What’s that about then ?
We both entered the 2012 Lisbon Half Marathon, which meant (obviously) that we had to go to Lisbon. We decided to take the kids with us – their first ever time on an aeroplane – but because someone would need to look after them while we were running, we invited Grandad and Nana to come with us.
Thursday Night, Flying Out
It was the first time the kids had ever been on an aeroplane. They were a bit excited by the whole thing.
We were booked on an early evening flight out of Heathrow Airport and had arranged to meet Dennis and Linda somewhere in the terminal, as they were flying down from Newcastle to meet us in London. I hadn’t noticed beforehand that their flight in Heathrow landed at a different terminal than the one departing for Lisbon, but thankfully they had enough time to get across. I think they may have stayed airside the whole way through, so they were fine. We managed to meet up in the departure lounge at Terminal 5 and grab a quick bite and a drink before taking off.
By the time we got to Lisbon it was properly dark, so we jumped into a couple of taxis (having first inflated the two “Bubble Bum” inflatable kids seats) and proceeded down to our selected hotel, the Holiday Inn on Avenida de António José de Almeida. It was a Holiday Inn. They gave us two rooms that were big enough to sleep four people, which was great because it meant we could get the girls to sleep in the room with Dennis and Linda on race morning, to avoid having everybody get up at the early hour we needed to get going. Excellent ! I seem to remember Dennis and Linda were given the larger of the two rooms though (with a double and two singles instead of two doubles) and they kindly agreed to swap so that the four of us were all together in the larger room for two of the three nights we stayed.
I think we went down to the bar for a swift half before bedtime.
Friday, I’m in Love
With Lisbon, that is. I’d been there many times in the past (but not since about 2001) as a result of working on a project with Petrogal. I have to say that it’s probably my favourite of all the European cities I’ve been to, and I’ve been to quite a few. I love the architecture, the Portuguese culture, and the slightly shabby but modernising rapidly chic of the place.
We got up in no particular hurry and I think we went out for breakfast, which we had at a little coffee and pastry shop by the side of the road on the way down to Saldanha Metro Station. Our plan for the day was to do a bit of touristy stuff in the morning and then scoot out to the Expo in the afternoon to pick up our race packs. Our touristy choice was to head for the Castelo São Jorge. I’d been up here before with Kas on the one and only weekend she got to come to Lisbon while I was working there ( see Porto and Lisbon post ). We got there by grabbing the Metro down to Baixa Chiado, I think, and then looking for the correct tram line to get up the hill.
The weather was a little warmer than we’re used to in the UK at the end of March, so it looked like it might end up being quite a tiring day. This started to hit us more or less as soon as we got to the top of the castle. We still made a pretty good job of walking around it though.
After we’d done the walking around it was pretty much time for lunch. We also split up from Dennis and Linda, and they hot footed it off for an afternoon in the city on their own. Can’t say I blame them. We sat for lunch at a cafe by the roadside that had a terrace overlooking the river. Top view for a lunchtime gander.
After lunch we had a bit of an adventure, for all kinds of reasons. We had to get over to the event Expo to collect our stuff. Well, we didn’t have to go on Friday because we could have gone on Saturday, but we decided we would go. It was held on a bit of flat land down by the riverside near Belém near the Museu da Electricidade. We got there by taking a tram back down off the castle to Praça do Comércio and then catching a tram/suburban train along the coast from Cais do Sodré.
The Expo was the usual collection of tents filled with stalls selling running clothing, isotonic drinks and various forms of high-calorie cereal bars, and there were desks for picking up your race entry pack. Ours were there. So were those belonging to a few of our Redway Runners buddies, who were also there. A number of these had just arrived directly from the airport and had as yet not been to their hotel, which for a few, proved to be the same hotel we were in. Small world, innit ?
The sport came when we tried to get back again. There were no trains for ages when we arrived, so we grabbed a bus, which I am convinced the geezer in the uniform said went to Praça do Comércio, except it didn’t. It went up to Praça do Estrela instead. It took us a little while to realise, and by the time we did, we hadn’t got the faintest idea where we were or why. We followed this bus to the end of the line, assuming it was just a slightly deviant stop on our way to Praça do Comércio, but were then instructed to get off. Eh ? What ? Where are we ? Why are you making us get off here ? Once we’d established that the bus we’d got off wasn’t going anywhere, we started looking for others, but I think they must have been on a mid-afternoon snooze break of some variety, because none were scheduled for ages. I think we sat around up there for 30 minutes before another turned up. We checked where it was going and jumped on it so that we could at least get back down the hill into the old town.
Once we got down there I fancied doing a few more caches, but after a few walks up and down quite steep hills (Lisbon has lots of these), the girls were starting to look like they were done, so Kas took them home on the tube while I went for a bit of a walk. My walk took me from the bottom of the castle along to the rather impressive Praça do Marquês de Pombal and then up to Saldahna and round the back of the Instituto Superior Técnico before returning back to the hotel.
Saturday is Expo Day
But not the Expo for the race, we did that on Friday. No, on Saturday we went to the site of Expo ’98. We went as a family of four, with Dennis and Linda having scooted off to have a day exploring again.
The Expo site is on the riverbank north of the city centre and just south of the Vasco da Gama Bridge. It covers a pretty big area.
