Planes, trains and automobiles…

…and bicycles and ferries and Segways and buses and rollerblades and trams.

We didn’t really want to go to Lisbon. I know that sounds ridiculous, but we really aren’t big city people and weren’t feeling in the mood for one. However, we had post to pick up and knew that we could wildcamp* on the riverfront at Belem so thought we would go for a quick visit.

We found the wildcamping spot easily enough – hard not to notice the carpark full of motorhomes! It was a busy spot when we arrived on Sunday afternoon – a popular place for people to wander/bike/rollerblade/Segway along by the water, checking out the boats in the docks or visiting the Torre de Belem or other monuments in the area. It was a beautiful afternoon, so we joined them. We also checked out some of the wildlife and were rather surprised to see an octopus in the marina. We also saw a bird that looked like a penguin but with longer wings – StuckinWandsworth, our consultant twitcher, says it sounds like a guillemot, but they shouldn’t be around here at this time of year. Well – we looked up the guillemot and that is exactly what the bird was!

The rather wonderful pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) have been served by a cafe in Belem since 1837 and they are rumoured to be the best in Portugal. We didn’t think they could be worth queuing for though – the queue to get into the cafe must have been at least 100 people long. We’ve had some pretty good examples so far – sitting on the bay at Sao Martinho do Porto with Simon springs to mind – so we didn’t feel like we were missing out too much.

The war memorial. A lot of names listed from the colonial wars of the late 60s/early 70s

I was very excited to find that we were camped across the road from the official residence of the Presidência da República. I thought ‘the president’s residence’ had a lovely ring to it. I might have repeated it a few too many times – D nearly abandoned me in Belem and returned to the wolves. The camping spot turned out to be right in the thick of it – the river/waterfront on one side of us, roads and the trainline on the other side and the airport flightpath overhead. It wasn’t the quietest spot we’ve ever stayed, but it seemed appropriate for a city.

Uller was staying at home – she doesn’t realise it but she really wouldn’t like a hike around a city. Obviously there is a limit to how long we can leave her in the van, so we planned our trip into the city proper around that. We eventually worked out how to buy a train ticket from the machine at Belem station (there is no ticket office) – although they offer English instructions, somebody obviously got bored of doing the translation part way through and, when it comes to actually selecting the type of ticket you want, all the options are in Portuguese. We selected one at a time until we found the one that allowed us to choose the main Lisbon station as our destination at the lowest cost – I don’t think we were travelling as under-12s or over-60s!

First stop was the tourist information office and then a nearby cafe for lunch and wifi so D could send some work emails. By the time we had done that and given we hadn’t factored a 20 minute wait for the train into our plans, we were already nearly halfway through the time we had before we had to return to Uller. So we set off on a forced march, first to the main post office to collect our post and then on a roundabout route back to the post office next to the cafe we had lunch at which, it turns out, is where Poste Restante is sent in Lisbon. We loved what we saw and, of course, were suddenly in the mood for a big city. We ran out of time though and will have to return for a better look around.

One of the ‘elevadors’ to take people to the higher points in the city

On Tuesday morning, we wanted to have a quick look around the Museum of Electricity, just along the waterfront from where we were parked. It is housed in an old electricity-generating station which was an amazing building in itself and it is the main reason that we wanted to see it, but it turns out that the museum was pretty good too. There was a detailed video explaining how electricity can be produced from coal and river water and we could walk around (and in!) the original machinery. There was also a history of electricity, a lot of information about alternative methods of producing it (wave, geothermal etc) and several hands-on exhibits which I wasn’t game to try, given the instructions were in Portuguese and they involved electricity.

Taken from a long way up, looking down!

Inside the furnace!

The ‘Estacio Fluvial’ or ferry terminal, next to where we camped

Lisbon is definitely worth seeing more of, so we will return (maybe in a few weeks with Aussie Dad & Jan!) – but for now, we are off to explore Alentejo!


*Wildcamping is not necessarily as wild as it sounds. It basically means parking overnight somewhere other than an official camping spot. Some countries (Portugal for instance) seem to be very relaxed and, as far as we can tell, it is OK to park overnight almost anywhere as long as you are not being a nuisance. Certainly, no-one minded that there were several of us staying at Belem – the police came past a few times and didn’t pay us any attention.


We need to modify our mental image of “wild camping”.  In our part of the world, little towns devote considerable resources to moving people on from car parks etc.  The car parks are empty: no-one is discomfited by the campers: I think it’s a way of forcing people into the camp grounds (often owned by the Council).  Having said that, there are some who don’t do the right thing.  Annoyingly, those not doing the right thing in the camp grounds often are not policed at all.  Segways are banned in our Nanny-state.  (A cricket commentator showed why the other day when he tried one out on the ground and left some very big divots after going over the high side which, I gather, is not easy).  Very cute water-castle, by the way. 
Segway   ?   Please explain.
Don’t quite understand the elevadors. Are they just to give high viewpoints, or do they connect to the tops of neighbouring buildings? Or am I just being dim? Wonderful contrasts in the last three blogs – heritage, wildlife and city.
A Segway is a two-wheeled motorised platform on which one person travels standing up, using a control column. I’ve only seen two, one of which was in north Spain, and they are fantastic. They are illegal here on pavements but I’m not sure about roads. Unfortunately last summer the English inventor, presumably Mr. Segway, who lived on the Cornish coast, was on a Segway on a cliff path. Pulling over to allow a walker to pass he pulled over a bit too far and took the high dive into the water far below. He didn’t survive. If you’re ever tempted to get one, be very careful where you go please! 
Wildcamping = running through the streets shouting ‘hello sailor’? 
Segways are widely used in some US towns to police places where cars can’t go.  They aren’t legal in public in Australia but Cricket Aust is using them on the ovals during cricket matches.  The drinks are brought out by two Segways each of which has a stupid big inflatable bottle as advertising attached to the rear, behind the drinks boy.  The also have a Segway-mounted camera which runs around the field during breaks to get those vital close ups of injuries and so forth.  Recently, Segwaycam was zooming round as the players were taking their positions ready to start the day’s play when the driver/cameraman hit the spare helmet behing the wicket keeper, resulting in an extreme close-up of the grass.  Ian Healey tried one with mixed success (muddying his Channel 9 suit in the process).
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