“WHY DON’T WE TAKE A TRAM?” PART 2 of 2

For part 1 of 2  https://pratheekreddy68.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/why-dont-we-take-a-tram-part-1/

(the characters below are fictional but not the places and the experiences!)

1200px-Lisbon_09882_Lisboa_Praça_don_Pedro_2006_Luca_Galuzzi

Done with the cathedral that I awaited all day, instead of feeling lighter, I felt heavy, as if I gained all the experiences of those old days, little lost. It was like being rummaged into the past that then became a part of me.

Well, finally we were… at the proverbial crossroad. We didn’t plan that part of the day. I do not know why! Maybe for all the rush that we were in in the morning. Instinctually, I pulled out the map as if it were the solution to every problem anyone could ever have. Unsurprisingly, I found nothing more than labeled colors scattered around in tiny bits.

“So what are we gonna do now?” Pankaj – as if I am the map now! But then, an interesting idea struck me (god bless the cathedral).   We are in Belém. A short walk to anywhere and we can catch a tram or an elevator (nothing more than a tram but just that it takes people up and down the steeper streets of the city). It was six in the evening. Can roam around in the trams and be back to Belém for those egg tarts by eight just like the driver said – I thought.

“Hey,” I said, still looking into the abyss, “why don’t we take a tram?”

“Really?” He asked considering the suggestion.

I laid my thoughts out to him and the next moment, we were walking away from the monastery searching for the streets where we could find the trams. On the way, Pankaj stopped what he was saying and went to an old man sitting on the bench by the road to ask and quickly enough, I stopped him. “Lets do it ourselves.”

“You got a hell of an adventure in you suddenly!”

I thought about the cathedral again.

We walked a bit more and found tramcar tracks flowing down a steep street down to the road we were on. As soon as we turned into the street and took a few steps, a tram going up the street stopped for people to get on. We ran and climbed up the old metal steps on the tram. And then, it moved, with ease into the Portuguese street with the beautiful European buildings that looked like a piece of art each, with their tiny metal railed balconies and full bloomed flower pots.

It’s hard to call them ‘trams’ actually. It’s always only one short cabin not connected with any other, each running individually, up and down the streets. The yellow colored metal cabins were iconic of the city for they were so common and so much used by the people.

Unlike Pankaj, I did not get a seat when I got up but soon found one by the window. And the same feeling returned from the Hippo Trip. I felt lonely… and strong and self-assured. Strange and shocking to me, the sun doesn’t set here until eleven in the night. And while we were in the tram, the clouds spread themselves out into the naught and made way for the evening sun and the thin layers of rain water on the streets glittered sharp golden.

We took the tickets till the last stop and sat in desultory comfort, having no worry that could bother us. The street went higher and higher before it started descending down steep and the tram went along with it. Pankaj got up from his place in the front and sat beside me, “look at those cafés, brotha,” he said, pointing to the many cafés that were by the road, calm yet with so much activity, friends nurturing their friendship, lovers loving, families laughing their own private laughter and artists thinking deep with their cups of coffees in their hands.

“We gotta sit in one of those today. “

I thought for a moment and approved, “Why not! The Café that the cab driver suggested is just like these. I’ve seen it on the way.”

“Yeah? Okay then!” He said and after a long pause, “hey… do you see that man sitting there in the front?”

He pointed towards a man who I guessed must be in his early fifties, with his hair grey here and there. “Yeah, what were you talking to him about?”

“Listen, this guy says he studied Portuguese law, was a lawyer for a few years, got disgusted, and went to London to study Art History. Isn’t that crazy? A lawyer turned art historian who now writes for a magazine.”

“So technically, he’s also a writer and a journalist!” I said as stoically as possible.

He rolled his eyes in thinking and said, “yes!”

“What about him?”

“He said he was jobless so came out just to go around in the streets. And he agreed to join us for dinner. It’s cool right?”

I didn’t give a second thought to it, “absolutely. Seems like a hell of fun.”

He went back to the man whose name I forgot to ask and resumed his conversation and I leaned onto the sill and watched the street go by for another hour. The tram reached the end of the street. We paid for another ticket to the last stop and alighted the tram, at the same place where we got on.

On the street, standing by a shop that sold souvenirs to tourists, we introduced ourselves.

“José Miguel! Do I pronounce that right?” I asked.

With an equable smile that radiated temperament, he said, “absolutely. That’s hell of a way to pronounce for the first time. It’s a Mexican name by the way.”

We walked back down to the main road and arrived at Café Niccolo. It was modest in space but dripping with Portuguese adornment everywhere with paintings of navigators on its thin walls and full-bloomed flowers and green leaves everywhere inside. A typical café, it was not rich but was friendly and accommodating.