We didn’t have any particular plan for visiting the place beyond that it would probably take us all day, and there was a new (for us) geocache type available (a WherIGo named after the Expo’s official mascot, Gil). In general the site is an ultra modern bit of urban development consisting of a bunch of pavilions interspersed with gardens, and surrounded by walkways and trendy urban-chic blocks of flats (as opposed to cheap, tacky ones). It also has a massive cable car running the full length of the site along the riverside. There seem to be a very large number of fountains too, many of which were tested for wetness by the kids, despite it being a bit of a grey morning when we arrived.
After lots of fountains and a couple of pavilions we say down at a cafe and had a bit of a rest. Well, we did. The girls needed to run off some energy so they ate quickly and then went to play on the surrounding grassy banks, which were very uppy-downy.
From here we walked into the centre of the site to find the Nations Park. It’s more of a square than a park, but it does have the proverbial “Flags of All Nations” on poles around the outside. There’s a virtual geocache here where you are supposed to find your own national flag and do a selfie next to it. I think we hurried through this a little bit because the weather was getting drier and much warmer.
From there we decided to ride along the site on the cable car, quite possibly because the WherIGo told us to do it. At the far end we got off and walked back down a little way into some gardens, which proved to be the final resting place of the WherIGo geocache. That particular one had taken us pretty much all over the Expo site looking for clues, and the girls actually seemed to enjoy the exploration, so it was worthwhile.
We’d had enough after all that, so we made our way home on the train. In the evening we went out for a team meal in Lisbon with the other Redway Runners. It was OK aside from some general lack of communication over the menu format and a bit of what I thought was unnecessary “they don’t cook it like this at home” from a couple of our party. Well, we’re not at home, are we?
All of which was followed by kicking the girls out into Dennis and Linda’s room so that we didn’t have to wake them up in the morning.
Race day began in relative peace and quiet as the kids were next door in Dennis and Linda’s room. It wasn’t peaceful for very loing though, as we had a race to get to, and getting there was a bit of an epic journey.
To get to the start line we had to walk up to the station at Entrecampos. The half marathon course was a point-to-point starting on the south side of the river and finishing down in Belém, where we’d been on Friday afternoon. It’s a suburban railway line from Entrecampos which takes you around the north-west side of the city centre and then into the girder structures of the Ponte 25 de Abril and into the station at Pragal, which is essentially a southern suburb of Lisbon and is home to the massive Jesus on a Podium that can be seen from the whole of Lisbon’s centre.
Once we got to the station we got ourselves into a right mess. It was sunny, so we needed water but didn’t have any, plus the place was absolutely heaving with runners, and the start was over a mile away, and the toilet facilities were, shall we say, some way short of the requirement. The queue for the ladies was basically huge, and Kas being what Kas is on the morning of a run, spent pretty much the whole time queuing, using the loo, and then walking straight to the back of the queue again to wait for the next time. The gents wasn’t much better, although as ever a number of gentlemen had taken to turning their bikes around against any wall or fence they could find.
Pedestrian traffic towards the start line (on the motorway near to the toll booths) was moving incredibly slowly, in part because they seem to have thought better of any need to marshal the street or direct people to the right place. By the time we got down the access ramp to the start area they’d already started the race, which was a major disappointment. Another disappointment was that they’d mingled the half marathon runners in with a bunch of people doing a 10 km fun run, which in most people’s case seemed to be a fun walk. I have no objection to the people, obviously, but the problem it caused was that a lot of them were going very slowly and pushing buggies with kids, and because we crossed the bridge on the road deck, quite a few of them were stopping in large groups to take photos that are normally impossible to take. This meant that there were a lot of snarl-ups going over the bridge deck and it took us 25 minutes or so to get across, despite it only being 3 km. As it turned out, though, we needn’t have worried, because we soon started encountering some other difficulties.
Three weeks earlier we’d run a half marathon in Milton Keynes, and being the first week in March it was cold. I think 2012 was the one where the constant rain during the race turned to snow just as I finished. Whichever ! It was cold and wet. We were completely unprepared for Lisbon. As we crossed the start line (at 10 am in the last week of March) it was about 25%, with bright sunshine and no wind. It was a little breezy on the bridge, because it’s a bridge, but once we got onto the Lisbon side and descended onto the long, straight roads that run up the river’s edge, it turned into an inferno. It was one of only a couple of races I’ve run where I took a drink at ever stop and actually drank all of it. By the time I finished I think I’d drunk 2 litres of Lucozade Sport and another two of water, but somehow I still didn’t need a wee. All that drinking also took it’s toll on our running speed, because we pretty much stopped and walked for a couple of minutes at each drink station. By the time we finished it had taken nearly two and a half hours to complete the course – a good half an hour more than the Milton Keynes race. still, the weather was quite nice at the finish, and the course itself was a flat tour of Lisbon’s waterfront between Praça do Comércio and Torre de Belém, which includes some quite scenic bits as well as some more commercial parts. It does make me wonder how well I would have run if it had been a bit cooler.
We chilled in the nearby gardens after we’d finished, waiting for all the Redway Runners to come in (yes, we weren’t quite the last) and consuming even more fluids, before grabbing trains and metros back to the hotel.
In the evening we went out for another team meal in Lisbon with the other Redway Runners, but this time the atmosphere seemed to suit better, if only because we weren’t all on the same table. The four of us sat together for much of the meal but then things started to loosen up a bit towards the end and there was a bit more moving around and socialising.
No, not the crap 1970 England World Cup Song, just our return after a long weekend away.
There’s not much to say except that we grabbed a big taxi, made it to our flight home, flew home, and then drove home, pretty much without incident.