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Part 3 and 4 – “Driving to Lisbon on the Week of My Birthday”
By Hill Roberts

Part 3:

My husband and I were surprisingly quiet in the car. He knew that the long drive ahead was going to be straightforward and his navigational skills were not needed for the time being. I gave myself the enormous task of driving the length and breadth of two countries, and I wasn’t going to feel sorry for myself after having made a huge decision to do it. I mean, who else is going to substitute for me when my husband has given up driving for ten years? Three more tolls and more euros to shell out. John was getting annoyed with the toll fees we had to pay. I think this was his biggest complaint! I must admit we had some shouting matches in the car, too, but I don’t need to explain it here, hahaha!

My tired eyes were getting bleary. “We’re nearly there,” John said quietly. “Yes, another mile and it’s back to civilisation!” I told him while putting my foot down for some speed. The receding hills gave way to a fabulous view of the historical bridge with some factories and houses with red roofs lining the hills and valleys. At last! I gasped with some excitement. Before I knew it, I was on the red suspension bridge, a 3.2 km stretch, rather narrow and bumpy because of a special surface they put over a long period. Still, it was quite an experience. I mean, is there another Filipino woman who has driven this far and straight through this great bridge into Lisbon? I think not, I told myself with some strange satisfaction. Switching lanes wasn’t advisable since we needed to find the signs, and staying in the inside lane was the best option for drivers unfamiliar with the city.

Marques de Pombal was the city centre we were told to look for, if ever we got lost. We didn’t. Driving through the modern part of Lisbon was OK. I was concentrating too much on the traffic ahead and the huge roundabout with a big monument right in the middle of the business district, which was my main landmark if I ever got lost. The whole avenue of the city centre is tree-lined; in fact, Lisbon is very leafy and pleasant. The modern part of Lisbon was only built in the 80s, but I wasn’t keen to walk around that part of the city. But back to my driving… Parking was difficult. We stopped for more directions and for where we could find a hotel. The Portuguese we asked didn’t speak English so we had to make do with sign language and broken Spanish words; Portuguese do understand some Spanish words. Anyway, as I drove away, I took the wrong turn and found myself too far away from the city centre and into a maze of hilly cobbled streets. For three hours, I drove around the old, hilly parts of Lisbon where trams ply and where I got stuck behind them.

Part 4 (Last Part):

I was tired but remained patient. Yes, I blamed John for insisting on leaving the main avenue. Of course, no one was to blame. We were both too tired to remember or think and finding ourselves in a city where the locals didn’t speak a word of English was bad enough for those who have driven all day. Still, with true Pinay grit, I carried on driving and passed through one of the ancient neighbourhoods called Chiado and asked for directions. At last! A young Portuguese man came to our rescue. He gave us directions in perfect English and we were so grateful. The Portuguese police were of no use to me since none of them spoke English and I didn’t speak Portuguese. “Good luck, Madam!” the young Portuguese added as we said our goodbyes, right in the middle of a cobbled road. The Portuguese, I must admit, are a very polite, very patient, and very peaceful people. I have come to really like them, just like the reserved French—a misunderstood people—who are genuinely warm once you get the hang of their misconstrued snobbishness. 

After driving up and down the cobbled hilly ancient town, I managed to find myself in another leafy avenue, thinking it was the same avenue. I was wrong. I found a layby and parked the car  in front of a seven-storey hotel. A nice, well-dressed young man advised us to lock up the car well when he saw us parking it. We thanked him and he gave us a wide, sincere smile. We crossed the road and upon reaching the reception, found the staff ready to tell us that there was no room available—not even for one night. “What?” I asked, exasperated and too tired to raise my voice. “Sorry, Madam. All hotels in Lisbon are full,” he said politely. “Why?” “Lisbon is fully fact, the city’s hotels are fully-booked. We have this big delegation of scientists. There is an international convention on science…” My husband and I felt awful. We practically begged to find us a room, to no avail. We left the hotel and got in the car. “There’s another hotel over there. Let’s try that one,” John said. Inside, a male hotel receptionist was speaking on the phone in perfect English. He looked up and motioned us to sit down.

When we told him we wanted a room and that we were so tired after getting lost, he smiled and said, “I’m so sorry. But we are fully-booked.” We didn’t say anything and just plonked ourselves on the sofa. I said nothing. John said nothing. I was getting rather flustered, not because I was tired, but because John had had a stroke and he was still recuperating. After about twenty minutes, the receptionist told us he’d ring up another hotel nearby and ask his friend. After speaking to his friend in Portuguese, we could see him nodding. “You are lucky!” he said. He wrote down the hotel’s name but we had to go there quickly; otherwise, his friend wouldn’t reserve the room since there were too many delegates also in need of hotel rooms. He gave us instructions how to get there. His friend was waiting and was very helpful. He gave us a room with a spectacular view of the city, where  the park and gardens were so green and lush, but he told us in no uncertain terms, “Only one night, Mrs.Roberts.” I nodded and thanked him. Late at night, we went for a walk and had a meal in one of the restaurants nearby. It was a day to remember. 

I don’t know what possessed me, but since I couldn’t sleep, I looked at a list of hotels and at 7 in the morning, while John was still snoring, I rang up a hotel with a funny name, Evidencia Astoria. The female voice was clear and warm: “Yes, Madam. We have a room. How many nights?” I replied: “Just two much is it?” She gave the price and it was very reasonable, for it included buffet breakfast. I said, “Make it five nights!” John was too tired and drowsy. He didn’t have time to protest when he heard me book the hotel. As luck would have it, the hotel staff were also very kind, very polite, and very helpful. The food in Lisbon was excellent, too. I couldn’t ask for more.

While in the city, we did a lot of walking, which is one of the best ways of enjoying a city. We also did the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus—the tickets were good for two days—and enjoyed the sights. Lisbon is clean and orderly. I must say that the people aren’t noisy; motorists don’t pop their horns and they stop for pedestrians; and above all, the people don’t rush. The pace is just nice and easy. What surprised me most was the fact that there were no children. I only saw three in total! 

It rained heavily on my birthday but I didn’t mind. We had a fabulous day just looking around where no one bothered, begged, or pestered us. That night, we walked to a nearby hotel for my birthday dinner. By then, I was too tired to appreciate the food but I plodded on, seeing I was kindly invited by my husband for a nice meal. It was enough that I made it to Lisbon in one piece. The birthday dinner didn’t really matter. 

After a week, I hit the motorway once more, this time with much more confidence, knowing that I didn’t need a navigator on our way back to Spain. Lisbon is now etched in my memory. I’d recommend this city to anyone who has plans of visiting Europe. I’ve been to many European cities but Lisbon is now in my list of favourites. The Portuguese have a lot to do with it. They may be understated but they are certainly a genuinely proud race.

This is actually the first time I’ve written about my European travels. Why? It’s because although I also drove from England to Scotland and back in July this year, my trip from Malaga to Lisbon was  a truly unique experience—driving all the way to another country for my birthday week.

Obrigado, Lisboa! Smiley

The route from Malaga to Lisbon: Malaga, Cadiz, Sevilla, Faro (Portugal), Lisbon; Lisbon, Sevilla, Cadiz, Malaga. Driving towards Lisbon one can find, tunnels, toll roads, numerous viaducts, olive groves, grapevines, barren fields.

Politics: Portugal is a Parliamentary Republic
Religion: Secular. Catholicism, though, is the main religion. There are other places of worship, including mosques, synagogues, Hindu temples, Protestant churches, etc
Banknote: Euro (€)
Road traffic: They drive on the right-hand side of the road
Working hours: 40 hours a week
Shopping hours: From 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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