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Lisbon - Accra - São Tomé

Finally getting to our destination

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having spent the night at an apartment in Lisbon, we arranged for the owner of the accommodation to pick us up at 06:30 this morning to take us the short distance to the airport. Ana is prompt and the journey only takes a few minutes. With no queues for check-in or security, we soon find ourselves in the Food Court, ready to eat breakfast.

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One of the best things about Portugal is its Pastel de Nata, a delicious custard tart with a particularly crispy pastry casing.

Departure Gate

I begin to feel slightly concerned when the ground staff start walking around the passengers asking for hand luggage to be checked in. This is usually a sign of a full flight. I soon notice, however, some blatant racism going on: only when every single one of the black passengers have been approached, does the lady start asking white travellers. This is despite a few of the white passengers have considerably larger bags. The selection was so obviously not made on the size of the bags, but the colour of their skin. Disgusting! I vow never to fly TAP again.

TAP Long-Haul Flight

Thankfully the flight is not full as the aircraft is horrendously uncomfortable. The seats are very thin with little padding, absolutely no lumbar support and they don't recline. There is no head rest and no entertainment system. The legroom is ca. 2” shorter than my legs and with no padding on the back of the seats, I soon develop a bruised knee. These seats are no better than certain short haul European budget airlines. More reasons to avoid TAP in future.

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I still manage to sleep, and wake up when the food trolley comes around. There is a choice of “cow or pasta”. I choose the cow, and she is delicious: chunky pieces of beef in a rich, slightly spicy, gravy with peas, carrots and mashed potato. The usual starter salad of a few lettuce leaves and a thin slice of tomato, stale bread roll, jelly, and cheese and biscuits.

The flight is reasonably uneventful until we approach our landing in Accra, when we have some of the best turbulence we have experienced in a long time, sending passengers into panic with women screaming and children crying. The same people give the captain a round of applause on landing.

Layover in Accra

Quite a number of people get off in Accra, the capital of Ghana; probably around 75% of the passengers. This is more of a refuelling stop than a proper 'layover' so all passengers continuing on to São Tomé are requested to remain on the plane. The crew are tasked with identifying each and every carry-on item left in the aircraft, which turns out to be a monumental task. Many people have moved to another seat than their original allocation, or are milling around the plane; thus are nowhere near their bags. It really would have been so much easier to get everyone to exit the aircraft (even if only down onto the tarmac), taking their luggage with them. By now I am even more unimpressed by this airline, it is not only racist and uncomfortable, but also totally disorganised.

Only a handful of passengers get on the plane here in Accra, and we continue our journey for the 1hour 40 minute flight to São Tome.

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I am shocked to see the amount of pollution floating in the Atlantic.

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São Tomé from the air

São Tomé e Principe

It is dry, but very warm and humid when we land at the small airport of São Tomé on the island of the same name.

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Before being allowed to enter the terminal building, our passports are checked for visa status. He looks at several pages of David's passport, then checks that his picture matches his real-life face. The official takes my passport, looks at the outside, says “ah, Noruega” and waves me through without as much as a glance at my picture.

Inside, the queue for immigration is long and slow, and when we finally get to the front, the guy is very hard to understand. It is all very smooth and painless though, and we soon find ourselves outside, where a friendly-looking guy holds a board stating “Mrs Grete”. He introduces himself as Agostinho, who will be our guide for the duration, and leads us to a micro-bus and our driver Nino.

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No visa was necessary after all that palaver before we left home

Miramar Hotel

From the airport it is a short ten minute ride to our hotel, through the sleepy capital.

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As hotels go, the Miramar is very pleasant, quite up to usual international business hotel standards. The room overlooks the pool (which is full of water and very clean – some of you may remember the saga from Comoros last year), and the grounds are dotted with flowers, bushes and trees.

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There are even sunbeds (again referring to last year's accommodation in Anjouan, Comoros)

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The pool (bucket) shower

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We take a quick shower and change before making our way down to the bar for a drink before dinner. This is where the differences with Comoros stops.

“Do you have local beer?” “No” I see rum on the shelf and ask about Diet Coke. Despite being shown on the drinks menu, the answer is negative. We settle for a Portuguese beer and wander outside.

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Baron Restaurant

The menu is mostly in Portuguese, with some interesting translations. I order a steak with land snails, but they have run out of snails, so I choose a carpaccio of fish instead. David has vegetable soup, and we share a 'carbonara pizza', which is very garlicky.

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The fish is absolutely delicious, very refreshing with a sweet and sour dressing made from pineapple.

When David tries to order a beer with his dinner, he is informed that they have run out. Yet again, David has drank the hotel bar dry on our first night.

By the time I get half way through the meal, I am in agony with back pain, most probably from the lack of support on the plane. We decide to go for a walk before bed, and stroll along the promenade and through the deserted streets around the hotel. The only people we come across are lovers snuggled up on concrete benches and security guards with snarling dogs outside large metal gates. We sit for a while listening to the waves and watching men with torches search for food (snails? whelks?) on the rocky shoreline.

