The first thing you need to know about me… I have no sense of direction (Lost in the Schwarzwald). I cannot read a map. I get lost with a GPS. Now put me in a foreign country, with a map that’s already wrong, and ask me to find my way back to a hotel 38 kilometers away.  You know this is going wrong.

This past week my dad (Pimp your Clog) sent my mom & I for four wonderful, amazing days in beautiful Portugal.  Because. My mom is turning 70 this July and I won’t be there.  One of the drawbacks of living half a planet away. I found a fantabulous last minute deal, at a gorgeous hotel (Hotel Arribas) just outside of Lisbon, right on the beach. I love the beach. I love pools. I love swimming. And the pool at Hotel Arribas is nothing short of amazing.

The first day we relaxed, swam, drank local wine and ate local fish. The second day we went on our own little pilgrimage to Fátima. And the third day we went to Lisbon. On the famous see-it-all, do-it-all Hop-On Hop-Off bus. My mom and I smoothly navigated the local bus system from Praia Grande (the beach next to Hotel Arribas) to Sintra (also worth a day-long visit, with it’s own Hop-On Hop-Off bus) and then the incredibly affordable train straight into downtown Lisbon.

We had picked up our Hop-On Hop-Off tickets at the hotel, complete with a map, so we could get on anywhere on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus route. We stepped out of the train, into the busy Lisbon streets, and I headed confidently for the closest Hop-On Hop-Off bus stop.  I should have know then & there not to be confident.  That bus stop was nowhere to be found.  I did find the zoo, and it has giraffes, but no bus stop. Just lots & lots of buses.

Finally we spotted people just as lost as us, combined our thinking power, found the bus stop, then the bus, and we were on our way… but not exactly the way we thought we were going.  It confuzzled us.  About 20 minutes later, and may I say we were greatly enjoying the magnificence that is Lisbon the whole time, we picked up new passengers. Friendly passengers.  New friends really.  And it turns out… our map was wrong!  It was leading us in the wrong direction, on the wrong path, to beautiful sights, but not the ones on my Must See list.

Together with our new friends we switched buses (from blue line, to red line) flawlessly.  My mom picked up a new map, and I stuck the old one in my backpack to show the hotel.  Mistake number one.

The top of the bus was warm, sunny, gorgeous. My eyes couldn’t drink in enough beauty and half the time I forgot to bring the lens to my eye or listen to the lady on the audio tour. When the bus pulled up to the  Tower of Belém, I couldn’t contain my excitement and got right of…. and then watched it leave five minutes later with my mom still on board, looking in the opposite direction. Suddenly I was alone and lost in Portugal.

My mom had her cell phone, from the states, turned off. I couldn’t reach her. I assumed, mistake number two, that I would find her sitting on a terrace drinking a cold water at the next stop. I took advantage of the time between buses to photograph my Must See Tower of Belém. I explored the war memorial, watched a changing of the guards, and then caught the next bus right on time.

But at the next stop, no mom.  Or at the next one, or at the next one.  I finally got off at her number one Must See stop and wandered the bus route for an hour, taking in the sights and searching for a beautiful mom, in bright orange.  No luck.  When my feet decided they’d had enough, and the heat started to overwhelm me, I got back on the bus and rode around looking for mom.  No luck. Knowing that the buses took their last drive at 17:00, I finally got off the red line route, and headed over to the blue line route so I could go back to “our” train station in Sete Rios, by the zoo.

This is when I got lost. The blue lines were all heading in the wrong direction. Sete Rios was three stops the other direction from any blue line stops I could find.  Then I remembered, I had the wrong map!  Just about then I spotted two other ladies, looking as lost as I, studying a map that looked like the right map. We joined forces, an Aussie, an Irish woman, and I, and found our way to the next blue line stop, 10 minutes away.

But wait! It was the wrong bus company.  There is more than one hop-on hop-off company in Lisbon. More than one hop-on hop-off bus with a blue line.  My new-found friends were in the right spot. Me? I was hopelessly lost.  Enter Knight in Shining Armor #1.

“Are you lost?” He asked.
“Yes” I said. “I must go to Sete Rios.””Oh! You are close! It is not 5 minutes. Just go straight down that street.” And my kind Knight pointed across a traffic circle with 4 lanes of conjumbled traffic and 10 different exits.
“How must I walk there?” I asked.  He shrugged his shoulders.
“I do not know. I am a driver.” and he got back in his van and left. I stared at my new friends. We all had a laugh, hahaha, and I bravely reshouldered my backpack and headed up the sidewalk around the eternal traffic circle hoping against hope to find Sete Rios.

