old city. The building is called, I believe, Praça do Comércio.
And both sides—
Exiting the old city towards the river (I originally thought it’s a sea and maybe I should go for a swim, but the hotel receptionist told me that it’s not a brilliant idea to swim there. Pollution is one thing, the risk of being run over by ships is another), you come across a huge square with a brilliant monument at its centre. It’s called Terreiro Paço: Here’s a picture taken from the back of the monument—I was facing the river at that point.
Turning around to face the old city again, as well as the statue:
The day before, as the airplane approached Lisbon’s airport, I noticed a brilliant statue located at the edge of the river. It was the Cristo‐Rei (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cristo-Rei)—a monument of Jesus Christ overlooking Lisbon. From above, with perfect visibility, it looked fantastic and dramatic; as I was walking the city, though, smog level was too high.
The heat started feeling even worse so I began making my way back. Stopped for a while at Pastelaria Suíça, a place to which I got a lead from Leslie, a reader of this blog whom I had met two years ago in Florida. Pastel de Nata (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastel_de_nata), a common pastry in Portugal, is served here and is delicious. Thanks Leslie for the tip!
Back to the hotel and I started feeling very tired. Before coming to Lisbon, I had plans set with Goretti, a Mark Knopfler fan who has been following this blog, to meet‐up for dinner before the show. Had slightly less than an hour for a massive nap; go dressed, off to the subway and arrived at Campo Pequeno about two hours before the show’s scheduled start time.
Campo Pequeno (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campo_Pequeno_bullring) is a small indoor bullring. It dates back to 1892, located about a mile north of the old city and is very pretty from the outside.
markknopfler.com ticket pickup was a breeze however I came across something rather disturbing (for me). I neglected to realize that all shows in Spain (except for Barcelona) are in bullrings, and bought tickets for reserved seating wherever possible. Alas, for concerts, most bullrings are organized in such way that the ground (where the bull actually runs and ends up dying; I’m in the opinion that this is a bit too cruel a “sport”) is used for general‐admission, while the reserved seating is actually on the terraces—around the arena.
The immediate consequence of this is that I rather unlikely to watch the band perform up close & personal anymore, except for the remaining general admission shows (Santiago de‐Compostela and Gredos) in which my location will be determined by factors mostly beyond my control so I can’t know.
Well, what can you do.
Met Goretti, her husband and two kids outside the venue and they were nice enough to buy me dinner in one of the restaurants located right beneath the venue (there are a few restaurants surrounding the venue itself). After a tasty steak & egg dinner, the hot temperature started to become a burden on us all so we spent some time outside the venue, entering about 15 minutes before the concert’s scheduled start time.
My reserved seat was of the worse ones in this tour: first row (of the terraces), all the way to the right. As right as you can go; seat number 1. The family of four had seats at the centre, by the stairs. Funny how things work out—Goretti’s husband apparently has very low patience towards heat and decided that he’d need the ability to travel during the concert, so I took his seat and he embarked on a journey, watching the concert from all over the place.
The soundboard was to my immediate right:
Surprisingly, no anti‐video and anti‐mobile‐phone notice has been voice, however I’m pretty sure that it would be of little use anyway… Unfortunately, there appears to be a very weak correlation between having the statement voiced and the obedience by the audience. The show, then, started about fifteen minutes past the schedule time, at 9:45pm.
The bullring being a rather small, covered venue meant, right from the start, that we’re about to experience something very loud—which we did. Not just the music, of course; the audience, cheering insanely before and after each song (sometimes even during), was also responsible for the high decibels. We had a good concert, with a setlist identical to that of the previous concert.
Sorry for the relatively low quality of the pictures; I’m telling you, sitting at the back…
Something awfully wrong must have happened to Mark’s Stratocaster during Border Reiver’s outro section, just as he was going to do the final solo for the last few bars, ending the song; Mark started playing, and what came out was… how to say… of questionable beauty. More annoying dissonances are tricky to imagine, and he seemed to be very surprised. Took about a fraction of a second pause, then tried again—no good.
Even from the distance I could recognize the look of “what for fuck’s sake” on his face, as he stopped playing (the band continued), held the guitar in both hands and stared at the guitar’s bridge for a second or two. My guess is that a string (or two) went completely out of tune. Anyway, the show must go on and within a few seconds the song was over, with Mark gesturing the end of the song with his fists, as he used to do at the beginning of the tour. This time, however, he was holding the Strat. I’m pretty sure he was tempted to fling it onto the floor and stump on it.
On we went for an Hill Farmer’s Blues that featured an outro solo that was far more elaborate than usual. Quite a few notes have been struck during that solo, in all sorts of keys. Very interesting; I can recall it happening once or twice before.
Was good to see the backdrop again…
And after deafening cheers post‐Sultans of Swing, the stage was ready for Done with Bonaparte. As Mike & John started playing the pipes and the violin, something sounded very strange—as if one of the instruments was detuned or something (can pipes be detuned? Frankly I have very little idea how pipes work). Anyway, at least one of the two was maybe 1/4 of a tone off.
(Or maybe John’s left hand was too sweaty)
Anyway, it went away once the entire band started playing.
Marbletown followed, keeping the trend of turning the Marble‐Jam more and more “aggressive”. I don’t know, something in my ear just resists that; I prefer the quieter performances—having said that, though, a quiet jam‐session wouldn’t be heard at all due to the constant noise at the venue.
Very loud cheers to the band between encores; Piper to the End sealed the show as usual…
And look at this mass of cheers:
Show ended at around 11:00pm.
Goretti’s family sat down for a drink outside the venue; I planned to join them, but quickly realized that I must get some sleep before the next day’s early flight to Santiago de‐Compostela; I was already very tired, so I thanked them all for everything and left. Thanks, Goretti, for everything and say hi to the family for me!
Back to the hotel and went immediately to sleep, which explains the delay in this post.
Signing‐off this post from my hotel room in Santiago de‐Compostela. Flying from Lisbon to Barcelona and then to Santiago de‐Compostela, my luggage has been lost somewhere along the way. With the crazy schedule I have to adhere to, I doubt whether I’ll see my luggage any time soon; won’t go into much details but, without having my luggage back soon, I may be forced to go back to Canada much sooner than planned, perhaps before the tour ends.
Hoping for the best… But expecting the worst,