Discoveries – theirs and mine 

First impressions are often wrong, but this one is a slam dunk. It took only a few minutes after arriving that I learned something I hadn’t known. This is one very hilly city. San Francisco has nothing on Lisbon. Rome is known as the City of Seven Hills, but so is Lisbon, as I just learned, but they’re much steeper than Rome’s. The solution here is known as “ascensors,” elevators, and cable cars. When I say elevators, that’s a broad term for a variety of devices. One, just 100 meters from my hostel, is called the “Ascensor do Gloria” and it’s a funicular that plies up and down what may be the very steepest street of all. Being a walker, I snubbed the elevator in my first hour after arriving, but it was so steep that all I could do was lunge downhill from one lamppost to the next, each time catching myself to avoid just plunging down the hill in what would have ended this adventure – and possibly this life – right then and there. Having learned that lesson the hard way, I’ve now invested in several tickets that get me a safe but short ride down or up. Another elevator, a tourist destination, is the “Elevador de Santa Justa.” Hard to describe, it’s at the end of a small street and looks like a filigreed seven story iron tower through which an old elevator rises or descends on a cable. At the top are three fanciful viewing platforms and a bridge that leads to the street above. Other hilly streets are just served by less dramatic, but functional, street cars. Some buildings have public elevators – the Otis kind like what we all know- that people can use to get from one level of street to the next. Cars and trucks have to traverse up and down the hills over long and winding switchbacks. So there you are, a first impression.
A habit, a good one, is that I love getting up in new places real early and just start exploring around on foot. That’s how the first full day – Sunday- started. I knew that I wanted to walk along the waterfront as it’s flatter, so I took an Uber from my hostel in the Barrio Alto (the high quarter, which being hip, may refer to more than the elevation). The destination, actually the starting point for my early walk, was the Tower of Belem. It’s a historic and distinctive landmark dating to 1514 when it protected the entrance to the Tagus River from the Atlantic. As the last structure before the sea, at that time, it was also the last piece of the homeland that the great Portuguese mariners/explorers saw as they sailed off. In the early morning light, or any time, it’s an impressive structure that now sits out in the shallow water off the river bank. A nearby park seems to be the meeting spot for countless groups of runners, including a large contingent sporting “Belem Runners” tee-shirts. I didn’t join them but followed their trail along the river on my right and, on my left, a series of palaces, elaborate public gardens and dramatic memorials, ancient and contemporary. In the latter category is the overwhelming Monument to the Discoveries. Most obviously it represents a rising ship’s prow, jutting into the water, with a long row of explorers heaving-to on each side of the “ship.” Everything is of massive scale. From the land side, the monument rises high into the sky, possibly representing a ship’s mast. But it’s clearly also a sword, a very long and frightening sword, saying perhaps that no exploration could take place without violence and danger. But it also represents a cross, reflecting the sometimes-sword-enforced role of the church in the spread of Christianity in the age of exploration. It’s all there and leaves you breathless. Nearby is a huge mosaic plaza depicting a Rosa dos Ventos (the depiction of the four compass points) and the surface of the earth, both seas and land masses. It doesn’t take long to see clearly how Portugal’s position and long coastline facilitated its outsized role in connecting Europe to remote parts of the rest of the world. 
A side note: I referred to my hostel here in Lisbon. I chose to stay in one, rather than a more conventional hotel, to break myself into the Camino mindset. My partner from two years ago, Jay, is probably appalled, but our younger Camino friends might be proud that I’ve come around. In any case, I’m staying at a hip place I’d read about and it’s hardly rough. I’m writing this from the open air cafe, enjoying a fresh lemonade, cool jazz and a fun vibe. But yes, I’m in the bottom bunk of a three-tiered bunk bed with five roomies each of whom could be my child or possibly grandchild. 
This is already a too-long story, so more soon. Tomorrow, early, I start walking.

7 thoughts on “Discoveries – theirs and mine 

  1. Tony, this is thrilling!! I’m having my cup of coffee, reading your thoughts and I was transported to Lisbon. The sights and descriptions are so visceral. I think your “hip” lodgings actually look clean and comfy. So much for my initial thoughts on hostels. Safe travels and good weather.

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  2. Tony – You’re on your way! Fantastic! Great job on your blog. I’m so looking forward to reading about your adventures.
    When you get a chance, would you reflect on the differences in your preparation between this walk and your first Camino?
    Jay

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  3. Hey Tony, great blog – you do a very nice job! Jeff and I are so jealous and feel blessed that we can share your journey with you…. Wishing you the best adventure yet!!

    (BTW, aren’t you the same guy who once had to slide down a hill – sitting on a garbage bag due to your slick banker shoes – when it had snowed in Seattle one day? LOL!)

    Janis

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  4. Great start to your journey! I love your photos and admire your acclimatizing yourself by staying in a hostel and skating down the slopes of Lisbon. (I too had a similar experience in Seattle in a snow 20 years ago). Travel opens our minds as well as our eyes (and ears and nose and tastebuds) and I look forward to vicariously trekking with you.

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  5. Awsome reading&love the pics tony 😊interesting bunk system.havent seen that sort before.look4ward2reading more of your journeys 😊

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