Lisbon, Portugal-Europe Day 15-June 11

I woke up this morning knowing it was my last day in Lisbon. My heart was heavy with that realization. I’d met so many fun interesting people here and the city was incredible with the warmth and charm of its people. I would miss Lisbon. I had breakfast with Kiana and the rest of our group before checking out of the hostel. I left my bags downstairs and joined the rest of the group to go to the market for one last adventure in Lisbon. Walking around the market, we saw stalls selling everything from ski masks to african wood carvings. I had a ham and cheese sandwich with John and Will as we discussed our future endeavors in Europe. Its likely that Will and I will meet up in Rome, which I am eagerly looking forward to. He was a certain energy that’s contagious and makes any situation fun. After Rome, I might be able to meet up with John in Florence if I decided to go there, which I’m strongly considering because of how much fun John and I had hanging out in Lisbon. However, Florence or not, I plan to visit John in Colorado when I return to the states.

After the market, several of our new hostel friends went out to Sintra for the day while Kiana and I returned to the hostel to prepare for our travels to Paris that night. I gathered my things around 3 and walked to the metro to catch a train to the train station. At the actual station, I bought some ham, cookies, and juice for the night train to Paris and boarded the train. The train ride was silent and beautiful snaking through the Portuguese and Spanish countryside on its way to Charamay (spelling) where it will arrive tomorrow at 7am.

As of this moment I’ve finally caught up with my travel blog and ready to start my European adventure. Over the past several weeks, I’ve slowly acclimated myself to the idea of traveling solo through Europe through gradual changes. I began my trip on a family cruise, being spoiled out of my mind with buffets and pools, shore excursions and free wine every night. In Barcelona, we were finally off the cruise ship, but still traveling with our parents so we had the advantage of not paying for anything. Once they left, Kiana and I moved upstairs to a hostel, but stayed in the same city, where Kiana had several friends. Ibiza was a step forward towards traveling independence, with Kiana and I in a city neither of us had ever been to.

Madrid was a chance for me to test the waters as a solo traveler and it went surprisingly well. I met several people, on the train and in the hostels. The people I met in the hostels, Milly and Fiona took such a liking to me and each other that we all made travel arrangements to head to Lisbon together where I reunited with Kiana.

What I’ve realized is that while a holistic view of my two month adventure seems daunting, its actually a series of unique and encapsulated experiences strung together. No two destinations so far have really been like each other and none to come will be either. Each city has had its own flavor and personality and traveling is about embracing that flavor and understanding it as if it were your own.

Lisbon, Portugal-Europe Day 14

Today was our day to take it easy in Lisbon, we woke up and went to one of Lisbon’s famous beaches with our makeshift group from the hostel. It was a 30-minute ride out to the beach and a cathartic experience all around. John and I drank beer on the beach and walked up to the fort at the end while the girls tanned. On the way back we bumped into the other half of our hostel group, that didn’t make it out until later, thanks to epic hangovers. With the group all reunited at one beach camp, we chatted and lounged soaking up the sun and bonding. I really enjoyed our group of travelers at this hostel. Over the course of a few days, we all became a family and looked out for one another. I hope to find groups like this throughout my travels in Europe.

After returning to the hostel we all took siestas and prepared for a sardine festival feast in town the Alfama district that night. The Alfama district is the Moorish part of Lisbon, home to small windy streets and of course, the Sardine Festival. Some of the group stayed behind for the communal dinner at the hostel while about 5 of us ventured to Alfama for Sardines. Our group feasted on sausage, sardines, sangria, and bread for about 3 euro apiece. We ate on a picnic table in a little town square with several local Portuguese. Never in my life have I met a kinder more welcoming group of people than the inhabitants of Lisbon. We talked with the locals throughout our entire meal and they were eager to tell us all about the different foods, how to eat them, and about the festival. After dinner, we met up with the rest of the hostel group and returned to the Alfama district. Every block or so there was some combination of a stage with live music, sardine vendor, picnic tables, or homemade bar. The city was one big party that stretched on for miles kilometers. We settled into a larger square down by the water and sang and danced late into the night.

Lisbon, Portugal-Europe Day 13

Kiana and I got up early as usual had a quick breakfast and took the train to Sintra, another town in Portugal about 30 minutes away. Sintra is a mountainous fairytale town home to numerous peaks topped with castles and palaces. Our first stop was at Quinta de Regaliera (or something). This was my favorite stop of the day. Quinta de Regaliera was the home to a bizarre man with enough money to finance his crazy dreams. The top floor of his house was devoted to his alchemy lab while his palatial gardens were filled with caverns, tunnels, 27m spiral staircases into the Earth, secret doorways and numerous references to the occult. All in all, it was fascinating.

Kiana and I spent the better part of the day there exploring before we returned to town for lunch and to catch the hop-on hop-off bus tour through Sintra. On the tour we stopped at both Pena Palace and the moorish castle built in 800-900AD. Kiana and I returned to the hostel exhausted that night and spent the rest of the afternoon napping. We opted out of the communal hostel dinner that night, and instead ate a cheap meal in the town square at McDonalds. The food was about the same as in the US, only with minor differences. The fries were saltier, the ketchup (though it claimed to be Heinz) tasted a little off, and the burgers had mayonnaise on them. I bought a Coke with my meal and was surprised to learn that Coke in Europe contains real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. It tasted noticeable different and better. On our way back from Mickey D’s Kiana and I bumped into one of the guys we’d met in the basement techno club from the night before, Nate. He was staying in a different hostel and they’d organized a pubcrawl. Kiana and I joined Nate for their pubcrawl for a bit and talked with him and his roommate Jana from Munich, who offered to let me couchsurf at her place when I was in town. Unfortunately, I left before we could exchange contact info. Back at our hostel, we went out with a handful of our fellow hostelers for sardines and celebrating in the street, as it was the start of the four day Sardine Festival.

