Lessons from Lisbon for web summit attendees

Less than one week to go before Web Summit opens its doors for the first time outside Dublin.  Late last year three generations of my family took a city break to Portugal’s capital and here’s what I learned:

Lisbon is a vast city with pockets of splendor and seediness in equal measure. The guidebook told us that the city’s main square Praça do Comércio would give you that ‘Wow I’m in Lisbon’ factor which was felt by thousands of passengers as they approached the first disembarking from their huge cruise ships. I doubt the thousands of slaves that were sold on this very square centuries before shared the same Wow I’m in Lisbon sentiment but I certainly did. I think I was also bowled over by the light, the blue sky after a particularly dreary winter in Ireland. We’ve had such a beautiful Autumn this year, I’m not sure the contrast will be as pronounced.

The Metro was the most reliable mode of transport. You will be packed like proverbial sardines on the trams and taxis aren’t much more appealing as the traffic is so chaotic it makes Dublin rush hour feel like a picnic.

Web Summit 2016 is taking place in the Feira Internacional de Lisboa and if my memory serves me, the nearest metro station is Oriente which you can get direct from the airport (red line). A single trip cost €1.25 but I found the 24-hourr Carris card for €6.50 got me around on all metro, trams and the funicular system as well as some regional trains such as a day out  to Sintra, which regrettably we didn’t make. If you decide to take the famous Tram 28 line for a spot of sightseeing, make sure you’re sitting on the left-hand side of the tram because you’ll see nothing from the right.

Spanish and/or French speakers might be lulled into a false sense of security – yes you’ll be delighted to find you can read most of the signs/menus, information points around the city but don’t confuse this with either speaking or comprehending the spoken word which sounded more oriental than its latin roots.

In Madrid, you look for a floor covered in prawn heads and soiled napkins to see if the food is good, in Llsbon it’s the queue. We laughed and complained, but every single place we went to that didn’t have a queue was a disappointment. On my final morning in Lisbon, I awoke never so thankful for a night of undisturbed sleep as I was so sure that I’d be ill through the night.

The venue space was designed for Expo ’98 (1998 Lisbon World Exposition) and it’s sort of an architect’s version of Butlin’s in Mosney – where my generation associate with the All Ireland Community Games finals and not the awful detention/ reception centre for refugees which it is now. To me, it just seems so fake and faded but is complimented by some other stunning buildings and cable cars giving it the air of a movie set or studio. It’s a mixture of Dundrum s.c. meets La Defence…. – soulless to me and doesn’t reflect Portugal or anywhere. There is a fantastic aquarium in the vicinity, not quite Boston, but no doubt on a top 10 in the world. Please avoid the food.

If you’ve time and are in the mood for modern art, you might mooch across the other side of town and visit a fairly impressive private collection in the Berardo Museum. I saw quite a few Dali and Warhol classics and it’s always nice to see them in the flesh.

Anyway, I hope you find this mini-guide useful. I’m not attending web summit this year even though I had a free ticket and an option of a media pass because well I’ve done Lisbon. I love city breaks, I’m just back from Bologna and have decided to follow my son’s advice and try not to go somewhere we’ve already been so sorry Lisbon, we’re done.

On arrival in Dublin airport, my eldest son naively asked his Grandfather if he had to declare the perfume he had bought for his then girlfriend and my father replied “we’ve nothing to declare only a couple of very bad meals’; prepare to queue.

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