TRAVEL FOCUS SPAIN& PORTUGAL SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF A FOOTBALL FAN
In Spain and Portugal, football is not a game, but a religion
The last time I sought an autograph was when I went uninvited to a Rahat Fateh Ali Khan concert at an Aurangzeb Road bungalow. Merrily soaked in free-flowing Glenfiddich, I went to the backstage. In my toota-foota Urdu, I requested for a signature and handed over a pen and paper.
In the middle of a galaxy of VIP admirers, Khan sahib scrawled for a few seconds. Then complained, “Yeh pen toh kaam nahi karta ji!”
I stopped scouting for autographs. I quit Glenfiddich, too.
Now, as I stand in front of a reception desk in a downtown Lisbon hotel, there’s an urge to break that vow.
A NEW GOAL
For, I see a limited-edition football signed by none other than Christiano Ronaldo at the desk and it could be mine. I have to tell the hotel manager that he is my hero and that I’ve a booking at Pestana CR7 because he is the co-owner of the property.
Although the hotel staff didn’t check us in for the next six hours, I am thrilled about my prized possession.
“There can’t be a better beginning than this,” I tell my wife as we keep the football in a locker and walk down the beautiful cobblestone streets of Lisbon’s Baixa area. Behind us, the sun has just greeted Portugal’s original hero – Vasco da Gama. He is sitting happily atop a triumphal arch and watching ships pass by the Tagus river.
There’s a nip in the air and I’m loving it. A crowd has already gathered at the famous Santa Justa elevator. It takes you to higher ridges of Lisbon and at night, offers a breathtaking view of the city.
We are headed to Café Beira Gare. The traditional joint offers a sumptuous Portuguese breakfast. Nearby, a hole-in-the-wall bar sells Ginjinha – Lisbon’s favourite drink. The Portuguese love this sour drink – made from berries, sugar, cinnamon and brandy – so much that if they love the taste of any food they would say, it tastes like Ginhinja!
My wife, meanwhile, delves into the Rick Steves’ guidebook like a student whose exam starts in a few minutes. I notice the only beggar in this small yet picturesque square. A closer look reveals his dress, with pieces of torn cloth randomly stitched, is actually a Benfica football club jersey.
An even closer look reveals the beggar is also wearing a cutout of Christiano Ronaldo near his chest!
It takes me an entire afternoon’s survey in the fabled Alfama district to realise that for Portugal’s aam admi, CR7 is certainly a legend but not exactly the local hero.
Alfama is like Chandni Chowk on an undulating terrain. The cramped lanes are like living rooms of the community life. Old women wait in front of
I feel like a religious minority in Madrid because amid red-white striped jerseys, I’m wearing a Barca T-shirt
BENDING IT LIKE RONALDO Girls play football at a plaza in Tavira, Portugal; (Inset) Boys play beach football in Spain
TRADITIONS UNTOUCHED The iconic tapas bar in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor that celebrates bullfights