Hello from Lisbon, an antiquated and charming city that's somehow lost in time. It's full of wide boulevards and sleepy neighborhoods, with lots of people relaxing in cafes and enjoying the sunshine. Recently, the biggest news out of this city is that it's bankrupt. It's had serious financial problems that's dampened the atmosphere in these parts, and it's part of the growing fiscal problem in Europe known as PIIGS -- Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, Greece and Spain.
THE BIG TIPPERS
The limo driver who met me at the airport earlier today was one of Lisbon's financial crisis victims. "I used to work in that bank," he told me, pointing to a large building on a pretty square as we drove through the city's commercial district. "But I was forced to leave my job, and now the only way I can earn money quickly is to pick up people at the airport. It's not a bad job, actually. I especially like picking up Americans because they give big tips."
That was a hint, if I ever heard one. But the idea of a pretty educated man losing a white collar job to go and drive a Benz to and from the airport all day certainly put me in a more generous mood. And speaking of tip solicitations, it seems that many smart people in the travel services industry have their own strategies for maximizing their earnings potential.
MEL GIBSON AND THEN ME
Today's sob story reminded me of my tour guide in Izmir when I first visited many years ago. I'd hired him as a private guide for five days to take me to the archeological sites around Izmir and all the way to the World Heritage Site of Pammukale. When he met me at the airport, he told me he was a university archeological professor on leave who had over the years dug up most of the relics around Izmir; and just before I'd arrived, he had spent a month accompanying Mel Gibson and his team around Turkey for their research for the movie Passion of Christ. To this day, I still don't know if that story is true; but it certainly put the pressure on my wallet to be following in Mel Gibson's footsteps.
RETURN TO THE WIRED WORLD
Anyway, back to Lisbon. It may be in bad shape, but at least it's just a bit more wired than Istanbul. I had no Blackberry service in Istanbul, which was surprising at first as Istanbul seems to be quite a high-tech sort of place. It may be a crumbling old city, but there's a pretty modern aspect to it which may be called the world of the yuppies and the IT professionals.
But as I had WiFi anyway and was constantly on email, I thought no more of my lack of BBM until earlier today when my BBM pinged mid-air, right inside the plane, and literally as soon as I crossed into Portugese airspace and the plane had started its descent. I really don't know how BBM could reach me in mid-air in Portugal, but when I looked at my phone, there were two BBMs from J, sent a couple of days back.
A THEME OF A ROOM
The hotel I'm staying in, which is the newest baby of a company that runs some of Portugal's most exclusive luxury hotels, is also surprisingly modern and up to date in spite of its history as a very old palace. It also has a very interesting theme -- one I've never seen elsewhere in all my travels around the world. I'd chosen it because I liked the neighborhood and the hotel looked good in online photos; but the theme is really playful and creative.
My hotel is part of a new trend in the hotel industry -- they call these kinds of places "thematic hotels," and this one is particularly clever and amusing. I wish I could write about it now as there are a million interesting details to this hotel -- every nook and cranny is a conversation piece! However, I can't say another word until I write more about it in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine.
THE BEST BED IN THE WORLD
For now, let me just say that the one of the best things about my hotel room is that it actually has a Hastens bed! I've stayed in some really fabulous hotels in my lifetime, but I've never slept in a hotel room with a Hastens bed until today. In fact, this is exactly where I'm typing this blog from. It's 430 PM in the afternoon and I should be walking to the Bairro Alto neighborhood or shopping for Portugese linen; but when I saw the Hastens bed, I changed into my sleep clothes, climbed into bed and chucked the afternoon itinerary out the window.
My hotel only has two rooms with a Hastens bed and I have one of them. This has got to be the most comfortable bed in the world -- and I wouldn't be surprised if I suddenly decide to spend the rest of my Lisbon stay viewing the city from my hotel window instead.
ROYAL BEDMAKERS SINCE 1852
The Hastens bed is made in Sweden following a tradition handed down generations since 1852. It's reportedly the bed of choice of the King of Sweden and other VIPs around the world. What's so great about it, you might ask. From the outside, it looks like a very typical bed, especially as the bottom part of the bed is done in a black checkered pattern that looks so ordinary. But every single material in it is organic, and it's the best mattress ever made. Perfectly firm but comforting.
THIRD TIME LUCKY
I've only slept in a Hastens bed twice -- a friend in New York had one in every bedroom of her Upper East Side townhouse, and another friend had one for herself in her London mews house which she'd lent me for a week while she was away in the Caribbean. They truly are wonderful beds that provide incredible sleep.
So far, I've been subsisting on three hours of sleep every night in this part of the world, mainly because of jet lag and work piling up. If I'm out for most of the day, of course the only time to catch up on the bulk of work is after 10 PM so I'm basically online and on my computer between 10 PM and 3 AM over here. I'm ending earlier tonight, though, in honor of my Hastens bed -- and I'll let you know tomorrow exactly how the sleep goes. Good night from Lisbon.
TRAVELIFE MAGAZINE on Facebook