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Published: March 10th 2010
3rd June ‘09:
OK, so I'm polishing the trailer. I know it's the sort of thing I'd ridicule Namibian for - and still might, given half a chance - but it looks nicer now. And it's a jolly sort of job in the sunshine, which is becoming harsher by the day. In fact, it's boiling in Portugal, which exacerbates Namibian's leg cramps. Despite tipping shakers of salt on his dinner, he still makes sudden leaps, and yells, as muscles spasm. 'What muscles?' you say, plausibly. He looks as a gnu might after successfully evading a lion, only to drop dead from exhaustion. 'This heat's about the same as in Namibia,' he says, mopping a rivulet from his brow.
Heat induces lethargy. So it's a good job I've got ice-cold air-conditioning, then, isn't it? Pah! Those blasted Greeks, with their blasted quarrelling, have made a dog's breakfast of the AC on my truck. You'd think a civilisation that can knock up the Temple of Zeus and the Parthenon would be able to spot a gas leak, wouldn't you? Oh, how times have changed. Nowadays, it seems, they couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery.
DAF in Lisbon, however,
have a better work ethic; three hours is spent tinkering, with the cab tipped up. Oh, what a nuisance when they jack up my living quarters; loose objects, now unpacked, must be stowed again. A stray laptop, nestling on the top bunk, could easily smash the windscreen. To be safe, when tipping a cab, all possessions go in cupboards or round the foot pedals.
Hoorah! They've done it - my toes are cold on the drive back to the stadium. Now I can finally go and do something productive. It's awfully easy to chat idly, though: a passing 'hello' to Little Dick; exchanging pleasantries with a dozen drivers who ask about the air-con; then meeting the eye of the girl outside the Site Co-ordinator's office. You see how many obstacles there are to intrepid exploring.
I force myself, though, cutting short Namibian's monologue on Satnav directions to Madrid. By the way, he has the effrontery to say, 'I must dash, I'm busy'...to me. This smacks of the disciple usurping the title of mentor, and needs nipping in the bud, don’t you think? What to you mean, sanctimonious? Me?
Anyway, a lovely little tram takes the tourist to
Belem, Lisbon's suburb housing the Monastery of Geronimos. Inside lies the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the infamous navigator. In 1497-8, he established a sea link with India, granting Portuguese supremacy over the Indian Ocean for over a century. He didn't moan about air-conditioning, you may well be thinking. No, but he would have had a sea breeze, and he didn't have to sleep in a black, breezeless tin can during the day. Don’t talk to me about trucks..
Now, as George Carlin once observed, it's perfectly all right to prick your finger, but very bad form to finger your prick. What has that to do with a monastery? Everything, I would have thought; the cloisters of Geronimos, jewel of the Manueline architectural style, must once have been full of cowled monks brandishing carnal thoughts, furiously imagining nuns between prayers for the king. Of course, they also lent spiritual succour to the navigators sailing from nearby Restelo to discover new worlds. The monastery was constructed in 1496.
Before we explore Belem further, I thought I’d explain belatedly - after seventy entries! - why I began blogging. It all started with a video application for “Best Job in the
World”, a job involving six months of loafing in the Australian Whitsunday Islands with my shirt off. You remember it was advertised as a competition based on votes in early 2009? There were 34,000 entries; I didn’t get the job.
Advertised at beginning and end of the video was my old blog address; I thought it a good idea to immediately demonstrate reporting 'on the ground' as proof of job suitability. Thus I set about blogging the imminent Tina Turner Tour. Unfortunately, in my zest to accurately portray touring life - and goaded ever onward by perverts - I leant rather heavily towards prostitution and fornication. This, indubitably, was outside Queensland Tourism's criteria, but brings us neatly, if irreverently, back to the clergy.
Just round the corner is THE tourist icon of Portugal: the Belem Tower, built shortly after the monastery. In a nutshell, it protected Lisbon and the Tagus estuary. The tower's decoration - elegant stone knots and armillary spheres (whatever they are) - includes a chipped stone rhinoceros, the first known example in Europe.
Hey, don't bother trying to walk back to Lisbon along the river from here - the 7km bicycle/walking track is unfinished.
I try, and fail. However, the first section is a pleasant stroll. There is a steel replica of the first seaplane to cross the South Atlantic; stuff about Henry the Navigator (died 1460 and made discovery of the Cape of Good Hope possible); and a large ground mosaic depicting early Portuguese trade routes worldwide.
A little further on is the 25th April Bridge, a motorway leading out of the city. Yes, of course I've been over it - by truck, and by train (the track hangs precariously below the road). But yellow trams are the way to travel around Lisbon. This relaxed city is ideal for a long weekend..
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