Me being me, I felt it necessary to complete preparations for the trip home, even though I had a couple days to do so. I had managed to store the bike and most of my baggage last night at the airport, so I wouldn't, have to schlep it back to the airport (the bus station being near the airport but 5 km from downtown), which did involve me unpacking it, riding it from the station with all the gear, only to have to repack it to store it when at the airport for the same idiotic rule the bus company has.
So I headed out first thing in the morning with the empty bike box (retrieved from the wonderful hostel) literally in tow, rumbling over the cobblestone streets for about a mile to the subway, then through the subway (drawing the by-now familiar raised eyebrows and clucking tongues of the elderly), and to the airport. Actually, this went smoother than I expected, and before too long, i had the bike all packed and stowed for the flight home, and stored at the airport so I didn't have to think about how astoundingly and unnecessarily difficult the US and Europe make it to transport a damned bicycle.
Anyway, out near the airport was a genuine Lisbon attraction- the fairgrounds of the '98 Expo (World's Fair). In some ways, this is a little depressing, in that the 15 years have taken a bit of a toll on all the sweeping modern architecture, futuristic fountains, and rows of flags from every nation. Certainly the flashiness and optimism stands in stark contrast to the post-austerity grittiness of the rest of Lisbon. Or perhaps it just had the same problem seemingly every former World's Fair ground has had in every city- where no one seems to have put much thought into what to do with it once the fair is over.
Be this as it may, one legacy that remains is a truly excellent aquarium, and I have always been a sucker for them. So despite it being a bit expensive, I very happily whiled away a few hours there, and then walked around the pleasant gardens and marina in the area. By that time it was getting into the afternoon, and I made my way back into town to relax a bit at the hostel.
With all my baggage squared away and ready for travel, and a full day left, I had no reason not to accept an invitation, then, for a night on the town. I think I have mentioned this is a night owl culture, and generally people go out around 11, after eating the only substantial meal of the day around 9. People stay out until 4 or later as a matter of course, and heretofore that has not worked well with my bike touring schedule.
This is a particularly well-run hostel, and a satellite group of semi-employees is generally always around to offer guests lots of activities, so long as none of them are early. Tonight's offering was to go see fado music at a tiny bar that is a local favorite, and, having not seen this in person yet, I was very excited to do so. I was not at all disappointed, as we arrived right on time, and miraculously had a table reserved for us in the very limited space. Sipping small glasses of port, we enjoyed a series of singers, some apparently professionals and some talented amateurs. They were accompanied by a guitar and something somewhat like a mandolin, and the music lived up to its richly haunting and melancholy reputation. It seems to be roughly equivalent to the blues in America, and apparently was the de facto soundtrack to decades of dictatorship and poverty.
It seemed to me hardly a dead medium though, as people around us would often sing along, apparently very familiar with most of the songs.
Portugal is unfortunately bereft of a tradition of late night munchies, though we did find a place known only as "the illegal bakery" where you put a couple euros through a window and they give you a shifty glance and chocolate filled crossaint.
Woke up relatively late the next day and a little groggy, and frankly a bit tired by now of all the constant need to make every minute count, but the excellent breakfasts this hostel makes (soooo welcome after more than a month straight of little more than toast and perhaps cereal for breakfast, but usually only toast), a rallied and got on the move.
I returned to the Belem area, which I felt I gave short shrift at the beginning of the trip. Particularly the fantastic maritime museum, which needs a few hours to appreciate, as opposed to the paltry half hour or so I gave it near closing time last time. So I did that, then went to the adjoining and mildly interesting Archeological Museum next door (it's disappointingly small, very little is in English, and I am pretty burnt out on Archeological Museums at this point). I then went to the Famous Place You Have To Go To, which every city seems to have( for example Cafe DuMond in New Orleans) , in this case the Pastelrilla De Belem, for the little custard tarts and coffee. Like all such attractions, it's good, sure, but you can get equal quality at much lower price and no line at the other place two doors down.
Last stop was the wonderful (and free!) Museum of Electricity, which is housed in an early 20th century coal-fired power plant. If you ever wondered EXACTLY how a power plant worked in the heyday of coal, this is the place to go, with lots of high-tech displays explaining the fine detail of centrifugal gas-excluding water pumps, the merits of various types of coal dust recycler systems, and the history of closed-sysem coolant arrays. There are also fun interactive exhibits bout electricity in general, and of course you can climb up in the huge cool machinery and pretend you are in the final setpiece of Terminator 2.
Since I had to leave for the airport at an ungodly early hour the next morning, I took it a lot easier than last night, but it still was pleasant, since the hostel staff was throwing a Christmas potluck. The addition of sangria to Christmas seems in general a positive one, and all were happy and festive.
The escape from Lisbon was similarly stressful and trying as the one from Seville, and I wish in retrospect I had showed up even earlier than that nearly 2 hours I had allotted before checkout. The most challenging moment arose from a difference in the rules about how much the bike box can weigh from the 100 lbs (around 45 kg) on the way out to 32 kg now on the way back. I had 10 minutes to frantically tear apart the carefully packed box and shove everything not a bike into my big pack (thank goodness I brought it- it just stayed stored in the hostel all trip) and a rear-pannier-cum-carryon bag. But I freaking did it, and that's why Americans are awesome.
I write this now from a connection layover in Zurich, which has an airport that is a cartoon parody of you would imagine a Swiss airport to be: spotless, efficient, sleek, expensive, and kind of terrifying because it's like walking around in a dystopian future world- where maybe all of the beautiful employees there are robot clones or the building is heated with puppy blood or something.
And that's about it, blog fans. I may post a few musings later, but next stop is San Francisco and then home home home! I hope everyone has enjoyed my adventure with me, and thank you all so much for all of you kind comments.