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Phespirit goes to Portugal
Lisbon     February 2007

It seemed to be turning into an ill-starred holiday, and yet there had been no obvious cause for concern when Phespirit booked his flight and hotel back in August 2006. The dates were chosen with no greater science than that they should incorporate the weekend of 10/11 February, falling exactly in between New Year and his next planned trip towards the end of March. Over the following months, however, this selection would increasingly seem like an unfortunate one.

First Phespirit decided that whilst in Lisbon he ought to go to a football match. One of the city's two giants, Benfica or Sporting Lisbon, would surely have a home fixture. But, no, not necessarily. It turned out that the 10/11 February had been set aside for the sixth round of the Portuguese Cup, the Taça de Portugal. Phespirit would have to wait until the fourth and fifth rounds were played, hope that both teams got through, and hope that one or both would be drawn at home. As it transpired, both teams did make it through to the last 16, as did Belenenses, Lisbon's third team. And, of course, all three teams were drawn to play away. Salvation came in the form of Atlético Clube de Portugal, a tiny Lisbon team from '2nd Division Serie D', two divisions down from the top flight. They had won miraculously 1-0 away to Porto in round four and would now play host to Académica on the Saturday. Phespirit made a note.

The next potential misfortune concerned his return flight. Having booked to travel with British Airways, he found himself facing a possible cancellation due to strike action following a ballot over (amongst other things) cabin crews' sick leave entitlements. Happily, this dispute was resolved, albeit with less than a fortnight to go before he was due to travel. And then finally on the weekend before his departure the weather forecast was for significant snowfall, lasting just twenty-four hours but set to coincide exactly with Phespirit's outbound flight at 10:45am on Thursday 8th February. The forecast proved accurate.

By checking-in via the Internet, Phespirit did not have to be at the airport until 10:00am. It usually takes him a little over two hours to get from home to London Heathrow by train and two Underground lines, but experience told him to allow plenty of time for mishaps. He set off at five in the morning, half an hour into the promised blizzard. His train arrived on time, departed on time, and then broke down at the first station, a mere five minutes into his journey. Unit failure. He remained stranded there for a further hour and three-quarters whilst the broken train was shifted and a replacement brought forth. He eventually reached Heathrow at 9:30am with snow still falling. Many flights were cancelled. No sooner had Phespirit checked-in his bags than the departures board flashed-up that his flight would be delayed until 11:20am. At least it wasn't cancelled, and it gave him time to get some breakfast. In the event it didn't leave the ground until a couple of minutes to one in the afternoon ..... but at last Phespirit was going to Lisbon.

So, after all that trouble, what did he do when he got there? Standard tourist doings. Over three days, starting from his hotel near Praça Marquês de Pombal he headed south, passing by Restauradores, Rossio and Baixa, to Praça Comércio, then to Sé Cathedral, Castelo de São Jorge and various places to the east; he headed north via Parques Eduardo VII to the Gulbenkian museums, then back south to the Chiado and Bairro Alto neighbourhoods; and he headed west to the monuments of Belém and the fabulous Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. The weather was mild and the rain (what little there was) fell only in a fine mist.

On Saturday afternoon Phespirit caught the 18E tram from Cais do Sodre to Calçada da Tapada, for the Estádio da Tapadinha, home of Atlético football club. The day before his departure to Lisbon he read on the Internet that the kick-off time had been brought forward from 4:00pm to 3:00pm. Only upon arriving at the ground did he find out that it was actually to be 2:30pm. He bought a ticket and a scarf and sat down on the damp concrete step-terraces with just ten minutes to go before the start. The match was a scrappy, unglamorous affair with neither side showing any of the creative flair so often associated with Portuguese football. Académica probably deserved to win it if only because they had two decent-looking 'goals' disallowed in the first half. Even so, it was harsh when the improbably-named Claudio Pitbull scored a 0-1 winner in the second minute of stoppage time. The home fans were dismayed, but still gave their heroes a deserved ovation at the end for having progressed so far in the competition.

The ramshackle Estádio da Tapadinha seemed to have more in common with the faded glory of Lisbon's tiled town houses and cobbled streets than did the ultra-modern stadia of Benfica and Sporting. Phespirit visited these grounds and was impressed. It would have been a fine experience to watch a big game in one of these colossal arena, but ultimately he was lucky to have seen any game at all. Indeed, he was lucky to have made it to Lisbon at all ..... and he was suitably pleased that he did.

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