October 16- 18, 2012
Sam and I took an overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon, Portugal. This train was straight out of the 70’s which sounds as terrible as you can imagine. The seats were uncomfortable, the train had no internet, and the people in our car were annoying. Sam has stated that this is the exception to European trains, that they are typically all nice. I hope that is the case moving forward, but this particular train was an absolutely miserable experience. I think I slept a total of about 3 hours.
Our train arrived in Lisbon around 7:30 am. We stopped at the Metro, but could not get a Metro ticket because we didn’t have exact change. One thing that is important to note- it seems that many of the Metro ticket machines require cash or a debit/credit card with a chip in it. Apparently Americans aren’t as technically advanced as the Europeans, so this is a problem when trying to use one of the machines when no one is at the ticket window. This is very important if you are looking to take advantage of public transportation, which I have found to be a necessary so far. Also, these particular machines would not give change for 20 Euros, which was our smallest bill at that time. We gave up for the time being and ended up at the closest Café to get our daily caffeine fix in and most importantly, make some change.
After the coffee break we boarded the Metro heading to Baixa-Chiado the stop closest to our hostel. Coming out of the metro the first thing I notice is how many hills there are. Lisbon is known as the city of seven hills. Walking to the hostel gave Sam and I sense that Lisbon is very similar to San Francisco with the hills as well as a bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge. I was later informed that was wrong by a guy named Ben from our hostel, who was from San Francisco. He seemed slightly offended that I would even mention them looking similar. You all will just have to trust me on this one.
We arrived at our hostel Oasis Lisboa around 9 am. We could not check-in at that time, but the staff could not have been nicer. They allowed us to store our stuff as well as eat breakfast. We scarfed down some cereal and coffee then proceeded to map out our day. Our first plan of the day was to take advantage of the free walking tour hosted by our hostel taking place at 11 am. I will let Sam provide some more color commentary on this, but let’s just say our tour guide (Lewis from Scotland) was still drunk from the night before. We did get to see some of the city, though we weren’t given a lot of details about what we were seeing.
After the tour the next step was to check out the market and try some Portuguese food. The market was nothing to write home about, but they did have some great collector’s items. Some of the personal highlights for me were Mad Magazine collections, old school Jane Fonda workout DVD’s, and the original Nintendo Gameboy. It was tough to not purchase the Gameboy.
The Portuguese food we tried near the market was pretty good. It was some swordfish, rice and beans, with a glass of red wine. It was a solid 3:00pm lunch. From there, due to our lack of sleep, we decided to head back to the hostel. Along the way purchased food, beer, and wine from the market to hold ourselves over for the evening.
The front desk provided us our keys to the “Penthouse” room, which was up several flights of stairs. Typically not a big deal, but is pretty annoying when you are lugging around a bunch of stuff. Once up there Sam proceeded to make friends with the Aussie girls that were staying in the same dorm room as us. We all sat out on the balcony level outside of our room to enjoy the scenery, while Sam and I enjoyed some wine.
After freshening up, we went downstairs to the common area to use the kitchen to make dinner, check email, update the blog, and relax. The one bad thing about Lisbon which is similar to Madrid, is that their clock is completely different than ours. In Lisbon, people do not go out to the bars and clubs until 1-2 in the morning. Since I am old, I cannot handle that anymore. It was also a Tuesday night which apparently is not a good night to go out to Barrio Alto, which is the main party district in Lisbon. Sam and I somehow were still awake at 1:15am at the hostel, so decided to check out the bar scene as it is considered a “must do”. We got to a bar around 1:30am, had a drink then decided to head home, as the area was a ghost town, plus our glory days of partying are well behind us. At the very least we can say we went out in Lisbon.
LISBON- Day 2
The weather in Lisbon did not want to cooperate with us as it rained off and on all day. Our plan was to try and do another free walking tour at 11 am, but the weather stopped us from doing that. The overnight bus was not leaving until around 9 pm, which is a whole other story that I will let Sam detail. Due to our bus not being until later, we wanted to try and do as much as we could despite the weather.
After catching up on emails and mapping things out, we met a guy from Philly named Nick. He just arrived at the hostel, but wanted to join us for our exploration of Lisbon. Our first stop of the day was Belem. This part of Lisbon is much different than what we saw the day before. This is tourist central, with some amazing old towers, as well as some world renowned pastries.
We caught the trolley out to Belem which was about a 15-20 minute ride. Once in Belem we went right to Antiga Confeitaria de Belem. This place had a line out the door which was a mix of locals as well as tourists. That’s usually a sure sign that a place is pretty good. In a place like Portugal, if we see a place full of nothing but white people, we tend to shy away. That typically means a place is overpriced and not that good. I wouldn’t say they were the best pastries I have ever had, but they were pretty delicious.
We enjoyed some of the pastries, along with coffee and Moscatel. The Moscatel was highly recommended by people from our hostel, so I had to try it. It was very similar to port which we typically have with dessert.
After our quick stop for pastries, we went to walk around Belem. The pictures will really do this area justice, but it is a great place to see. The towers were amazing, it is located right on the water, and is very easy to walk around. For anyone visiting Lisbon I would highly recommend visiting Belem.
Our goal from there was to go to a 3 pm walking tour. We planned on leaving Belem at 2, which would be about a 15-20 minute trolley ride, then a 5-10 minute walk to where the tour would be leaving from. Our batting average was .000 on this day, as due to the trolleys not being there when we wanted them to (imagine that), we ended up missing the free tour. As a group we decided to head back to the hostel and map out our next steps.
