Uh Oh….Alfama and the Best Laid Plans for Lisbon

I talked Terry into “being a local”.  I tell him, “Just think honey how much fun it will be to stay in an apartment, shop in village markets, walk to local cafes and bars and listen to the music of foreign languages.  Let’s dive in and let the experience wash over us.”  He not excited but he’s willing to go along.

This will be our first experience of “being local”.  I have booked an apartment in Alfama, a village within Lisbon.

We have never been to Lisbon.  I know almost nothing about the city other than it is in Portugal.  In my research I missed the part about the extremely  steep, narrow cobblestone streets.   Sidewalks so narrow you cannot pass another person and must step out into the roadway.

I didn’t read about the hundreds of stone staircases stitching the city together. The treads are shallow; their depth is perfect for a small foot, not a size 9 like mine.  The heights of the risers have no consistency.  They may be 4” high or 10” high in no particular order.  Extremely dangerous for myself wears progressive lens and trips over slight imperfections in a tile floor.

No cars in the 11th century when Alfama, Europe’s oldest village, was established around the walls and in the shadows of the castle.  The streets are “pedestrian only”.  The streets become steeper the higher you go into the neighborhood.   They are even narrower, more labyrinth and winding in nature.   You guessed it.  That is exactly where we  rented an apartment for our 3-day stay.

Everything sounded great on paper.   Perhaps I should have known better when Google maps had difficulty finding the address.

We have the afternoon before we disembark the ship to find the apartment.  I can’t make heads or tails out of the map printed from Google.  We decide to hire the guide who took us to Sintra to walk us to the address before bringing our bags, so we cross the street from the pier and begin our climb.

Be careful what you wish for.  We wanted local color and here was local color.  June marks a month-long celebration of St. Joseph.  The normally empty courtyard spaces that dot the neighborhood are decorated and turned into outdoor kitchens and make-shift taverns.  Hung between buildings are strings of lights alternate with red and green garlands.  Neighbors are gathered at white plastic tables and chairs to eat fried sardines and grilled meats as well as drink their favorite beer.  Young children are everywhere playing soccer and tag.

There is excitement in the air.  Tonight Portugal is playing Spain in the World Cup.  This is a BIG deal.  Black electrical cords are taped to the exterior of the colorful buildings.  Large, flat screen televisions are hung outdoors to view the game.

After 15 minutes of climbing, we find our apartment building.  The front door and bedroom window are just 10 steps from a courtyard packed with neighbors.  Those not laughing and singing along to music playing over a loudspeaker are yelling, cheering and booing at the wide-screen television.   The guide explains the celebrating will last long into the night.  If Portugal wins, folks will be celebrating into the next day.

Since a taxis cannot deliver us to the door of the building, I’ve been trying to picture us dragging the two 50 lbs. bags, two 30 lbs. bags and two backpacks back up the this hill.

We have paid in advance for our stay.  Terry says he is game.  I am not as hopeful.  I haven’t mastered rolling these beasts through the airport on a level floor.  It is laughable watching me get them on the escalator.  As Clint Eastwood once said, “A man (or in this case a woman) should know his limitations.”

I admit defeat.  I just can’t imagine getting back up here without injury.  And, I have to admit I want the comfort and quite of a hotel.  More importantly I want the convenience of the taxis dropping us and our cumbersome luggage at the front door.

We return to the ship, go online and book a room at a small hotel.  We are still “local” but will have the luxury of joining the mayhem in the street when we want and returning to a quiet room at the hotel without a pulled muscle or sprained ankle.  I believe that will be the best of both worlds.