We have let José order the food for we had no idea about what was good. While we talked over a continuous flow of issues, the food arrived smoky with its aroma spreading all around. The diet ranged from fish to beef to prawns and the best part of it, there was not one vegetarian dish available. José and Pankaj gulped down their food with a bottle each of chilled beer. I’m a teetotaler and far from alcohol, I do not enjoy the idea of having a cool drink. As much as I get pestered into alcohol by my friends, I have abstained myself hard against it. In fact, the first conversation between Pankaj and Me when we met in law school was on our shared hatred towards alcohol and how we supposed a ban on it would better the society so much. As it can be seen, I wouldn’t mind people drinking before me, and so would I not in calling Pankaj a hypocrite either.

Our stomachs to the brim, we suspended the egg tarts for tomorrow and decided we’d go back to our hotel. José too had to head back home as fast as possible to his waiting children.

Soon, Pankaj and me were standing outside the café and it was 10:20. The sun was half set and from outside the café, it was a view.

“Evenings beautiful here aren’t they!” Pankaj said from beside looking deep at the sun.

“Want to see the other half set?”

“Do we have time?” he asked and I was sure he wanted me to say ‘yes’.

I took my eyes away from the glittering semicircle and turned towards him, “look! It’s not too often that we’d tour Lisbon. High probability that this if the first and the last time. Would it be a bad idea if I said we walk individually – you in some direction, me in some other, and both meet at the Carmo Lift in Roccio Square at say…” I looked at my watch.

“11:30?” Pankaj asked and I could find excitement flowing from his voice.

I smiled in approval, “lets meet at 11:30.”

“I’ll probably go that side between those buildings…” he said and started walking away. I turned the other side and looked intently at the houses around. To my left was a busy street whose end I couldn’t see. But a kind of affection radiated for it felt like reading a novel of Charles Dickens about his eighteenth century Europe.

The sun was almost set and the last rays of crimson lit one side of the buildings. I took the street and walked, looking at all the shops and Cafés that passed by on either side. I walked slowly randomly changing the streets as if I knew the city since birth. After a few minutes, I entered some kind of a Centre where there were huge fountains in the middle with gigantic pedestals over which men of history were standing tall in stone.

Amidst the many shops, I eyed one that sold souvenirs for tourists just like the one we had seen at the tram. I went inside and waded through the number of eccentric items on the racks. Returning the smile of the stout old woman at the counter who ran the shop, I approached the perches that held miniature versions of Portuguese attractions and took the Torre De Belém in my hand. Admiring its bitsy size, and the exactness to the real one, I bought it for 4.5 euros and moved out of the shop.

Just outside the shop, on the other side of the street, three youths were playing saxophone, drums and a keyboard and people walking by the street stopped for a minute or two, enjoyed the music with a grin of content on their faces, put a few euros in the bowl full of coins and went ahead on their way. The music was pulling and I stopped there for some time listening.

While the tune played on and on, I thought of the grumpy and sullenly look the driver who dropped us at Oeiras Station in the morning put. What could have been the reason! And suddenly it struck me, like a kick from behind. “Oh my God, we forgot to tip him,” I thought clutching my forehead. I almost laughed out loud about it.

Simpering and laughing inside for what I had done hastily in the morning, I put 5 euros in the bowl by the trail and proceeded, back onto the street and turned right by an antique shop; with the smile remnant on my face. The sun had then completely set and the night had taken over. And I kept walking on and on!

………

For part 1 of 2 (the first part)  https://pratheekreddy68.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/why-dont-we-take-a-tram-part-1/

Advertisements

“WHY DON’T WE TAKE A TRAM?” PART 1 of 2

(the characters below are fictional but not the places and the experiences!)

IMG_4580

It was 9:15 in the morning and we missed the bus. I almost finished my breakfast and Pankaj told me this. I remained cool, unlike him with his hands on forehead and worry all over the face. These days, I seldom get tensed or frustrated about things, they cripple my thinking when it is most needed.

Putting the cutlery into the plate for good, I said, “Then lets make the day exciting”.

Pankaj pulled the chair and seated himself before me, “What do you mean?”

“Remember what you said in Spain?”

“Nope!”

“You said, a tourist can never truly love a place, only a traveler can!”

Recollecting his own words, he smiled with his eyes to the floor. He jerked his face up decisively, “We need a map,” I nodded my head returning the smile, “Lets explore.”

It was after seeing Spain that I and Pankaj came to Lisbon, not very far, the second in the two cities we planned to visit. Frankly, I did not read or listen much about the city or about Portugal before, except the faint remembrance of Pankaj telling me something about Portuguese egg tart that tastes scrumptious (his choice of words), when in law school.

With no longer the co-tourists with us, we rushed through the palatial lobby of the hotel to our rooms, swapped the flashy clothes with some airy shorts and tees. Being a lawyer comes with a lot of weights – most of it of the heavy black suits that we wear each day to work. In those tees that we wore, it felt different… it felt easy.

