Thursday, March 29, 2007

Lisbon: lost luggage, mummies, and cigars - oh my!

So I bid goodbye to our coordinator and travelmates in Copenhagen and made my way to Lisbon, Portugal, by way of Milan to hook up with a new crop of GMF fellows. It was a tight connection, but I arrived in Lisbon without incident. Almost.

After my flight, I walked the gauntlet of smokers IN THE AIRPORT (!) to stand alone at the baggage claim in a foreign country where I could not speak the language and watched as everyone from my flight retrieved their bags and took off. As the number of bags and passengers dwindled, I tried to reassure myself: "At least the belt is still moving. I'm sure mine will be out soon." Then the belt stopped. And I suddenly started sweating. I had nothing but the clothes on my back, a laptop, and a small carryon bag of reading material and must-have toiletries.

I looked around trudged towards a pictogram that seemed to indicate lost luggage. I think it was an airline employee-shaped stick figure kicking a luggage-like object into an abyss. Okay, I made that up in my frustration, but it wasn't far off. I found a line of people in a chair-less waiting area also having luggage problems and took a number: 194. The sign indicated they were now serving number 178. I kid you not.

Nearly an hour later, after growing so tired I grabbed and sprawled out on a luggage rack, I filed a missing luggage report and made my way to a taxi and on to the hotel.

It would be three days before I had my luggage in hand again. Three days of handwashing my clothes, blowing them dry each night with a hair dryer, and calling Portugal Airlines every few hours for updates. And I use that term loosely, since their "update" consisted of telling me the bag had made it to Milan, but they "could not confirm that it was on its way to Lisbon."

They couldn't confirm this because they had no phone contact with the airport authorities: they only worked by Telex. Not e-mail. Not fax. Telex, which is a computer networking system first used in the late 1930s and which is the same system used for TELEGRAMS. No [STOP] stinkin'[STOP] way [STOP].

On day three, I'd had enough. I showered, put on my slightly damp clothes, and took a taxi to the airport. At the lost and found, a woman looked up my missing bag report and led me down a hallway to a secure area that looked like the dingy evidence locker on old police shows: a warehouse-like room accessed through a chainlink gate with a surly uniformed guy out front checking people in and out.

After being security wanded, the airline lady took me inside a room that had literally HUNDREDS of missing luggage lined up. On carts, on the floor, piled in pyramids, and lined up in rows that stretched out for yards on the cement floor. "Do you see your bag anywhere?" she asked. Uh, I'll need a minute, I thought.

So I dived in. Stepping over luggage, poking my head under the cart shelves, pulling bags aside, searching for MY black suitcase among the hundreds gathering dust in the room. Growing discourage and rounding my third large pile, I spotted it, sitting there with the others. I snagged the handle, double checked the tags, signed the release form and headed out. But first I snapped this shot with my cell phone.

I think my thumb got in the way but you get the gist. Imagine these bags times 30 to get an idea of the scope. Unbelievable.

I loaded my bag into a cab and settled back for the ride to the hotel (and cleaner clothes) reassured in my belief that ultimately, I know I can always depend on myself to get stuff done right. Take that TAP Airlines. I'd insert a 'flipping the bird' symbol if I could find one. ;-)

So despite the bag snafu, at least we had great rooms at the Hotel Tivoli Lisbon. This doesn't quite do it justice but it was big, with a king size bed, fresh fruit and bottled water awaiting us on arrival, and this great view.
The picture below is our first night in Lisbon.

Jeff from NC, Carrie from Chicago, Shyam from Atlanta, Tracy from Cleveland, and me, rounding out the Lisbon Crew.
Our first night, we were invited to visit a pharmacy museum after hours, which seemed quirky but turned out to be fascinating.

We learned that French royals took mummies from Egypt and crushed them to make face cream because the oils used in the mummification process were beneficial to the skin. At one point, they commissioned Napolean to handle this task and he brought back 30,000! It's a wonder there were any left for archeologists.
Ancient medical texts.
Our group with the museum director, who was a wonderful host and who had staff prepare a sumptuous dinner in the museum dining room. I think I ate too fast to get pix.
The streets of Lisbon at night.
An amazing and informative lunch during out stay with the president of the Portuguese Parliament and several political party leaders. That's Carrie to the right of the President of the Parliament.

Check out the waiters in tuxes serving us delicious food off silver trays. Tracy, a vegetarian, is being stoic about the rack of lamb on display before her.One thing that took a lot of getting used to for us Americans was the amount of smoking in Europe. There were ashtrays on the tables in meetings and restaurants. At this lunch, after plying guests with food, wine, cognac and brandy, cigars were offered to finish of the meal.
As you can see, the president of the Parliament puffed away, as Tracy and Carrie tried to find pockets of fresh air to either side. I was lucky: only one of my lunch companions lit up and it was just a cigarette. See: I can find the bright side. :-)

But I went through a lot of Febreze in Lisbon trying to rid my clothes and coat of smoke after meals and even some meetings. Europe is apparently changing, but smoking is still alive and well in most cities.

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