It took a while to get to the Portuguese coast, what with all the breaking down and more breaking down with a little extra breaking down, but once we made it we thought we had put that disastrous start to a road trip behind us. A few nights camping on the cliffs above Praia de Ursa, oneo of nicest beaches in the world, reminded us of why we had chosen to come to the Atlantic coast and just how beautiful it was, and after a few stress-free days on the sand we headed into the capital.
Portugal selflessly lends itself to vanlife. Its lax regulations towards free camping, its epic coastline and its chilled out culture make it ideal place to bum around, enjoying the weather, wine and waves. If I didn’t have such a mechanical nightmare with my van, I’m sure it would’ve been a dreamy summer. Even with its suitability for campervans, I managed to have a shocker in Lisbon which cut my time short. Luck wasn’t just not on my side last year, it had vanished altogether. Although, I guess it’s harder to find luck when you make bad decisions.
It seems petty that I can relegate a city down to the lower half of my list just because of a parking experience, but here I am, pettily relegating. A quick internet search suggested that a parking lot opposite the cemetery was a fine and free place to park for the night and so I stuck it into the navigation system and drove through the city in search of this fabled plot. It seemed a bit of downtrodden neighbourhood, but I had slept in worse places and had no trouble parking up under the shade of a tree in a quiet corner of the parking area. As we were setting off to explore the city a homeless man approached us offering his security services to watch over the van for the night. I thought I could either ignore him and risk his retribution or appease him with the few euros he needed to buy him off. Hoping this didn’t lead to him asking me throughout the night and that he wouldn’t bother us again, we struck up a deal and set off for the sites.
The thought of some of my valuables sitting in the van at the mercy of my new security guard lingered in the back of my mind and I couldn’t shake it for too long as we explored the wonders of a wonderful city. I kept trying to convince myself it was fine and that I had done the right thing giving him the money and that there would be no trouble on our return and focused on enjoying being in such a fine city whilst having a couple of drinks and a nice meal with Georgie. I loved aimlessly walking around, watching the old trams glide past colourful buildings and turning corners to be greeted with a view over Lisbon’s spread of orange roofs. We sat in the afternoon sun having a beer in a busy square before wandering down cobbled streets, browsing the menus of delicious smelling restaurants. It was nice to have a meal on a table rather than sat on a deck chair outside the van for a change, as nice as our barbecues had been the past few evenings. I had heard so many good things about the city and briefly read about the intriguing history of the place which had once been one of the most important in the world and I was looking forward to finding out more over the coming days. After a lovely evening the time came to head back to our roughly protected van and that is where it all went downhill.
As soon as we set foot out of the taxi to walk across the parking lot to the van we were instantly harassed by a new homeless security man, pleading for more money as he staggered towards us, fuelled by booze and desperate entrepreneurship. This guy was a lot more persistent and aggressive and frankly, a little bit scary so rather than paying him off we jumped in the van and deserted our ‘protected’ space. It was too late to start looking for new places and we were short on time anyway for the remainder of the trip so we headed out of town in search of a more peaceful night’s sleep and ended up driving halfway down the coast as Lisbon disappeared from view, a glistening, unexplored city, still on the bucket list.
One day I will go back, better prepared and less naïve, and I am sure I will love it. The brief time I spent in the city was amazing and there is so much more I want to explore. Until then, it is petty relegation to spot #19.