On the odd occasion, being a solo traveller isn't the ideal you dream it to be.
As any wanderluster knows, every now and again you can encounter a situation beyond your control, and that's what happened to me in Lisbon's Alfama district. Usually when I run into trouble overseas, it is through silly faults of my own (or misfortune); pick-pocketed in Istanbul, hospitalised in Berlin, luggage lost in Berlin, camera was stolen in Berlin (maybe I should avoid Berlin), however, this journey overseas whilst in Portugal, I encountered a close call and situation I had always been wary of.
My goal for the day was set on finding 'the street with all the graffiti', clearly a wealth of knowledge at the time, researching the name would have been handy, though due to how busy (possibly hungover) I had been because of the wedding, I decided to forgo planning and with nothing more than a vague idea of where the train station is in relation to Cafe A Brasileira, I travelled into the city by train with my best friends brother.
After successfully navigating our way from Cais do Sodrè (train station), hiding from the rain at Cafe A Brasileira then continuing onto to Pedro IV Square (Rossio Square), we went off in different directions. Standing on the spot, I turned and looked around, trying to find a clue as to which direction I should go in... Bingo, A Lisbon Tourist Information booth (I wish I had kept turning to see the McDonald's with its glorious, free WiFi). I walked over to the booth and spoke to a seemingly insightful employee then following her directions, I set off towards Alfama (Lisbon's Old Quarter) in search for some street art.
Walking for about 30 minutes, I had passed Lisbon Cathedral as directed and was wandering the tiny streets of São Miguel taking photos, when I noticed a man in a bright red, puffy jacket, with his hands in his jacket pockets. He looked at me then suddenly changed the direction he was walking, heading towards me. I was on alert immediately as I was alone, holding my DSLR camera and carrying a handbag.
There was no one around which irked me enough to walk away as fast as possible until I sighted a couple up ahead and hurried over to be in their vicinity. Now with safety in numbers on my side, I decided to test my intuition by stopping to let the man walk past me... he stopped within 1 metre of me and waited. I then walked passed him counting silently to 15 and stopped to test again... once again he stopped and waited. I tested this one more time with a repeated result and quickly hurried back to the couple as this was not a good situation to be in.
I was so freaked out that I ended up following them for around 10 minutes, although, as my luck tends to go, I had ended up in a part of São Miguel that had absolutely no people walking around. The couple has also observed that I had been behind them for a quite a while, I assume they thought I may have been a pickpocket and consequent to them checking over their shoulder for the 5th time, they quickly ducked inside a building. I tried speaking to them in English and they did not respond. It was at that point my internal organs jumped into my throat.
Optimistic that I had managed to walk far enough away, or that he had given up, I turned around to see the man in the red jacket was 10 or so meters away, hands still in his pockets, increasing his speed, walking fast up behind me. Not knowing if he was going to simply walk past me, attack or rob me, and having no clear idea where I was plus with anxiety sky high, (wearing wedge heels on the cobblestone footpaths) I took off as fast as I possibly could, running away, ducking left and right down narrow, cobblestone back streets in order to confuse and lose him. I managed get away, although, in the process, I was completely lost.
The narrow, secluded streets in Lisbons Old Quarter. (Alfama District)
In the end, an hour later and with the help of a pair of British backpackers, I finally managed my way back to the square, eyes set on McDonald's to catch my breath and leech off their WiFi to contact my best friend. I ended up leaving Lisbon that day without seeing what I wanted to. People have asked me "why didn't you draw attention to yourself", "why didn't you scream?", "why didn't you take a photo of him?" - In that moment I felt as though taking a photo of him would have been too obvious, the man had his hands in his pockets the entire time and easily could have been concealing a knife or a gun; plus screaming (most likely) isn't going to help me or anyone assisting me if there is a weapon involved.
Lisbon is a gorgeous city that I will be returning to time and again (I hope to invest within Lisbon in the future), I just won't be so daft as to walk around the back streets (of any city) alone and carrying so much crap on me. Portugal has a relatively low rate of violent crime, however, low-level street crime is common in Lisbon and the central, touristy districts of Alfama, Baixa, Bairro Alto and Belém are all hotspots.
Later in the evening at dinner, adding to the events of the day, I discovered that my best friends brother had ended up finding the street art location I had been looking for, stumbling across quite a bit of art throughout his wander through the city. Armed with his vague, yet, correct directions I planned my return for the following day, heading north this time and not south-east. It pays to do the planning yourself.