Pedro Passos Coelho’s exultations to his countrymen certainly made an impression.
I am in a taxi from the airport in Lisbon to Rua Damião De Góis at Sta Maria de Belem, where we have an apartment, and in conversation with the taxi driver (a Benfica supporter with a profound dislike of Ronaldo) who tells me about this now infamous line delivered in July by the Portuguese Prime Minister.
This is a country that is hurting – on October 1st fuel has risen again by 3c a litre, motorway charges are being universally introduced, many of the other austerity measures are biting, the country has been protesting (peacefully) and the train drivers are going on strike despite being among the better paid.
Pedro’s wife like many has a full time job (at one of the up market malls), the easyJet flight over was full to brimming and there is little evidence of the vast swathes of empty shops that characterise Athens. In the main people are well turned out and the women chic despite the average wage being €600 per month. People are polite and helpful.
It’s a strange feeling, being a student again after 35 years. I am here for a two week beginners course in Portuguese; a language everyone (including my wife who hails from Lisboa) tells me is difficult. The Day One lessons are to confirm that assertion!
Maria Piedade my mother in law greets me warmly though our exchange is brief since her English is as good as my fledgling Portuguese. A sumptuous meal is served: frying steak with a spinach, feta and nut mixture (I am already regretting the steak bavette I had at Cafe Rouge Gatwick); and morangos, accompanied by a lovely half bottle of Alentejo Branco wine. She declines the offer of a glass!
I attempt my first complement: Isto esta delicioso (‘this is delicious’) which is well received. Feeling confident I throw in Gosto de morangos (‘I like strawberries’) which also strikes a chord. Off to an OK start then so I go for the home run excusing myself with an Estou cansado (‘I’m tired’) and go to my room to listen to the last hour of Europe’s Ryder Cup win over the USA. Thank’s to Vodafone’s Euro Traveller deal it only costs £3 per day to hook up to my UK tariff which includes a big slug of ‘free’ Internet time.
I am awoken by a text from my wife Ana who says Maria (her mother) is very pleased I found her to be delicious! I feel like I’m Colin Firth in the scene from Love Actually when he proposes to his Portuguese wife to be. In fact Ana is winding me up – she has a history – and my comments were accurate and not as misreported!
I slept well despite the sound of the tram clunking along nearby. Our apartment just across from the Teju river is on the historic 15 tram route: it passes many of the ‘must see’ monuments and sights but when I leave at 7..45am most of my fellow passengers are off to work and dressed for mid winter even though its 15c and the forecast is 25c and sunny.
The tram is of the vintage variety and inadequate to cope with the demand. Some elect to wait for the much bigger modern version that will follow in 5 minutes (they alternate) but drawing on 25 years of commuting I leap on board and end up standing next to the driver for the duration of the 20 minute journey. I always wanted to drive a tram!
Alighting at the bottom of Avenida Liberdade I decide to walk not realising its uphill for the next 2 1/2 kilometres. Though hot when I arrive I time the walk to the language school to perfection and get there 2 minutes early.
Orlando is the teacher. A man in his mid 40’s with the bearing of someone who’s been there and done this many times over. Despite that he does a good job at introductions. We are 8: two German men (career moves the driver for attendance); two Swedish woman (one a communications head of a golf travel business); a Finn; an American (Emily) from Boston; and two Englishmen (myself and Christopher who is a football supporter who wants to go to Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup and is learning the language in the hope that England qualify).
We are of varying ages and ability but seem to gel even though the others master the intricacies of feminine and masculine (O and A) and informal vs formal vs very formal (Eu vs Tu/Voce vs Snr /Snra) quicker than I do. I stay behind after the morning to do homework, practice and try to comprehend why the former Portuguese colonies should be addressed differently (de) than say Suica (da).
Having finally mastered A Ana, e de Portugal. Entao ele e Portuguesa e fala Portuguese,Its 3 when I leave and its hot. A quick double espresso and cake (I realise I’ve not eaten anything all day) provide fuel for the walk back down Avenida Liberdade. I vow to sort out the Lisboa travel-card so I can travel on all transport.
Marques Pombal Metro station has a queue some 50 deep – I don’t do waiting! So I go to the tourist information place at the end of Avenida Liberdade. Joao is helpful but it proves a fruitless visit. Nao (No) ‘the ticket you have is for the metro and rail only not tram and buses, you need to go to the Post Office up the road’. I do that. ‘You have 7 Metro rides but no we don’t sell the bus and tram ticket, you have to go to the kiosk’.
The Kiosk lady is lovely. €15 for 12 journeys and after a lovely walk through Praca do Comercio to the Teju river I am ready to board the train back from Cais do Sodre to Alges along with other ‘workers’ heading for their homes in the fashionable resorts of Estoril and Cascais.