Tuesday – Lisbon

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Today, we arrived in Lisbon. I was assigned tour escort duty, which meant setting the alarm and being up early enough to grab some breakfast before heading ashore.


Once breakfasted, and shoreside, I joined the small number of escorts awaiting further instructions. We’d all picked up a CMV rucksack, containing First Aid Kit and a clipboard, and dutifully done what it said on the despatch sheet: ie. ‘Meet at the quayside 30 minutes before your tour is due to start’. Unfortunately, for a while, there was no sign of any tour buses, or of the Excursions Manager whose job it is to manage us.


Glenn did turn up, eventually, of course, and we were pointed in the direction of the coaches. I introduced myself to Filomena, the tour guide on Bus Number 1, and helped to herd the arriving passengers on board; all 52 of them.


Our tour took us, first, to the Belem Tower, Lisbon’s ornate brochure-cover landmark that used to be a watchtower, built in 1515, to defend the entrance to the prosperous harbour, but now just stands there looking pretty on the banks of the magnificent River Tagus. After 15 minutes of admiration and photography, we all piled back onto the coach to be ferried to our next stop, which was to view a memorial to Prince Henry the Navigator and the Portugese Discoverers, built in 1960 (so it’s as old as me) to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of the prince, the great genius and founder of the very first school of Navigation in the 15th century. It’s a magnificent structure, featuring huge sculptures and an ornate map of the world built into the ground at its base.


From here, we attended the church of the Royal Monastery of St. Jeronimos, built in 1502. Our guide had kitted us out with our own personal radio receivers so that she could witter on in our ears the whole time; every group inside the church also seemed to be kitted out with such receivers, so they all had their own personal witterers; I eventually switched mine off so that I could enjoy the relative peace and quiet of the church, which was, actually quite impressive, and suitably atmospheric.


After the church, we drove over what they call the ’25th April’ suspension bridge to the opposite, southern side of the river. Here, we all piled out to view the massive, towering statue of Christ. Reminiscent of the statue that overlooks Rio De Janeiro, it’s an impressive sight, but not (for me at least) as impressive as the view down onto the suspension bridge, and across to the city. This was a million-dollar shot; a superb Golden-Gate-ish panorama that was, for me, the highlight of the trip.


Our final stop was back in the heart of Lisbon, at the top of Edward VII Park, which provides a stunning vantage point down over the  city. Less-stunning was the arty waterfall there, which had most people slightly confused. How, in such a beautiful spot, such an ugly monstrosity got built is beyond me; many of the passengers were confused because our guide had described the monument as what we thought we’d heard as ‘a pile of exploding frogs’. We all looked quite hard to find the frogs, and then realised that what she’d actually said was a ‘pile of exploding rocks’. This described the structure perfectly; like a pile of rocks dumped there, waiting to be built into something aesthetically pleasing (shudders at the thought of it).


One of the mild disappointments of the day was discovering that we hadn’t docked in the new terminal, which is certainly the one I’m used to, which provides an easy 10-minute walk into downtown Lisbon. Instead, the Marco Polo was tied up alongside the old dock near the suspension bridge, which is much further out, requiring a shuttle bus into the city. Our guide offered passengers on the tour the option to hop off in the city centre, and get a shuttle bus back to the ship, which about half a dozen  took up. As they climbed off, another couple climbed on. Everybody looked slightly quizzically at the new arrivals, who chuntered quite vociferously about how long they’d had to wait, until someone pointed out that this wasn’t the shuttle bus, it was a tour bus, and they’d been waiting for a long time in the wrong place (bloomin’ good job we came along then, wasn’t it?).


It was about 1:30pm by the time we got back to the ship. As tour escort, I took it upon myself to double-check, once everyone had left, that nothing had been left behind on the coach. Good job I did, as I found a pair of expensive-looking, red-and-black framed glasses tucked into one of the pockets. I dutifully noted the find on my escort report sheet, and took the glasses to Reception. The chap on the desk laughed, in a slightly camp way, and told me that he recognised the glasses; this was the third time this week they’d been handed in (and reclaimed twice), so he summised the owner doesn’t really need them. I suggested one way to avoid them being handed in a fourth time might be to staple them securely to the owner’s head, resulting in more helpless, slightly camp, laughter.


I realised I was ravenous, and I headed to Marcos for some lunch.


I had intended to go back ashore, but I got chatting to a couple of the other lecturers, and an entertaining hour or so later, I had a stinking headache, and just wanted to go and lie down….


Needless to say, I slept for the remainder of the afternoon, which slightly annoyed me; it always seems a bit of a waste when the ship’s in port. I must admit, taking the shuttle bus into town, which I knew was busy, because I’d seen it on the tour, and not having that long to meander anyway, since the last shuttle bus back to the ship would be leaving at 5pm, didn’t attract me much. I had pondered the idea of just going for a walk in the general direction of downtown, and see how far I could get…. but then didn’t…. ah well.


There’s another quiz on tonight, followed by a late cabaret. There isn’t a show on in the Marco Polo Lounge; they’re showing a film – Unknown, with Liam Neeson. I don’t really fancy any of that, but feel a bit of pressure on to take part. I seem to have become more of an integral part of the lecturer/entertainer group than I remember being last year, mostly due to familiarity of course… a bit like one big happy family… which, like a family, comes with certain social commitments. I’ll have to see if I can stay awake….

Peter Woolley

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