I approached the beautiful lady at the hotel reception who must be in her forties and asked for a map. She handed it over so quickly as if she had been waiting all along for us to ask. Seeing us struggling for tourist spots in the map, another receptionist, a hefty, pale but a well-mannered man, suggested places from behind the counter in his broken English that we marked hastily… thees… veary naice… beoutteful place… ‘ave thoo veesith…

The hotel generously arranged for us a cab that took us to the train station in Oeiras. We wasted no time on the way and conjured up what seemed to us, an itinerary for the day that was both concrete as well as flexible to our timely whim! In no time, we reached the station. I got down, wearing the rucksack on my shoulders, out into the sun that was brighter than the day before, wished the driver farewell and walked into the station with Pankaj. Puzzling to us, the chauffeur gave a very insolent look to us as we left. I ignored. And in the sun blaring upon us, I knew Pankaj ignored too.

Though well equipped with automatic ticket machines, vending machines, etc., the station felt small and dingy and not having many travelers, abandoned too. Pankaj and I did not dare use the automatic ticket machine with all those names of places in Portuguese. Besides, we really wanted to communicate with people; their suaveness was something we were barely accustomed to in India and it struck us too pulling to pass up – the way they respond with their faces tilted and a beautiful smile all over them as if nothing in the world could be better.

“4 Euros, 50 Cents,” said the petite woman, pushing the tickets to us from behind the glass. We headed to lane 1 and waited there in the open air for the train. Unlike inside the station, there were many people waiting just like us, on the platform.

“These chaps are quite diversified!” Pankaj said observing intently the people around, his lips making an inverted ‘U’.

I joined him in observing – “I do see a few black people and a few Americans around here but I have to say, the Portuguese maintain great integrity in their language and ethnicity.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning… above ninety-five percent of Portugal population is Portuguese speaking.”

Nodding his head, “you do have a point there… But where the hell did you read that?”

“I was surfing the net yesterday and thought, you know, getting interested in the country we’re in isn’t a very bad thing!”

The train came with great speed and stopped instantly and all the passengers boarded. I was surprised we did not get seats. Absolutely against my notions, the train was too crowded. Anyway, we just stood there cuddled between so many people my mind unable to think. Though this was the case, there was something very uncommon about the train that didn’t make me think low of it. I was appreciating everything when I was in. I do not know how or why. The world seemed to be like some pleasant decision I have taken.

Amidst the rush, I found a woman standing, resting on the a seat that she missed to someone else and I asked, in the politest possible way, “Excuse me, how many zones is Cais de Sodre?”

“Uhh… Three zones,” and a customary smile.

Pankaj added to the girl, “Can you prompt us when we are there, please?”

The girl plucked an earphone from her ear that must be playing some Portuguese melody, not understanding what he said.

I interrupted, “He means, can you tell us when we reach Cais De Sodre?”

“Yeah, sure!”

In a few minutes, we were off the train in the destination station. Another perusal at the appropriate part of the map, a mile’s walk on the road by the calm Tagus River and we reached Alcântara, where we planned to take a ride on the Hippo bus. Hippo trip arranges buses, which travel both on land as well as water, or the way we called them, the amphibian buses! We did not exactly know the itinerary though.

We bought two tickets and waited for the yellow bus to be ready. Slowly, other tourists joined, bought tickets and in no time, we were on the bus while it started. Pankaj and I ran to the last seats for we knew they had the best view. I was resolved I wouldn’t take my phone out for photos.

First was a city tour for about forty-five minutes and then the same bus enters onto the water in the River Tagus – that was the plan. The bus started whirring past the small and beautifully ornamented shops on the streets while the guide explained to us, the city with all the humor added. The cold air from the huge window hit on my face and I gaped at every building, every public square and the statues they had, as the bus cut through the city on the beautiful roads paved with assorted stones.

I was trying hard to understand the localities, with little success though. But at that moment, I felt alone… the most beautiful kind of loneliness if I may make some sense. Even the thought of getting off the bus in some time, made my gut feel sick for the ironical loneliness was too comforting to pass. I just put my elbow on the sill, forgot about the feeling and let the air hit my face harder, pushing my hair back and the solitude entice me.

Through with many streets and beautiful squares, we got back to the main road by the river that had many historic monuments, memorials and towers protruding from it onto the wide river. And then, a grand symphony started playing loud in the bus and slowly it had slid into the water. All roared with cheer, me included, as the bus made its way into the river. We sailed in the waters for over half an hour listening to the guide explain us all those historic buildings by The Tagus.

We turned back when we reached the end of the river where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, heading back. For a second, I wished that we didn’t turn back, that we touched the waters of Atlantic Ocean. Just that it could have been memorable. Anyway, we were back on the land as if saved from sinking, and reached the place and disembarked where we started.

