Last night, on my very first night in Lisbon, Portugal became the 24th country on my World Karaoke Tour. I didn’t want to go out last night; I’d been up for two days (as usual, I’d been unable to fall asleep on my redeye flight from New York the night before). I was exhausted and really just wanted to be in my hotel room catching up on some zzz’s.
But when I chatted up the man at the front desk of my hotel and had him make some phone calls, he was adamant that I was extremely unlikely to find karaoke tonight (New Year’s Eve) or the following evening (a Sunday). At the same time, he assured me that a venue called Café da Ponte in the Doca Santo Amáro section of town (a region also known as the Docklands or Docks) did in fact have karaoke last night. He called them and confirmed it.
It was possible that by exploring on my own today, I would find a venue that offered karaoke for New Year’s Eve or the following night. But I couldn’t count on that. So if I didn’t hit Café da Ponte last night when I had the chance, I risked having nowhere to sing during my stay in Portugal — and thus jeopardizing the very mission of this trip. Seeing some castles and monuments would be nice, but if I didn’t sing karaoke this weekend, my vacation would be a failure.
So it was really a no-brainer. 🙂 At 10 pm I jumped in a taxi, which conveyed me to the Docklands. It dropped me off at the taxi rank, which was all the way at the end of the strip of bars and restaurants; my destination of Café da Ponte was at the other end. I hadn’t gotten very far when I was accosted by four Portugese youths.
At first they seemed friendly enough, asking me where I was from and feigning excitement when hearing that I hailed from New York. Suddenly, one young man who seemed like the leader of the quartet asked me if I had drugs. “No,” I said. “Let me see,” he responded, pointing to my backpack. I shook my head and started walking away from the youths.
Undeterred, the youths followed me and now surrounded me. “Let me see if you have drugs,” the leader repeated.
At that point, I was thinking that I did not come all this way just to be mugged or whatever by some second-rate hoodlums. Although it was dark and there weren’t many people out yet along the strip (I was later advised that on a Friday night, people don’t really start showing up in that area until about 11 pm), I did spot a group of older folks a little further down. “Help!” I yelled, loud enough so that they could hear me (and I did catch their attention); then I made a run for it. My assailants smiled, realizing that I’d gotten away.
I was still nervous since I would have to return this way to get a taxi back to my hotel after I sung. But I figured I would deal with it, and now I proceeded to Café da Ponte for some Portugese karaoke.
The host, Tiago, was very nice and put me up as the first singer (although the fact that I was the first patron to submit a song may have had something to do with it). By the time that Tiago handed the mic to me, a decent-sized crowd had assembled. From the generous selection of English-language songs in the book, I chose “At This Moment” by Billy Vera & the Beaters, which is one of my A-list songs. And about four minutes later, Portugal had become the latest addition to my World Karaoke Tour.
I was having a good time and would have liked to stay and get to know some of the locals as I would ordinarily do. Unfortunately, after having been up all night, I felt an overriding need to just get back to the hotel for some much-needed rest. So I reluctantly took leave of the nice people at Café da Ponte, and hoped that I would have the chance to make a more leisurely appearance there sometime (but that more leisurely visit won’t happen this weekend, as they have no karaoke tonight or tomorrow night).
Incidentally, when I told the bartender about my encounter with the ruffians at the entrance to the Docks, he called the police. He said that I wasn’t the only person who’d complained about them. By the time I had to walk back to the taxi stand, even though I hadn’t been at the Docks for very long, there was a sizable police presence on site.
Lisbon, like most places in Western Europe, certainly seems like a safe city — it doesn’t have the reputation of a Rio de Janeiro or a Mexico City. But my incident at the Docks is a reminder that no matter where you go, there will always be people who mean to harm you; so it’s important to always be alert and exercise caution.
Well, I shouldn’t spend all of my vacation time in my hotel room writing blog entries. 🙂 Time to get out and take in some of Lisbon’s sights!