As usual the sun is shining brightly and the water is glistening here in Lisbon where we are holding the EDEN conference on elearning and distance education. It is day two of the conference and I am sat in the morning plenary session to listen to the four keynote speeches. More of this later....but first:
Last night several of us stayed out until the small hours to sample the atmosphere in the middle of the mayhem, mania and madness that is the Feast of San Antonio. Parades, concerts and general merry making in the streets of the city are the norm and no-one is allowed to be unhappy. We arrived via the metro, which was our first mistake, as the entire platform and the metro train itself were a seething mass of humanity. (Hand on your wallet, avoid the elbows, and try to keep standing upright – if you start falling over during the sudden stops, you are finished). I admit I felt a little like the proverbial Portuguese sardines, with far too many people crammed into too small a space, yet in a strange kind of way, it was fun. We finally managed to reach the centre of old Lisbon and took the funicular up to the Bairro Alto, where all the best cafes and bars are situated. The aromas that assail the nostrils in the pleasantly warm evening air of Lisbon have to be experienced. Every step it seems brings new ones, charcoal burners, roasting meat, the scent of the flowers in the trees, and even some less savoury ones – all add to the ambience of this beautiful and captivating city. Walking through the back streets, you also see the less palatable character of Lisbon. I was approached by a rather unsavoury looking character who half whispered ‘Cocaine?’ ‘I’m sorry,’ I replied, ‘I don’t have any to sell you...’ He looked a little bemused to say the least.
The restaurant was excellent with a choice of several kinds of exotic sounding fish and meat dishes. I have now sampled swordfish, calamari and monkfish and am now looking forward to trying out some of the dishes I can’t even begin to pronounce. The service was excellent also, but the company at first was a little subdued, and for good reason. We had three Germans in our party you see, and we had just sat cringing in a riverside bar to witness their soccer team being defeated by the Croatian team, who until yesterday could best be described as ‘minnows’ in the Euro 2008 competition. My German buddies put on a brave face, and I tried to encourage them by saying that the Croatians had actually put the English team out of the qualifying round, so were probably stronger than we thought. At least the German team were actually playing I said. I don’t think it worked. They cheered up significantly when the wine arrived however, and a jolly good time was had by all.
Finally arriving back at my hotel at stupid o’clock, my pillow was a very welcome sight, I can tell you.