My first cable car trip! On an Austrian-built cableway. Along a river. In Lisbon. Right. Well, they say there’s a first time for everything. That’s a first time for a whole lot of things!
The Oldies got an insider tip to the effect that the Oriente train station would be well worth visiting for its spectacular modern architecture. ‘Yawn. How exciting’, I thought. The station, however, is actually stunning, with its roof of glass and steel made to look like a row of trees. And it turned out that there is a lot more to this part of Lisbon than any of us had expected. The train station is just part of the whole complex that was the site of EXPO ’98 World’s Fair and there’s so much to see and do in the Parque das Nações you could easily spend days exploring the area.
Just stepping out from the train station, Her Ladyship got all excited on seeing the Vasco da Gama shopping centre. No, she has definitely not inherited her mammy’s shopaholic genes. She had no interest in the shops. It was simply the fact that the centre was called after that famous Portuguese explorer. It turns out that, back in the dim distant past, she once had a history teacher in school who was a major Vasco da Gama fan, so it was Vasco da Gama this, Vasco da Gama that, throughout that entire school year. Anyway, it looks like history is repeating itself for Her Ladyship at the EXPO ’98 site which celebrated the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route from Europe to India. It’s Vasco da Gama this, Vasco da Gama that, all over again. The Vasco da Gama Centre, the Vasco da Gama Tower, the Vasco da Gama Bridge … And now Her Ladyship has developed the annoying habit of shouting out ‘Vasco da Gama!’ every time she sees the name. Which, here in Lisbon, is often. Far too often.
I have to admit that the Vasco da Gama(!) Bridge is seriously impressive. Spanning the Tagus at an incredible overall length of 17km, it is one of the longest bridges in the world. It certainly deserves that exclamation mark! We had a great view of the bridge and of the restaurants and parks along the waterfront from the cable car.
I bet you don’t see banana trees out the windows of cable cars in Austria!
I met this handsome chap on the rooftop of the Vasco da Gama Centre. (I’m referring, of course, to the Ayres’ eagle, not his hairy handler.) His job is to keep the pigeons away from the restaurant terraces. That must certainly cut down on the amount of pigeon poop on the tables. I just wonder what they do to cut down on the eagle poop.
And I met this angry bird outside the Interactive Science Museum. He scared the life out of me, but I suppose he – and the museum, of course – is a great hit with the kiddies.
His Lordship was fascinated by the architecture of the Portugal Pavilion, the Atlantic Pavilion, the Lisbon Casino, in fact every building along the riverfront, each one with its own unique style. He spent so long snapping away from every angle, I thought I’d never be able to get him to move on. I had only one building in my sights: Oceanário de Lisboa, the Lisbon Oceanarium.
For me, this has got to be the highlight of this whole trip. Luckily, the Oldies were as enthralled as I was, and we spent hours there, simply staring at the hundreds of different species of marine creatures in the enormous tanks, each one representing the oceans: Atlantic, Antarctic, Indian and Pacific. The statistics are mind-blowing, but if I tell you that the largest tank has a capacity of 5,000 cubic metres and can be viewed over two storeys, you can perhaps visualise the scale of it all. From sharks to sea horses, jelly fish to moray eels, sunfish to tropical fish, what a stunning display of marine life!
Her Ladyship got yet another great thrill that day. She saw real live puffins for the first time. She’d been boring us for years about her dream of visiting a puffin colony. Ha! As if a landlubber like her would ever embark on a rocky boat trip to some far off-shore island. Fat chance! So, as you can imagine, we were nearly deafened by her squeals of delight when she saw the puffins in the Oceanarium. How embarrassing!
At least ‘Vasco da Gama!’ got a rest for a while.
It was a thrill for me to meet some friendly penguins, Inca terns and even some sea otters. I didn’t broadcast it to the world though. I just muttered a very dignified ‘Howz it goin’ lads?’
The Lisbon Oceanarium is simply fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that it didn’t even need to be named after Vasco da Gama!