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Things to do in Lisbon: it doesn't hurt to ask

The ‘Ask me Lisboa’ counters gave us a list of the most ridiculous questions they get

Fotografia: Arlindo Camacho

We asked the city’s tourist offices for the most strange questions. Here are some of them. And just to make sure there is no doubt, our team has answered them all.

Things to do in Lisbon: it doesn't hurt to ask

Morocco is just on the other side of the river, isn’t it?

Morocco is just on the other side of the river, isn’t it?

No, it’s not just there. It’s a bit further down. About 680 km further. And there’s a lot still to see before you reach Morocco. The Serra da Arrábida, for example, is a beautiful range of halls a 40-minute drive south of Lisbon. Then there’s the whole Alentejo to explore and, right at the bottom, the Algarve. But even from there you can’t actually see Morocco.

We want to drive to Porto and visit Madeira on the way. How do we do that?

It's not easy. The only solution is to ask James Bond to lend you the amphibious car he used in the film Spy Who Loved Me. But don’t forget to fill up your tank: the island of Madeira is 973 kilometres southwest of Lisbon and there are no filling stations on the way. Alternatively, there are daily flights to Madeira from both Lisbon and Porto.

Is it in the Tagus that the famous bacalhau is fished?

No. The cod eaten in Portugal comes from a long way away. It was back in the 14th century that the Portuguese started fishing it in the North Atlantic,off the coast of Greenland and Newfoundland. The Portuguese obviously like to complicate things, so we've created culinary specialities from a fish that is caught thousands of kilometres away (and then salted and dried, so that it has to be soaked against before cooking). The Tagus is certainly broad, but it is just a river, not the sea.

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What is the difference between Lisbon and Lisboa?

Basicaly, the price. ‘Lisbon’ tends to be more expensive than ‘Lisboa’. Here are two bits of advice: 1) Be suspicious of restaurants with photos of food on their menus. 2) Always carry this magazine with you – everything we recommend in these pages are things that we locals really like, and there are no tricks involved. Otherwise, ‘Lisbon’ is just the English name for ‘Lisboa’.

Is Sintra an island?

Sintra is certainly hard to define. The area’s beauty enchanted poets, novellists and composers, from Lord Byron and Hans Christian Andersen to Richard Strauss. Each saw something different in Sintra. But none of them would have seen it as an island. The town of Sintra is about 30 kilometres from Lisbon. And believe us, it is worth the trip. Before setting off take a look at page 40.

Do the king and queen of Portugal live in the Torre de Belém?

Do the king and queen of Portugal live in the Torre de Belém?

No. For two reasons. Firstly, because the Tower of Belém (or Torre de São Vicente – it is officially named after the city's patron saint, St Vincent) is really quite small. It was built 500 years ago as part of the city’s maritime defences and, despite being classed as UNESCO World Heritage, does not offer the comfort that royalty demands. Secondly, because Portugal has been a republic since 1910. It has neither king nor queen, but a president – whose palace happens to be in Belém.

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Portugal is an island, isn’t it?

What’s with this obsession with islands? No, Portugal is not an island. It is part of a peninsula, Iberia, together with Spain and one author did imagine the peninsula coming loose and becoming an island that drifts off into the Atlantic. But that was fiction. If you get the chance, read The Stone Raft (in the Portuguese original A Jangada de Pedra) by José Saramago, the Portuguese writer who in 1998 was awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

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