Lisbon, Portugal-Europe Day 12

Kiana and I woke before the rest of our compatriots and made a free breakfast of toasted nutella and jam sandwiches. After breakfast we caught the walking tour part two into the other side of Lisbon. This tour took us to fewer buildings and more statues. While they were both good, I preferred the first one. The highlight of today’s tour took us to a manmade lookout platform where we could see most of Lisbon’s city center. The tour let us off near the tram stop for Belem, another area of Lisbon, and Kiana and I hopped the first tram we could for Belem. The area is famous for these little custard-filled pastries supposedly invented by monks that lived in the monastery up the road. Being the dedicated tourists that we are, Kiana and I tried the pastries, delicious, and visited the cathedral, beautiful. After the cathedral, we visited the free modern art museum across the street and took a walk along the water. We finished our trip to Belem with a walk past the president’s mansion on our way back to the center of Lisbon.

That afternoon Kiana and I had felafel near the hostel and it was delicious. I don’t think I’ve ever had it before, but I would gladly have it again. With our stomachs full of felafel, Kiana and I explored one of the old churches badly burned in the quake and then returned to the hostel for a siesta. When we got back to the hostel, the police were there talking to one of the guests. I later found out the guest had left home in Sweden without telling her parents and come to Lisbon for an impromptu vacation. When her parents found out, they called Interpol and 20 hours after she left home, the police had found her and were returning her home to Sweden. After that whole ordeal, we had a communal dinner at the hostel and planned our pubcrawl for the night. The 8 or so of us went to Barro Alto, the bar district of Lisbon and went from pub to pub drinking cheap beer and talking with the locals. At the end of the night we found ourselves in a basement night club dancing to techno with the local Lisbians (this may not be the proper name for people from Lisbon).

Lisbon, Portugal-Europe Day 11

Fiona and I spent most of the night on the train talking and looking at pictures and movies I’d made on my computer, while Milly slept almost the entire time. I was envious of her ability to fall asleep on the train and so quickly as well, but also glad to stay up with Fiona and talk. We both finally fell asleep around 3 or 4 and woke at 6 to the lights coming on in the train marking the impending arrival at our station. Stepping off the train in Lisbon was such a transformative experience. I relish the first steps in a new place, imagining myself as an explorer seeing a new part of the world for the first time. I found directions on my iPod to our hostel and 10 minutes later we stepped off the metro in Lisbon’s city center and made the short walk to the hostel.

The Streets of Lisbon

Home Hostel in Lisbon, was my new favorite hostel. The staff was great. The rooms were cheap. The laundry and breakfast were both free and every night for eight euros you could dine like a king on a three course meal in the common area. This wasn’t just Home Hostel, this was better than home. As usual, we couldn’t check in yet, no big deal since it was only 9am. We dropped our bags off and got a small breakfast of various pastries, all at half the price we’d paid in Madrid. I was loving Lisbon already. After breakfast our party of three walked the Plaza de Comercio before returning to the hostel so the ladies could shower. I sat on one of the couches in the common room reading Fiona’s Lonely Planet Portugal travel book when Kiana groggily made her way downstairs from her dorm room. At last we were reunited. We sat on the couch catching up on life and exchanging stories of our adventures, hers in Barcelona, and mine in Madrid.

Our Hostel Common Room

The hostel offered a free walking tour leaving right from the hostel everyday at 10 and twice a day on weekends. I introduced Kiana to Milly and Fiona, who opted out of the tour, and the two of us headed out to have adventures. The walking tour divided the city in two and each day the tour alternated between which half it covered. The tour we took that day took us past Lisbon’s castle and several of its cathedrals. We learned all about the history of Lisbon, including its massive nine minute earthquake, most quakes last 30 seconds.

Ruins from Lisbon’s Earthquake

The quake leveled most of the city, caused one of the world’s largest tsunamis, drained the river temporarily, and set most of the town on fire. Basically Lisbon was hell on Earth for a brief period of time. I can only imagine what the townspeople were thinking while all of this was happening around them. After the quake the town rebuilt, building one of the first cities with agrid system in 1755 and significantly advancing anti-seismic technology.

Panorama of Lisbon

After our tour, Kiana and I walked around and had lunch in the Thief’s Market, no joke thats what they call it. Post lunch we saw the castle, Roman theater, prison museum (thinking it was the roman theater) several of Lisbon’s cathedrals, and a free wine tasting in the city center. Back at the hostel, I edited pictures, napped, and caught up on this blog. Dinner was scheduled for 8:30 and, as is custom in latin countries, began 45 minutes late. The food was delicious. We had sangria, soup, roast chicken, salad, and a chocolate pudding for dessert. Dinner was such a communal experience with everyone coming together to eat and make merry. Staying at the hostel was John from Colorado; Will from Hawaii; Josh and Chris from Toronto; Amelia, Luke and Rachel from Australia; Brandy from Jacksonville; and Kiana, Fiona, Milly and I. After dinner we had a traditional Portuguese cherry liqueur, several glasses of wine and lots of beer. Needless to say, no one went out that night.

Portugese Cathedral