Why they told us not to drive in Lisbon

After our stressful arrival, gypsies in the basement and a hospital visit, we thought we were finally ready for a quiet uneventful end of our Portugese vacation. We were so wrong...
All the Portugese we had met, had strongly discouraged us to drive with our cars into Lisbon. We had already noticed in traffic that stop signs were consistently ignored and that priority was given by those drivers who used their horn the loudest. So we drove towards the airport as suggested, parked there and took a taxi downtown where we had a wonderful day. Yet there was too much too see and we wanted to come one more day to visit some sites that were a little further out.

We had noticed that from the airport we only needed to take one boulevard to arrive to Belém where we'd be able to park next to the river Tagus. After having spent a day in the Portugese capital, we felt confident enough to face the Portugese traffic there. Besides the fact that 3 traffic lines got used by 4 cars next to each other, we survived the stressfull traffic and arrived at our destination. With our camera's ready we spent our day visiting the tour Belém, the Jeronimos monastory and Vasco Da Gama's grave, ....and enjoyed the wonderful weather next to the river.
In the evening we had booked a restaurant where traditional Fado artists would perform. The restaurant would be very authentic and less known to tourists and it was located in the in the infamous Alfama quarter, which we had already visited previously. It had looked like a very pittoresque myriad of tiny little streets on the hillside....a bit poor but not as dangerous as some books had described it.
Our evening was just fantastic. My parents had played a lot of Fado CD's for me before we had left on vacation but I hadn't cared much for this melancholic music at all. I wasn't too eager to go to a Fado restaurant, until the 2 guitarists started playing and this female singer started to sing. Then we were all mesmerized by the sound and totally drawn into this traditional Portugese music. We were the only foreigners in the restaurant and the other Portugese guests started singing along with some songs, so we got surrounded by this fado music. This was without any doubt the best evening of our vacation. The best evening, not the best night.
When finally all the delicious food was gone and the music had gotten silent, we were all ready to leave. We saw the Portugese get up from their tables, bend down and grab their car radio from under their seats and leave. We thought that was funny.
We arrived first at our car at the boulevard next to the Tagus again. The street that had been full with activity in the afternoon, but now it was deserted. While we were saying goodnight to our aund and uncle who had parked a bit further, I noticed some marks on the back window prooving that it had drippled a little bit of rain on the car. And then I yelled "the window, they broke our window". It was only then that we noticed the damage: the side window smashed in, a big brick on the car seat and glass everywhere, a big gap where the car radio (protected by a code) used to be, the contents of books, maps and spare glasses that used to be in the side doors trampled in the street around us.

...and there you are in the middle of the night in the middle of a foreign city that all of a sudden feels so hostile to you. My aunt and uncle and cousin left to go and get their rental car a bit further in order to use it to drive to a police station. While we were waiting only some very drunk came by.
It took too much time for my aunt and uncle to arrive and when they finally did, we didn't need to see their upset faces to know that something was wrong for them as well. The scissor points that had been used to force the doors of their rental car were still in the doors and all the bags that had been inside were missing: sweaters, full picture roles (remember this was pre-digital times!!), post cards and worst of all: my cousins wallet .
I was quite upset and scared. When the men wanted to walk to the police station they had seen further away, my aunt, my mom and I asked my cousin to stay with us to protect us. It took ages before they came back without any police and in the mean time a few drunks had come up to us to babble some incomprehensible comments to us.

The police there had told them our cars were not "in their district" and we had to go to the tourist police station on the other side of the city. The men would drive their with the rental car and we had gotten permission at least to park our own damaged car in front of their police department while waiting. And so we spent the night sitting at the doorsteps outside of the police station where at least no more drunk men came to harrass us and where we could use the toilet.
Early in the morning all the police bureaucracy was finally behind us and we could start driving home slowly without one window. The best evening in our vacation had been followed by the worst night. I have sworn that night never ever to come back to Lisbon. I haven't gone back ....but the distress of that night has now worn off after 16 years, so I'd like to go back one day. But we now understand why they all warned us not to drive our cars into Lisbon: it wasn't about the traffic!

In the end all our trouble got resolved fairly quickly: we happened to live nearby one of the only 2 Mercedes garages in Portugal at that time and they were able to fix our window the next day already and my cousin could go back to Lisbon (!) to go to the Belgian embassy to get the necessary papers to get out of the country.
In the afternoon we all had a nap to recover from our sleepless night in Lisbon. When I came back from the bathroom where I had changed into my pyama's my cousin was on top of his bed trying to attach his bedcovers to the window. He was really struggling to attach it and each time he had succeeded on one side, the other side fell down again.
When he saw my surprised face, he said
"oh it's so light in here, do you mind if I try to shade the window a bit"?
"no go ahead...but you could also close the window shutters?"

After that remark we have honestly been laughing for one hour straight!!! All the fatigue and stress had come out at the same time and we could not stop laughing anymore even though our belly hurt and we were crying so much. And at every family reunion we still bring that up.
That's the fortunatly the most vivid memory of this eventful trip to Portugal!
If you want to read more soap opera stories, check out Brillig or walking kateastrophe, to find other participants.


Kateastrophe said…
This is all so funny and crazy!! I'll remember this if I ever make it to Portugal!!
Jessica G. said…
Oh wow! My husband went to Portugal on business a while back...but they walked everywhere they went. The taxis tried to take them in the most round-about ways that eventually, they stopped taking them. But he visited some beautiful sights!
Well, until the car incidents I was dying to go to Portugal! I think I still am. I was worried when all the other patrons of the restaurant grabbed their car radios...
anno said…
Forewarned is forearmed: If I'm ever in Lisbon, I'm walking or taking the bus! This was quite an adventure!

Popular Posts