Non-Traditional Soccer

Wandering in Portugal!

Well, I had hoped this would have been a different post, but I’m a firm believer that “everything happens for a reason.”

A business trip had me headed to Lisbon, Portugal March 5-9 for our annual Sales Kick-Off. While it sounds glamorous and maybe even teetering on exotic, it was anything but. The long flight from Phoenix coupled with traveling over the weekend, and with little free time allotted, was enough to make most dread it. Throw in the looming Pandemic crisis with COVID-19 gaining attention and traction and I think everyone was a bit apprehensive.

As I was heading to the airport to catch a mid-day flight that would take me through Newark before my overnight flight to Lisbon, I received an email from HR.  They announced, with the Coronavirus picking up steam, that you can participate in the event remotely – via live-stream if you desired.

I was already committed to traveling and further rationalized it because the thought of participating in all-day sessions that would start at 2am in Phoenix didn’t seem like a viable option. Off we go!

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After meeting up with a few colleagues in Newark, we were on our way to Lisbon. I was in the back of the bus and most others, capitalized on their status, scored a pod up front. Fortunately ( I guess???), my colleague who was supposed to be seated next to me, resigned that morning and I ended up with the row to myself. With little sleep, and before you knew it, sunrise in Lisbon was on the horizon and we were making our descent. While it was 8am in Lisbon, it was 1am body time.  Ugh.

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On approach, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was surprised at how many hills there were in Portugal’s Capital city that sits on the Atlantic Ocean.  I was also surprised to learn that Lisbon hosts two different soccer clubs – Benfica and Sporting – with Benfica in red and Sporting in green. The rivalry is intense, with many in my company backing Benfica. As you can imagine, Benfica’s stadium is red and Sporting’s, green – and they sit just about 4 miles apart.

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Our company was founded in Portugal and has offices in Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto, but the SKO event was held in a Troia – a resort town on a peninsula about 2 hours south of Lisbon. Little did I know, this would be the last hotel I’d be in for a while!

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The views from the resort were stunning. Across the bay, looking east, was the town of Setubal.

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And to the west was a pristine beach with the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. Full disclosure, I never did get to see the beach. A colleague shared this photo with me.

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Here’s a view from the hotel pool looking west with the Atlantic Ocean steps away.

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One of the things I look forward to most when traveling is the food. With Lisbon sitting on the ocean, it was no surprise that seafood was omnipresent. Sure, there were a ton of sheep that we saw on the drive in, but our dinners were dominated by seafood.

On Friday night, the appetizers included shrimp and crab. When I asked the server to explain the difference between the two different shrimp on the platter, she replied: “one is bigger than the other, but I prefers the bigger ones.”  Who knew?!?! Of course, olives were also part of the appetizers.

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One thing I still don’t understand is how plain and dull our cash is in the US. The colorful, varying sizes of Euros makes it look like Monopoly money and I’m sure it’s much easier to count and manage. Come on US Treasury. I can see it now. The Donald Trump $45 bill in the orange motif of the €50 Euro bill.

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Saturday and Sunday were filled with sessions, starting early and ending late. Saturday’s awards dinner was held at a nearby restaurant. We took over the place and I felt bad for the two other parties that decided to enjoy the same restaurant. Our group of 75 was pretty loud – especially after some wine and the Top Gun-themed Awards.

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49316a39-21a0-40e3-b879-fbf1090ed175 After sessions on Sunday, we all relocated to downtown Lisbon so we’d be closer to the airport for our early morning flights. A wise move! We checked into the Hotel Star Inn, just a block from the airport. The Hollywood themed lobby was indicative of the modern, but spartan rooms.

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With a little free time Sunday night, I had the chance to fulfill a bucket-list item! See a soccer game in Europe. Sure, it wasn’t ManU vs Chelsea, but still, any soccer game, especially in a soccer-mad town like Lisbon, would be a treat!

A couple of colleagues joined me and we were off! Sporting’s José Alvalade Stadium was built in 2003, but from the outside, it looks like it was built last year. Super modern with flowing lines, mosaic tiles and glass. It seats about 50,000 people and I’m pretty sure it was full.

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As we approached, a lone vendor was on the concourse selling roasted chestnuts. You don’t see that every day in the US.img_9808

The match had already begun. We had looked for tickets online, but we didn’t find anything comparable to StubHub. We couldn’t tell if it was sold out or if they have a different system for tickets. Either way, we quickly found out, we were out of luck.

We asked some of the police and workers where we could get tickets. Apparently in Europe, they stop selling tickets about 20-30 minutes after kickoff. Not only that, but they also clear all scalpers – so there’s virtually no chance of getting in if you don’t have tickets in advance. It was like getting shut out at Wally World!

Our only view was through the gates to what certainly looked like a packed stadium. Bummer!

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You can enter the concourse of the stadium that houses restaurants, shops, and a movie theatre. Here, it shows its age and looks more like a food court from the 80s. The tiny team shop had plenty of green.

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Defeated, we walked back out to meet our Uber. Just then, a loud roar went up in the stadium and I hung my head knowing what I just missed. Ugh!

Outside, there are a few statues – including this lion, which is the unofficial mascot of Sporting. img_9813

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Devotion!

Just across the street sits the indoor practice facility for the team. img_9814

At this point, we decided to join some of our colleagues for dinner in downtown Lisbon. We passed by the statue of Marquês de Pombal, the statesman who gained fame for his leadership following a massive earthquake in 1755.

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Apparently, Lisbon is known for its statues. Here’s another of Camilo Castelo Branco – the most prolific writer in Portugal with over 260 books to his credit. He passed away in 1890. img_9844

What I wasn’t expecting was this. Just a random pile of trash in a cubby along the street. I didn’t know if it was a homeless shelter or just a pile of trash. Very odd for the otherwise very clean city.img_9843

Of course, I had to try the local beer – and Super Bock is the Budweiser of Portugal. It’s everywhere. I even tried a couple of different flavors. Not bad.  Super Bock is also the sponsor for Sporting CP.

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Monday morning it was up early, a quick bite for breakfast and back to the airport. I will say, the bread in Portugal was fantastic. The brioche roll made for a tasty breakfast sandwich and espresso was definitely the coffee of choice for the weekend.img_9881

I’ve always said, I absolutely love it when you pass through customs and the agent says “welcome home”. There’s nothing like it. Today it was even more meaningful given the fast-moving pandemic. While I was only in Newark, it was great to be “home”.

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If you’re ever wondering what a weekend like this will do to your sleep patterns, just check out my Fitbit data for the week.  Don’t even try to make sense of the times, just consider the amount of sleep each day.  img_9884

 

As I said in the very beginning of this post – “everything happens for a reason.” Sure, I wanted to go to the soccer game, but sitting among 50,000 fans in tight quarters might not have been the wisest thing to do. When we arrived in Lisbon, there weren’t any cases of Coronavirus. By the time we left just 3 days later, there were 40+ recorded. Today, there are over 8,200 along with almost 200 deaths – ranking Portugal #16 in the world in cases.

And besides, the game didn’t appear to be exciting with Sporting owning C.D. Aves, a team from northern Portugal. The home team won 2-0 while dominating time of possession.

Sitting in Newark with a 5-1/2 hour delay, I still wasn’t even worried about Corona. Today, I feel lucky and believe I was a day or two away from coming in contact with it.

My bucket list item to see that soccer game will have to wait. I just hope we get control of the virus so we can all get back to whatever it is we do.

Stop wondering. Start wandering!

(When the lockdowns are lifted)

1 comment

  1. Thst was fantastic. Never knew coy was on the Atlantic. Looks like a nice place to visit. Thanks for the tour

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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