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Trip Report Lisboa Encounters - episode 1: Meeting the pickpocket in a tram

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The trip to Lisbon, Portugal so far, turned out to be one of my most memorable experiences in the Western Europe, because of some fun adventures and interesting encounters. Long story short, I will chop it into several parts.

You are welcome to visit and like my full blog @ http://wp.me/p5Lw9a-gE

Portugal was once a great power in the Western Europe with long history and culture. The Portuguese language ranks in 6th regarding the number of native speakers in the world (mostly in Brazil, and ranked after Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic.) But well, for many outsides, like me, somehow the country is always overshadowed by its neighboring countries like Spain, France, UK, Germany, and Italy; more, its geographic location in the westernmost part of the Europe continent somehow pushed the country outside the travel radar. Now the country might become Western Europe’s best kept secret - it may not have a core-shaking W.O.W. factor, but it has a strong aftertaste, and memories linger like good coffee, or good wine.

Not that I had a low expectation before traveling to Portugal, just I really had no idea what to expect. I knew there were places I opt to go, but I had no standing out mental pictures of Portugal – it’s like if I were to choose an album cover of the city, I had Gaudi’s masterpieces for Barcelona, I had the Eiffel tower for Paris, I had glacier for Iceland, I had the Hollywood sign for Hollywood…But I am sorry, Portugal… I really didn’t know. The mental picture I had would probably be a streetcar running on narrow slopes in between some colorful, old houses in front of a cathedral (probably seen it somewhere on the Internet or travel brochure). Unlike other travel hub or grandeur capitals like Rome, Madrid, London, Paris, Vienna, Prague… the capital city, Lisboa, is very layback, “down-to-earth”…. – or closer to earth (in most parts), my first-day city walk was so relaxed that I did not have to “race” for lining up at the museums, or speculating my next move. We were just strolling, and strolling.

Before arriving Lisbon, I had seen Azulejos in Porto and it was prominent there; so Portuguese pavement has become more interesting to me. Portuguese pavements are mosaic arrangements of yellow and black cobblestones, forming intricate geometric patterns or symbols. As it is very labour-intensive and costly, it is actually a disappearing art that well-preserved in the main streets all over the country (and former Portuguese colonies – namely Brazil, and Macau). We wanted to take it slow the first day in town (and it was raining in the morning), so we planned to stay within the Lisbon town centre area – Alfama and Baixa/Chaido.

Route of the Day:
Starting from Restauradores and Rossio Square, took a good look of the surroundings and then we enjoyed a nice brunch in a cafe along the Rua Augusta. A point of interest (and people knows me know about my obsession of overlooking a city above) was to take a fun ride of the Santa Justa Lift built in 1902.

The lift is a functioning transportation system connecting the locals of two different city levels in Lisbon downtown, now it is well preserved as a historic scenic spot and the viewpoint on top really nice is just above the rooftops of the surrounding buildings. So there, I saw a 360 of the Portugal capital’s cityscape, historic squares, castle at the peak, the Lisbon Cathedral by the coast, and all the way to the waterfront of Tagus River.

After brunch, we continued our walk alone and Road and reached the Commerce Square, at the waterfront and took pictures of the Rua Augusta Arch, which seemed to me the best adorned monument in the city (form what I have seen :P). The plaza was an intercept point from all over the city and next - we headed to the Alfama with Tram 28.

The Lisbon Cathedral is not far away from the “center” and yeah, my mental picture realized: A streetcars climbing up the hill and turn in front of the façade of the Cathedral. We continued our way up the hill and as an old district of the city Alfama had actually a lot of historic sites and museums to see. Like the São Jorge Castle, Cerca Moura, and the Church of Santa Engrácia.

I am going to save some stories of the Castle for later, I had to start my Lisbon heart-racing encounter with a rather scary sight - a pickpocket. It was indeed my very first encounter (and hopefully, I am reminding myself – the last) after years of travelling in Europe, though I have heard (and witnessed some) worse stories in Italy.

ANYWAY, that’s what happened: we were strolling, having a great time in the Alfama alleys, tasting local food (Batatas Fritas and fried mashed potato balls), taking photos and then we hopped on a crowded tram and continue our journey. Just when I was busy navigating the maps and discussing with my companions about the next destination, I felt something was moving behind my back – and I immediately felt it – it was a sneaky man’s hands. I turned quickly around and I caught a glimpse of a young man retrieving his arm out of my backpack. I checked my backpack (YES, in front of the pickpocket, we are both still on the tram), and dummy me, found that I forgot to zip up my backback (or did he open it? But my backpack - or in fact, it’s a back-sack - is rather complicated. I have trouble looking for any stuff in the sack in any circumstances. Well, blame fashion). Only this time I was saved by fashion, and didn’t lose anything else except my trust and pride of the day.

We (me and the “guy”) exchanged fierce looks and I told my companions that I was “targeted”. He avoided any eye contact with me and moved around in the tram – waiting for the next target? And that’s the situation sometimes got me feeling a little helpless: I knew he was up to no good, someone else might be a victim, yet I probably could do nothing…. So always be careful and never think such craziness would not happen to you.

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