An hour later, multiple requests for help later, a much better understanding of Portuguese later, I was back in the train station where I’d last seen my confidence and my mom.  No mom. I tried calling her. No answer.  And the sign said “Sintra” in one minute. I bought my 2 ticket and ran up to my platform.  15 minutes later the train arrived and I was on my way back “home”. Without my mom.

I rode the train to the end, turns out this was mistake number three. There are two stops in Sintra and I got out at the one without any buses.  Finding the bus from Sintra to Praia Grande proved an impossible task. I tried for another hour, walking down the mountain, and back up.  Seeing buses fly by as my feet got more sore and more tired.  Luckily Sintra is stunningly gorgeous. It is a worth at least a whole day of sight-seeing. I spent some time resting, and snapping photo’s, looking as lost as I could, hoping for help.

Suddenly, I saw a group of people standing in the middle of the street.  That was new. Interesting. I went and stood with them.  Looking up the hill, just like them.  I was almost a local.  But no one talked to me. My exhaustion sucked all my new-found Portuguese out of my brain, and soon I lost interest in standing in the street like them. I turned, walked out of the street, up the sidewalk, sat down, and watched them all ride off in a bus that had stopped in the middle of the street and picked up all the middle-of-the-street standers. Oh.

Now I saw the light pole had a small bus sign glued to it. Oh.  I stared at the sign.  No buses going to Colares (one town up from the hotel) or Praia Grande.  I was really tired, hot and not very interested in playing I-Spy with all the light poles in Sintra. Now I wanted home, wine, food and my mom.  I decided to continue my trudge back up the mountain, to beautiful old-town Sintra, to those hotels, and have a concierge call me a taxi.  When suddenly, Knight in Shining Armor #2 appeared.

Like a mirage, far up the street, a taxi drove, with his window down.

“TAXI!” I yelled. And he stopped. Beckoned. And waited in the middle of the road for me to plop in, hot, exhausted and so grateful for a ride.
“Praia Grande?” I asked. He looked at me like I was crazy. The day was almost over, it was not time to go to the beach that look said.
“Hotel Arribas?” I asked instead. And he nodded happily.
“Sim. Sim.” Yes in Portuguese, my new-found knowledge of the language seeping back in as the taxi’s air condition cooled my body and brain.

It turns out there was a bad accident on the road down the mountain, and Xesús (my driver), knew a back road. With the speed of a nascar drive he zoomed down a back alley, quickly leaving Sintra behind us as old, moss-covered walls appeared on either side of a narrow mountain road.  My heart raced, both with fear at his speed and the uncertainty of where I was going. I asked again:

“Hotel Arribas?” Thinking maybe I’d said go fast in Portuguese instead of my hotel.
“Sim. Sim.” He beamed. Then started telling me about where we were, what I was seeing, all in Portuguese I half understood. Instead of worrying I started looking out the window and wondering at the beauty of the backroads of Portugal. Xesús was also a volunteer fireman, a word I’d learned earlier in the day (bombero), primarily because I’d worried that was a bomb somewhere. I have to stop watching the news.

When he noticed me drag my camera out of my backpack, he stopped and let me take photo’s out of the window, a welcome respite from the break-neck pace he kept up in between stops, in between the old walls, on the tiny backroads back to my hotel. Xesús even stopped so I could get a better view stunning Palácio da Pena…. and he took a photo of me standing in the middle of the nowhere, in front of the palace.  Still apprehensive (you can see it in the photo) but also overwhelmed by all the beauty of the day and the kindness of the Portuguese people.

Giraffes nearby!

The Tower of Belém or Tower of St Vincent in Lisbon, Portugal.

The bus-free streets of Sintra, after getting off at the wrong stop.

Palácio Nacional de Sintra

I took pictures of the street signs, so I could google my way home and because they were so beautiful.

old-town Sintra

Heading down the mountain to find a bus.

Residential Sintra

Castelo dos Mouros. Turns out you can walk this ruined castle wall. I missed out.

Monserrate Palace

Palácio da Pena

Photo by Xesús: Me in front of Monserrate Palace and Palacio da Pena

I made it back to the hotel in time for sunset and a fruity, bubbly wine with my mom (who was not as lost as I).

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