“Mass transportation is doomed to failure in North America because a person’s car is the only place where he can be alone and think.”
So wrote Marshall McLuhan. And he most likely was right. In 1979, Portugal had a comprehensive public transportation system. There were buses (some of them were double deckers) trollies, trains, an elevator and taxis. If you had a schedule, you could go nearly anywhere and back during transit hours; taxis were available almost anytime for a fraction of what a New York City cabbie would expect.
With Harry already an expert in getting around Lisbon, I learned quickly how to navigate public transportation. I carried my little notes and bus schedules with me at all times during the early years. Frankly, I was happier in buses than I was in a car. The inhabitants have some, erm, creative driving habits. Think of that movie with the cars driving around the Arc de Triumph in Paris.
Harry fit in well in Portugal with his dark complexion and hair.
His height, however, was another story. But it was clear by my looks, that I was not Portuguese. The Portuguese were curious and had to find out if I could speak the language. For months I arrived at the bus stop where someone would test his or her theory on my country of origin by asking me the time. It was always the same question, but it was expressed in several different ways. Mostly it amounted to “What time is it? Do you have the time? Do you have the right time?” After a few weeks, when someone addressed me at the bus stop, I assumed it was about the hour and simply held out the arm adorned with my cheap Timex. (Though it’s possible that they just wanted to know the time.)
If you noticed that I listed an elevator with the other transportation, it’s not a mistake. Here’s the thing: Lisbon was built on some seriously steep hills. The Santa Justa Elevator in Lisbon was built to facilitate downtown Lisbon shoppers in their persuits. Raoul de Mesnier du Ponsard designed it. He was an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, whose name you should recognize.
The only caveat about public transportation is that one must be vigilant about one’s wallet and other valuables, and especially when the transportation is crowded. Pick pockets can move quickly and stealthily; they are professionals.
Talk to me – do you have any questions about transportation in Portugal? What is your favorite way to travel?