Another recommendation that we received was to take the 28 line trolley around the city, which takes you through the Alfama, or old town, area. You can hop on and hop off of this line at any time, which makes it convenient for people like us (specifically Sam) who want to take pictures. We ended up riding the trolley for roughly an hour and hopped off a couple of times to get a better look at things.
After hopping off the trolley for the last time we went to the nearest supermarket to buy food for dinner, as well as some things for the overnight train. We ended up having an award winning dinner of pizza, along with some red wine. Here, like in Madrid, wine is absurdly cheap. After crushing our meal it was on to packing up and heading to the train station. As mentioned before, I will allow Sam to detail our overnight travel from Lisbon to Morocco.
Eric has done a great job synopsizing our time in Lisbon, so I will just conclude with some overall comments and thoughts. First of all, the overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon was especially shoddy. For those of you who have experienced European train travel, this was certainly not up to par. I have assured Eric that this was an unfortunate exception and that the trains (should) only get nicer.
The Oasis Backpacker Mansion, our hostel, came recommended by our friend Alex who has stayed here on his visit to Lisbon a few months ago. We thoroughly enjoyed it as it was very clean, the staff was friendly and helpful, there was plenty of guest kitchen facilities (a most for us), and our room (despite the annoying climb up four flights of stairs), had an amazing balcony view over Lisbon. Anyone coming through Lisbon and looking for a place we recommend this place.
The free walking tour turned out to be a waste of time. Perhaps this guy is just especially bad, or having an especially bad day, but we found ourselves struggling to keep up with him while he stayed 10 paces in front of us, not stopping, not telling us much of anything, not providing any insight into where we were, what we were seeing, the history behind it, etc. Coming off such a great tour in Madrid made this one pale in comparison. The other two girls on the tour with us completely agreed, though in the end we all tipped his as we felt obliged to. Was certainly a waste of money though.
The “market”, even if referred to as a “flea market” was beyond bizarre. It was literally a ton of people laying out blankets and loading it up with junk. I would venture to say it was more like a community yard sale than a market. Who are they selling this junk to? Where did they pick it up in the first place? Are we in South America? Super bizarre.
My favorite part of our time in Lisbon was visiting the Belem area. Though short, and rushed, I enjoyed seeing the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, the ‘Monument to the Discoveries’, to commemorate the Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. The size and detail of it was amazing, and the view from that area was great. And of course the pastries from Antiga Confeitaria de Belem were amazing, and I only wish I had the space to stash tons of them to snack on for the next few weeks. (Eric would never allow this kind of hoarding though.) Don’t listen to Eric’s opinion when it comes to sweets/baked goods/pastries, that is my forte to comment on. These little pastries were delicious- they reminded me of mini-crème brulees, with a cream center in a flaky pastry shell. Apparently the monks from the adjoined monastery have been making them for 1800’s. Plus the “café” is actually huge and very impressive inside. It is a must do when coming to Lisbon. Did I mention they were delicious?
What I like about Lisbon is that it is subtly artistic. While there are plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants with English menus, it doesn’t feel like Lisbon as a whole caters to the tourists. Instead the city feels authentic, and I felt like I got to experience the real city- walk by the places locals hang out and drink, ride the metro they take to work.
Lisbon is vibrant and beautiful, while also having a raw, almost dingy, type of authenticity about it. This contrast is what I found most intriguing. Firstly I noticed how vibrant the city was. Many of the building exteriors are tiled in colorful patterned ceramic tiles, or painted in bright yellows or pinks. The street trams are bright school-bus yellow. The sidewalks are mostly cobblestone, and many times, especially in the plazas, different colored stones are patterned in large graphic designs:
But as you look closely you start to see that many of the exterior wall tiles are chipped or buildings have accumulated graffiti. Buildings and public spaces are crumbling around the edges. I actually like this aspect of the city- I appreciate that it’s not squeaky clean and perfectly manicured for the sake of the tourists. And there is definitely a lot of art and a sense of humor around the city. It’s as if the Lisbon people take pride in their city, though don’t take it (or themselves) too seriously. I noticed much of the “graffiti” could actually very well be street murals. And even the public trash cans have a colorful scene of humor to them:
As Eric mentioned earlier, Lisbon is called the city of “seven hills”, and this landscape allows for some great views. In fact the city is filled with plenty of “miradouros” or viewpoints which are like small esplanades and terraces to enjoy the view of the city.
I certainly could have stayed in Lisbon longer. We probably should have been more prepared on what to do when hitting the ground instead of relying on the tour to give is a kick-start of the city- when that turned out to be a bust we felt like we had wasted an opportunity to take another/different tour and really get an insightful introduction to the city. Add to that that it was raining for most of time in Lisbon, and we didn’t have the best circumstances to really wander and explore Lisbon as much as we would like. But alas, our travels through Europe are short and sweet, and we’re moving on!
Our Overall Lisbon Experience (scale 1 to 10): 7
Lisbon is a beautiful city with plenty of history and nooks and crannies to discover and appreciate. The views across the city were amazing. Unfortunately we did not have much time or great weather. The infamous nightlife was not active during our days there either. Walking tour was a bust, though our hostel was one of our favorites.
Check out our full Lisbon picture album in Picasso.