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Seeing in the New Year – Lisbon

Tue 31 Dec ‘13 – day 17  Having been delayed in sailing from Gibraltar due to problems loading fuel oil, Oriana made a fast overnight passage so that it could pick up the Pilot at the allotted time when we arrived at the mouth of the River Tagus which leads to Lisbon.

There was a low damp mist and this was obscuring the view as we proceeded up river towards our berth.  The Belem Tower and the Monument to Henry the Navigator were barely visible on the north bank and as we passed under the 25 de Abril Bridge the top of the statute of Christ the Redeemer was covered in drifting clouds.

Having passed the Praça do Comérico (Black Horse Square) the ship swung around so that we were berthed with the bow pointing downstream.  This berth had only been in operation for just over a year and was much more convenient that the previous berth which was down by the bridge, so a little way out of town.  This one was adjacent to Sta Apolonia, the main railway station for trains from Spain and the north of the country, as well as being in the shadow of Sao Jorge Castle and the Alfama district.

From here it was just a short distance into the centre of town and was an easy 10 minute walk, or you could take the shuttle bus that dropped people off in Praca da Figueria.  I waited until the rush had cleared and then dressed for the inclement weather, waterproof jacket & trousers plus my umbrella I went down the gangway and ventured ashore.  People were already returning on board complaining that they were cold and wet; well what do you expect if you don’t put the correct clothes on!!

So umbrella up and with my bobble hat and gloves on I strolled into town taking care to avoid the puddles.  The old trams were still rattling around the streets and are such a historic feature every effort was made to keep them in service.  The modern equivalent may be quieter and have a smoother ride, but there was something atmospheric about the old trams that appeals to locals and tourists alike.

In Praça do Comérico a large stage was being erected ready for the festivities tonight, but if the weather remains as it is then the fireworks will be like a damp squib – terrible pun I know.

I wandered up through the Arco da Victória and up Rua Augusta, one of the three main shopping streets that run parallel to each other from Praça do Comérico up to Parça Dom Pedro IV where the National Theatre is situated.  This was a pedestrianized area and full of very up market shops as well as lots of cafes where the proprietaries were putting out tables and chairs, but making sure that they were covered as the weather is still very inclement.

A bakery store had a window full of delicious looking large fruit and sugar covered ring cakes so I popped in and bought one to share at afternoon tea (or in my case coffee).

Having purchased postcards and stamps I passed the Santa Justa Lift designed by Gustave Eiffel – of tower fame, as I carried on up to the shuttle bus pick up point.  Having visited this city on many previous occasions, the poor weather certainly precluded any thoughts of just wandering around looking at the sights, so it was a quick trip back to the ship in the warm dry coach and then up to my cabin to take off the wet jacket and trousers.

I spent the afternoon reading a book while watching the weather gradually improve, then it was time to shower and change ready for the last black tie night of the cruise.

P&O celebrate Hogmanay as if it was Burns Night, so the Haggis would be piped in and one of the ships officers will give Robbie Burns famous ‘Address to the Haggis’ and this, along with venison and all sorts of Scottish treats would be on the menu.

New Year’s Eve was always a good night on-board ship especially if you are in harbour watching a firework display, like we will be tonight and as will Aurora in Madeira.  I was on Adonia two years when it made an unscheduled overnight stop in Malta on 31 Dec because of bad weather rather than sailing for La Goulette in Tunisia and so we had the ‘hardship’ of being in Grand Harbour Valetta watching a fantastic firework display rather than being at sea; everyone on-board knew where they would rather be and it certainly wasn’t bobbing around in a storm.

After dinner I went up to the Crow’s Nest bar so that I could see the fireworks while remaining in the warm and dry and listening to the ships band playing good music all night.

Just before midnight the Captain made an announcement that and again is tradition with P&O, the oldest member of the ships company (the Staff Chief Engineer) strikes eight bells to ring out the old year and then the youngest member (one of the dancers in the Headliners Theatre Company) does the same to ring in the new.  All the while the ships ‘whistle’ along with those from all the ships in harbour are blasting out as much noise as it can.

The firework were set off from barges just off shore in the River Tagus and in front of Praça do Comérico where a huge crowd had gathered to enjoy the festivities.