To my shock, it was 1:45 in the afternoon already. Welcomed back to the land by the dark clouds that have taken over the sky, the sun went missing. “Its gonna rain today…” Pankaj said, “It’s gonna be awesome!”

I felt irritated by the thought of rain. I always despised it for the way that it made things uncomfortable – sticky clothes, dirty roads, droplets all over the spectacles and a very, very gloomy city. “Oh, I hate this. Does it have to be only today.”

“Come on,” Pankaj stretched the words, “don’t be a drama queen.”

“Drama queen? What’s that supposed to mean?” He walked as if he didn’t hear me, “You said rain was awesome and then you call me a drama queen?”

“Get some testosterone!”

This guy is the most difficult one I have ever befriended. Difficult to be with and even difficult to let go off.

We walked almost half a mile for a taxicab stand and approached a lone taxi standing.

“Jerónimos Monastery,” I said to the driver from the half open window glass of the black sedan.

“Mosteiro dos Jerónimos,” he assured in Portuguese and indicated us to get in.

“You know, you don’t ask if he’s willing to take you,” Pankaj said as soon as we sat in.

I looked intensely waiting for him to continue.

“You can just get in the car and tell him where you’d like to go.”

“What if he doesn’t know the route”?

“Dude,” he gave me his signature look that says – how much dumber can you get – “he uses…”

“Okay!” I interrupted, “he uses a GPS”.

We started off to the monastery from Alcântara. It started to get dimmer and dimmer around in the afternoon for the clouds ruled the whole of the sky. The driver, an old man with no hair above him, drove so deeply lost in his driving. “Hi,” I started the conversation in quite an awkward manner, “can you suggest us some good restaurants around, if possible”?

“Oh… uhh… you are going to Mosteiro dos Jerónimos which is in Belém. If you want to eat lunch, there is a café Niccolo, nearby.” And got lost in his thinking again, “there is a café nearby called Pastéis de Belém. Most famous for uhh… Pasties de nata. You know Pasties de nata?”

I did not. Pankaj cut in, “yeah, yeah… the egg tart!”

The driver replied with great exclamation, “Oh! Okay! Egg Tart. Yes, that’s what you call it.”

“So what’s special about this place?”

He swerved the cab on to a street and said, “It sell… uhh… the best egg tart in Portugal. You can have a good dinner there. So go out in evening and come back by eight uh clock. Huge line for the egg tart… but try!”

“Sure,” I said, “thank you!”

“No problem,” he stuttered.

The taxi dropped us at Café Niccolo, not a very Portuguese type of a café but was quite different in the taste that it served. We had some burgers with coke and some deserts – nothing exquisite, and extra tipped the waitress for good service.

Soon, we were before the brilliant Jerónimos Cathedral looking at it in awe, at its historical architecture and gothic style. We went along with the moving crowd into the cathedral. It was a tall and wide cathedral stretching long, with all sorts of historic scenes, voyages, sailors, battles and other religious and Portuguese carvings over its stonewalls. It was lit by candles and was crowded with tourists.

As soon as we were in, we realized two things. One, that all have come in groups of at least more than five and have arranged a guide for themselves, two, that we cannot do without one. So, I started being the lawyer that I was and pried into a group, which seemed peculiar. It was diversified and none knew each other. I pulled Pankaj along and curtly stepped inside and joined. Now, we have a guide too, a tall, bald-headed man with Portuguese slang but a perfectly grammatical English.

“Hmmm!” – Pankaj said – “Impressive move!”

The guide took us through the importance of everything in the cathedral cum monastery. It was particularly surprising to see Vasco da Gama’s tomb inside and to imagine his bones underneath. On the huge glass windows were the typical evangelical paintings in rich resplendent colors. One such striking painting on a huge glass window that was on the right side, was of Vasco da Gama praying, along with his co-sailors, before embarking upon a sea voyage to nowhere, that later turned out to be India, in 1498. Then, on the other side was the actual church with people praying. I did not have many words to talk to Pankaj or anyone at that moment but to think only intensely about what I was seeing.

The sculptures in gold, the decrepit utensils made of precious metals and stones and everything inside was a work of brilliant historic sagacity. I do not know what it was, but the composure of the cathedral was inspiring and very enticing to my heart – it was attracting and pulling stopping me from leaving.

After an hour of admiration, we all moved out and the guide did not stop there but started to preach about the outer peripheral magnificence of the cathedral, about its dimensions, the carvings and statues on the front, with a statue of King Emanuel I and above it, another of a mother holding a baby, that suggested assurances of protection and help when navigators of the olden days needed it.

For part 2 of 2   https://pratheekreddy68.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/why-dont-we-take-a-tram-part-2-of-2/