We’re walking down a street that’s behaving like a staircase, a very steep one. Finally reaching the bottom, I cannot believe my eyes because there stands a tuk-tuk – I’ve only ever seen them in India. Half car, half motorcycle, used either as a mini-pickup (with an open space for cargo at the back) or as a cheap taxi with benches to sit on. Riding in a tuk-tuk is great fun if you have the nerves for it. The name comes from the sound the engine makes. The difference here is self-evident – not only does the Lisbon tuk-tuk look better than those in faraway Hindustan, but this one also has a slim, blond driver in her mid-thirties who speaks English with an Eastern European accent.
She drives us from the Praça dos Restauradores across the Praça Município and Praça do Comércio to the old-town quarter, Alfama, for – also very un-Indian – 25 euros. In Asia, tuk-tuks are the cheap alternative to a taxi; in Lisbon, they’re the expensive option.The chassis is the same, though. A breath of adventure, a breath of romance, a breath of wind in your hair. Before long, I am spotting them everywhere: tuk-tuks of every size and color, driven by handsome young people who are financing their studies or just earning some cash. And because it’s good for them and good for tourists, I ride three tuk-tuks before switching to the three-times cheaper ordinary taxis and contenting myself with admiring the tuk-tuks through the open window. It’s a good trick: In India, they call it “Only watch, no buy.”
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.