And so ends the first day of our São Tomé trip as arranged by Undiscovered Destinations. So far so good.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:12 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged beer hotel africa pool ghana lisbon portugal accra miramar tap carpaccio sao_tome tap_airways hotel_miramar carpaccio_of_fish Comments (3)

Bristol - London - Lisbon

A painful start

-50 °C
View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

“Where are you going?” I laugh at the question, not because it is stupid or even funny, but in anticipation of the reaction when I tell them “São Tomé & Principe” (pronounced something like sang tomere ee prisp, with the emphasis on the last syllable). As usual I receive a blank stare in response. “Where's that?”

It is a reaction we are familiar with, however, as we do tend to favour the path less trodden over the mass-tourism destinations, and have travelled to a good few 'unknown' places over the years. São Tomé & Principe is no exception.

A former Portuguese colony, the island nation of São Tomé and Principe can pretty much be described as being situated in the centre of the world: the closest landmass to the point where the Equator and the Meridian meet, some 200 km off the west African coast.

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As with most of these virtually unknown and little visited destinations, São Tomé is not an easy place to get to. We start our journey at Heathrow for a short flight to Lisbon.

Check in

As seems to be the norm these days, we are asked to print our own luggage tags using the automated machines at the airport. I explain to the chap directing the flow of passengers that we have tickets all the way to São Tomé, but would like to collect our bags in Lisbon as we are staying overnight there. “Go and see the man on the Help Desk”.

'Help Desk' is somewhat of a misnomer: as we approach the elderly gentleman barely looks up while spitting out a brusque “You need to check in on that machine”. I try to explain “We were told to come here...” Without enquiring why, or even letting me finish the sentence, he barks: “Check in there” while pointing at the nearest machine (which incidentally is out of order). Once again I start to explain and am interrupted, but eventually he has to concede and takes our passports without another word.

By this time Mr Officious is obviously stressed at the thought of having to do some work, and types away furiously on his keyboard. I have to repeat our destination several times. He flicks through every page in my passport before asking about visas. I show him my e-visa which I thankfully applied for after checking various websites and getting completely conflicting information (even the agents in STP did not know the definitive answer, the Foreign Office website said we didn't need one, whereas the Bradt travel guide said to ignore the FO site as they were out of date and to obtain a visa prior to travel). I guess that is one of the hazards of having a Norwegian passport, not many people from Norway travel to São Tomé via London. Now extremely flustered, Mr Officious stares at the piece of paper, which is mostly in Portuguese, trying to make out the dates. He then struggles to read the flight detail on the screen and I eventually have to lean across and point to the dates and assure him that “yes, we are only travelling for a week, and yes, the dates on the visa correspond with the dates of our travel”. Still not convinced, he goes off to check with the girl on the check-in desk. More furious typing ensues when he gets back, followed by an even more frazzled look. We go over the dates again.

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Next our transit in Accra is questioned (he pronounces it “ack-rah”, with the emphasis on the 'ahh' at the end, making it sound more like 'Prague' as he mostly mutters under his breath by now). “Where is your visa?” Groan. We are only there for 45 minutes, I doubt if we will even be allowed to leave the plane. He looks at the flight details on the screen again and states “It's OK, you are only in transit”.

Finally satisfied that we are fit for travel, he prints our baggage tags. Or tries to. The printer jams and he has to start all over again from the beginning. On his forehead little beads of sweat are appearing. “Chug chug chug” says the machine, then silence. With shaking hands, and his face a dark shade of crimson, he pulls out the jammed labels and tears them up. His breathing is so laboured I fear he is going to have a heart attack. “Go to the desk” he grunts, pointing to the young girl who answered his questions earlier. With great relief, both for us and him, we leave Mr Personalityless behind and make our way to the baggage drop-off desk.

Smiling sweetly, she takes our bags, checks us in, gives us our baggage tags and boarding cards and wishes us a pleasant flight. If only everything in life could be as easy as that!

Apart from being pulled aside at Security and given a pat down and swabbed for explosives, the rest of our airport experience is uneventful.

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Fish and chips at the airport

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Milkshake served in a miniature milk bottle

Heathrow - Lisbon

The TAP Portugal flight leaves 1½ hour late, and is thankfully not full as the legroom is minimal and comfort non-existent. We have arranged for the owner of the apartment where we are staying tonight to pick us up from the aiport in Lisbon, which she duly does. A delightful girl, with excellent English, she drives us the short distance to an unassuming, dull-looking block of flats.

Lisbon Woods House

On the second floor, the apartment is small but delightful, and has everything we need for this very short stay. As we are required to be back at the airport in six hours' time, we go straight to bed, leg one of the journey completed.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:57 Archived in Portugal Tagged flight visa lisbon heathrow tap air_portugal sao_tome check_in Comments (3)

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