Sizzling bathtub and the Earth from above

Monday, 6th September

Sun shine filtered through the sky hugging trees. Our train was going through a very picturesque route. We crossed through little villages draped in sunshine and colorful flowers adorned the windows of the cottages. The villages gave way to high rises and apartment complexes with graffiti on their walls. These were sure signs that we were approaching our destination Lisbon.

We munched through our breads and mayonnaise and ham and apples and kept staring outside the dirty train compartment. Wondering about our journey till now, the exotic places we have visited and what more places we have to go and discover. It was a dream. and about how we got swindled of our money. Lisbon was not on our travel map, when we were planning this trip. It was more Spain and Ibiza. Lisbon happened by chance and it was G's discovery and planning. G was browsing through the fat Lonely Planet (Europe in a shoestring), figuring out the places to stay in Lisbon. G shortlisted about 3 of them but wasn't prepared for what was in store for us.

It was about 1 pm, when the train finally entered the station. The station was not crowded. It was simple, clean but not spotless and much similar like India, a rushed atmosphere. Spotting us as out of country bumpkins, we were suddenly surrounded by locals, each wanting us to accompany them to their beautiful hotel/hostel. With our forced head movements making a vehement no, we pushed our way from the crowd. As we came out of the station, the crowd of tourist hunters had thinned down considerably as most of them had found their loot.

The first thing that struck us was the resemblance to our Goa. Off course Goa being a Portuguese colony long ago. We were still wondering where to go and how to go, options being the bus/tram/taxi to a desired hostel from the Lonely Planet or a one next to the station and overlooking the bay. A kind looking old lady in a skirt approached us with a pamphlet. She offered her place to stay in the center of the town at a very low cost. We got a picture of a nice house in a shady area of the town overlooking the cobalt blue waters and see the sun go down. She even offered her car to drive us to the house, free. Well the adventurous souls that we were we hopped on to the waiting Mercedes. It was only when the car moved and started climbing narrow cobbled streets and the residences only becoming poorer, did we realize that what we were getting into. Fingers crossed, toes crossed, we started chatting of the consequences in our local dialect. What if we are mugged. No one would know. Even my brother in Germany was not aware of our plans to Lisbon. He knew we are Paris. We quickly messaged my brother with the address from the pamphlet that the lady had given us. That this is where we would be and sounding as casual as possible.

The tension in the car was building up and that is when we started looking out at the city. And it was beautiful. Most houses were a deep cream/ yellow in color with white borders on their windows. The walls were decorated with colorful patterned tiles. Blue, green, red, maroon colored tiles with geometric patterns, paisleys, and symbols were on the walls. Children were playing carefree on the streets and youths zipped in fancy bikes with bandannas and wannabe mean looks. Ladies were carrying shopping bags and buying stuff of the street and old men in vests were sitting idly on the armchairs, chatting with neighbors. Well it seemed like a very nice place. After about 20 minutes, our car stopped in front of a building with a colorful canopy and a cafe with seating outside on the cobbled pavement. A young lady came running down a flight of stairs and helped us with our luggage and took us to the second floor of the building. We were pretty sure that this was it and in times like these you want to laugh so hard at your own concocted story that we had silly giggles echoing on the staircase.

The lady explained that it was her mother who met us at the station and this place is not advertised commercially. It is because they are not well to do that they are renting out their rooms like this. She opened the door to our room. The room was washed in white with two simple beds. The room was bare except for a chair and a wooden cupboard. A small balcony with with wrought iron railings, was attached to the room. the room gave a feeling of space and freedom from the crowded London that we had left behind. The only thing being that the washroom was situated in the corridor and shared with other mates occupying the other rooms.

While G freshened up, I marked my bed and had a smoke in the balcony. Post that it was my turn in the shower. The washroom was as big as our room only and the idea of a proper hot shower after a long journey sounded so inviting. In all my eagerness I jumped into the bath tub and was probably dancing, not realizing how delicate bath tubs maybe.  Anyways as I was getting ready, there was severe knocks on our door and the lady from the station (not gentle anymore) was speaking in an angry tone. I had no clue, but followed her to the floor below, following her sign language. That is when realization stuck, that all my dancing in the bath tub apparently caused a leak in the floor below and water was trickling down in quite a funny manner. I tried hard not to giggle and made a sorry face and shrugged my shoulders in an apologetic look and rushed back to tell G what excitement happened.

After packing our city guide, local maps, we moved out of the place to see the city. Our first stop was the 12th century cathedral,Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa.The structure has both Romanesque and Gothic style of architecture. Over the centuries the cathedral has gone through lot of renovations because of earthquakes, fires and the reigning kings choices. During the 17th century, Baroque and Rocco styles were introduced.

The city of Lisbon is peppered with history, ancient monuments, churches and cathedrals and we moved on to see the Castle of Saint George. The castle was located on the highest hill. The fortifications of this castle goes back to 2nd century BC. This castle helped in preventing Moorish incursions towards the end of the 12th century. The castle had a pale gold color to itself and quite a charming place. The castle overlooked the blue waters and the red tiled roofs of the city could be seen for miles. The canons merged well with the nature. There were dancing peacocks and peahens and flowers in bloom. We could hear church bells and along the path there were musicians playing different musical instruments in a melody.

We walked back the winding roads through trinket shops and houses with colorful tiles on the walls. Along way there was this 11th century dark imposing cathedral. The bricks were now exposed to nature and the place looked crumbling. The interiors were also dark with dark paintings covering the walls.

We walked back towards the city center, where in the open grounds a startling exhibition titled "Earth from Above" was on display. It was a series of large images clicked across the globe. So you had the Arctic circle, the abattoir in Delhi, color dying in Rajasthan, and interiors of Africa and so on. What was also interesting was the entire series was reproduced in braille and the map of the world was also featured on the ground. We could walk across the globe and see places and read little notes about them. As a ark of respect no footwear was allowed on that map.

Next to the exhibition was a market on two parallel row of buildings. From high end fashion stores to bargain shops all jostled for space there. The corridor between the two buildings was lined with eateries. G and I sat down for a hot pizza and washed it down with a cool beer.

After some window shopping we took the metro back towards our hostel, as we were in no mood to walk back. We got of at the wrong station and circled our hostel twice but could not locate it. Thankfully a couple passing by guided us to our hostel.

I gingerly stepped into the washroom, when the curtain rod fell on me and the sink overflowed. Thankfully no one came charging at me this time.

As we prepared to sleep, we realized the catch of the place. The city traffic went below our room for twenty four hours non stop.

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