Lisbon-More grit than charm

Lisbon, a city that attracts the term gritty charm. Sometimes the charm shines more brightly than the grit and at other times the grit shines through the grit. There are three posts in this series. Two focus upon the charm and this one covers the, less frequent, times when grit wins:

1. Queuing:

I had not realised how popular Lisbon is with tourists. In early July there were many people, speaking in many languages, in a city with narrow pavements and organisational ineptitude. These combine to create queues. Good natured queues I would say, but queues nevertheless. Today was 31 degrees and many queues occur in full sun. This is a blemish and I advise persons contemplating a visit to visit, but to try and organise that visit outside the very popular months.

2. Transport systems part I. Ticketing:

One of these tickets is for the trains and one of these tickets is for the trams/metro. Can you tell which is which? Neither could we, because it doesn’t say!!!

We found the ticketing confusing. There is an all day pass for the trains. The metro is not a train, it is something else. There is an all day pass for the trams and metro (but not the trains). Both passes are sold in the main train station. The first type of ticket is sold upstairs. The second type of ticket is sold downstairs. There is also a daily ticket for the tram and the train and the metro, I’m not sure where that is sold.

The one on the left is for trains, the one on the right is for trams/metro. We bought the one on the left and rode all day on the trams, confident we had done the right thing. We hadn’t.

The physical card, presumably containing a chip, is purchased for 50 cents and then recharged at a machine. Once we had realised our previous error, we recharged the White card with Euro 6.15 for the next day. The credit card says we paid Euro 6.15, the receipt says we paid 1.45 for a single trip. We were not sure what might happen the next day. The next day came and the receipt was misleading, in fact wrong, everything worked fine.


On the trams this device validates your ticket. Around half the times it works and the other times it doesn’t. Lisbon’s automated system makes Melbourne’s Myki look very sophisticated.


3. Transport Systems part II. Ticketing again:image

Upstairs in the train station is where the train ticket machines live. It is a centre of excellence for queueing. The first time we visited was Friday evening at 6:30pm. We thought the day and time was the reason for the queue. It wasn’t. Every time of every day we visited there were queues. This is because there are many customers and only four machines. A customer focussed solution would be to increase the number of automated ticketing machines and keep adding machines until the customers are happy. Happy because they have purchased a ticket and spent less than two minutes in a queue. Just a thought.

4. Transport systems part III. Timetabling:


We had a lovely seat at the front and could watch where we were going in the dark. We were so excited.

We went on an adventure on the toy tram. It was dark so we thought this would be a fabulous adventure and we took torches in case it was scarey. At ten pm we got on a tram to go to the end of the line. We did this successfully and walked across the road to allow the tram to turn around and take us home. We crossed the road at 10:30pm, the tram was hidden behind the bushes in the park. We never saw our tram again! We read the timetable which said trams run every twenty minutes with the last tram at 11:10pm. Between 10:30pm and 11:10pm at Praca Martim Moniz I can assure you no trams arrived or left. We finally caught a taxi and it took us home.

The next day we decided we would not be daunted as daunting is something that happens to lesser folks. We would take a toy tram in another unknown direction. We would sit on the tram and enjoy the sights until the tram stopped. Then we would cross the road, catch another tram and come home. Trams every eleven minutes during the daylight  hours. We waited 30 minutes and a very kind lady told us that the line is blocked by a toy tram that is broken. No more trams for a few hours. We abandoned our idea for an excellent adventure this day and went for a coffee.

Three days later we were ready to try the adventure again.  We bought an all day ticket, we got on the tram, we travelled a kilometre and then………


Our toy tram was number four in the line. The passengers in numbers one and two had left their tram to do something better with their lives. We got off our tram , visited the church behind me and came home. I realised we were never ever going to have the toy tram adventure of my dreams.

5. Transport systems part IV. Modern trams, the services they offer and the scheduling of maintenance:


The unreliability of the toy trams convinced us to catch one of the modern trams. Surely, reliability and comfort would be the hallmarks of these freshly minted beauties.

We decided to take one of the modern trams to Belem. Not cute, not interesting, but functional. We went to the main station. A tram arrived. We got on it and so did many, many others. It was packed. There was no air conditioning and the temperature of 30 degrees outside was higher inside. Smelly people are allowed to travel in these trams and sadly one of the smelliest stood near to us. To make matters worse there were works underway immediately next to the track, on a Tuesday at noon ish. I watched as the workmen moved their rubble off the track so the tram could pass. Presumably they would do the same thing again in another eleven minutes to allow the next tram to pass. And then again, and again, until the work concluded or the working day ended. I now understand why track repairs are scheduled overnight in Melbourne, it is because it is sensible. The trip to Belem wasn’t far, but it was long, and unpleasant.

6. Taxis from the airport:

The little scamp of a taxi driver who took us from airport to town switched off the meter and inflated the fare by 5 euros. Welcome to Lisbon. I’m supporting Uber.

7. Tuk tuks:


They are functional, but we didn’t find them attractive or authentic. We didn’t use them although there are lots of tuk tuks. There are also lots of tuk tuk drivers who hiss offers to you as you walk down the street.

8. Recycling:


Our street had six poorly labelled bins. We read each one and that wasn’t entirely helpful. We looked inside and tried to follow the precedent of others. One evening a council truck came down our street. Its enthusiastic bin men and bin women emptied the contents of all six bins into the truck. To be clear, they emptied all bins into precisely the same scoop bucket at the rear of that one truck. Following the truck came a man on foot with a large bin on wheels and a picking stick and a brush. He moved rubbish in our street, but he did not remove rubbish from our street.

This helps explain why the gritty bits stay gritty. At least, why they stay gritty in Travessa do Alcaide.