So, You’re Going to Lisbon…Getting Around
by Joey Burke and Deri Ross Pryor
Another Q&A between BGWS student Joey Burke and I about Lisbon.
Once upon a time, in a different space, time continuum, AAA provided maps with legends and guides. The map was surely some sort of metaphor for travel since once unfolded it would never return to its previous state of creased perfection. The AAA slogan “travel with someone you trust” is hitting me squarely in the feels since my husband and children will be traveling with me and it is in me they have placed their trust. Were you able to trust your cell phone and its navigation ability to deliver you to where you needed to be? Did you add an app for that? What information can you give any app so that it understands the point of the search is a good experience getting there not necessarily being there? How does any algorithm factor in adventure instead of expedience?
Since you say children, plural, take comfort that if you lose one, you have plenty of backups.
Let me start off by saying Lisbon is unlike any other large city I’ve been in. I mean, I lived in Manhattan and I will still taken off guard by the sheer size and complexity of Lisbon. Before I arrived, I pored over Google maps of the city, even going down to street level and “walking around” so I was familiar with the neighborhood I was staying in. Fast forward to the night I arrived, and picture me wandering around in circles with my purple suitcase, coated in twenty-four hours of travel funk and on the verge of tears. This is not meant to be discouraging, just forewarning.
One thing I didn’t realize was that there aren’t any street signs on poles like we are used to here. They are actually on the buildings, like big squares embedded in the facades, so you have to look for that when you get to street corners to figure out where you are. Seems like a simple thing, but I didn’t know and it was a huge deal when trying to get from the Metro station to my apartment in a less than fully functioning mental state.
Also, when you look on a map, you are getting a very flat view. Lisbon isn’t called the City of Seven Hills for nothing. Sometimes those hills transect what looks like a straight shot from point A to point B, and you have to go around. In short, what I’m saying is there is no way to fully prepare for it until you start walking it, which I did for several hours the first few days so I got a lay of the land. Since so many of the readings and events are spread throughout the city, this proved invaluable. This also allowed me to experience the city instead of worrying about a certain destination. Lisbon is a good city to get lost in. (Lots of gelato places and the best gelato to be had ever.) Sometimes I simply enjoyed taking the long way around.
There are many short cuts and workarounds for getting around the city that really aren’t going to show up in any travel brochure or website. For example, my apartment was near the center of the city in the Baixa-Chiado area. On the map it looks very close to the Centro Nacional de Cultura (where Disquiet and your workshops will be). However, walking it was a whole different matter. My apartment was at the apex of a large hill and there were no easy routes to the Center. Fortunately, I was rooming with Phil Wenturine, BGWS’s very own expert on all things Lisbon, who showed me a public elevator that could take us from our street down to the next one over (seriously a difference of several floors). We then cut through the Baixa-Chiado Metro instead of walking around, which brought us almost to the door of the Center. This cut the walk down by at least ten minutes and twenty buckets of sweat. (Lisbon is hot. Talking hot, hot, hot. And I lived in South Florida for ten years.)
I did try several phone apps to get around. The one I ended up liking the most was TripAdvisor, found here https://www.tripadvisor.com/apps. It had a good interactive map, and you can look for things like restaurants by location or cuisine, nifty things like that. On the first night, you will have an orientation with Disquiet, and they should give you a map, as well as a schedule of all the events with detailed directions to everything. Some events will require taxis, but for those everyone usually meets at the Center so the fares can be shared.
A word of caution, which will go contrary to what we are told: Do not try to do everything on the schedule. You will exhaust yourself to the point of being unable to enjoy the experience. Since everything is so spread out distance wise and you have this thing called homework to do, you simply will run out of energy. Unless you have the constitution of an Olympian, it’s not feasible. Cherry pick those talks and readings most interesting or relevant to you and don’t sweat the other stuff.
One thing I will say about Lisbon was how safe I felt there. I found myself walking alone in the middle of the night many times (not something I condone, but I have zero fear about such things for some reason). No one bothered me. Ever. That being said, since you are traveling with children, of course you want to be cautious. Traffic is insane, so take care crossing streets and always wait for the crossing sign, but still make sure it’s clear. Taxi drivers there have some kind of death wish for the very pedestrians they are trying to pick up. Everyone else is very friendly and unthreatening.
Definitely latch onto someone who has been there before and ask for tips on getting around or to tag along. Allow for plenty of time to get places in case you get lost. Since you are traveling with family, make sure they know how to find your accommodations and the Center.
If all else fails, find a gelato place, kick your shoes off, and relax. As far as I know, no BGWS student has been irretrievably lost in Lisbon.
Published on April 28, 2016