So I know it’s been a while since my last post, but because my weekend study time has been dramatically reduced, my weekdays have been pretty monopolized. I don’t regret it though. Lisbon was probably one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to; I had no idea what to expect going into it, but it was such an all-around amazing experience!
For whatever reason, we had “winter break”, I suppose to celebrate the end of midterms, so we had Thursday and Friday off. With that, Nola and I booked a flight for early Thursday morning. All went well and we arrived without issue (the flight was only 45 minutes after all). We found the right bus, arrived in the city center, and were able to navigate to our hostel effectively. The only issue we faced was the HUGE hill leading up to it; not only was it incredibly steep but the archaic cobblestones made it quite a frightening endeavor. We weren’t supposed to check into our hostel until 2 that afternoon, but we went straight there around 10 just to drop off our luggage. We were a bit unsure of the hostel because it had a somewhat vulgar name, but it had great reviews and was very reasonably priced. Our apprehension grew as we turned onto a sketchy looking side street and found an unassuming door. Someone was standing nearby and immediately let us into the reception area which opened to a cozy sort of common room. One of the staff quickly assured us that our luggage would be safe and even offered us some of the pancakes he was making for breakfast! After that he gave us a city map and outlined routes to some popular attractions. It seemed like the hostel would be cool after all, so that was a relief.
After chowing down on some flapjacks (though of course they didn’t have maple syrup), we set out into the streets of Lisbon. On our way down the hill we came upon a very elderly sort of lady with a cane. She was trying to say something to us in Portuguese, but neither of us could understand. We eventually discerned she was asking for an arm, so I held mine out to her and proceeded very slowly down the slope with Nola on her other side trying to keep her steady. I have no idea why she was on the hill by herself in the first place, but I guess it’s a good thing we were there. When we finally made it to the bottom, she kept trying to tell us something else, but again, we had no idea. It turned out she wanted help to the bus stop a couple streets over. It was actually kind of scary because this lady walked slower than anyone I’ve ever seen (understandably so), but she had no qualms about jay walking, and I’m pretty sure we almost got hit by like three buses. She made it to hers just in time so we left feeling accomplished. Afterwards, we wandered down to what I suppose was the main plaza and meandered to the sea. The weather was surprisingly warm and sunny, and the whole city was absolutely gorgeous. Everything was just so picturesque. We spent some time relaxing by the bay, absorbing some vitamin D and listening to a man play guitar; it was a such a serene and beautiful moment that I sort of wish I could have lived in it forever. I was eventually motivated to move along, however, by the prospect of food and wine. We walked along the main street and found a decent restaurant. As I’m sure you can imagine, Lisbon is famous for their seafood, which I detest, but I ordered what turned out to be a very satisfactory pizza. We were surprised at how expensive the wine seemed until the waiter brought our order and it turned out we had actually gotten a bottle. I can’t turn down a good deal, but we definitely hadn’t planned to split at bottle of red with lunch; it was fun though. The party seated next to us were some middle-aged people from the US, so we had a great time getting to know them.
By the time we finished, we were cleared to check into the hostel so we made the long journey back for a much needed nap. As we stood at reception, we started to get more of a feel for our lodgings. First all, I’m not sure who ran the place, but all the workers seemed to be in their mid-twenties; one person was from Canada and literally all the rest were from Australia. It was really great because they got to hang out and fit in with the guests, yet handled everything professionally. Anyway, the name of the hostel was G-Spot, and once we got there we realized the entire place was sex themed. I picked up a small bell from the counter to examine it and it read “ring for sex”, I got a kick out of it, but the young man checking us in saw me and very seriously said, “Be careful with that.” Things only got more thematic as we were lead to our rooms, which all had some sort of suggestive name. I won’t get too graphic, but for example ours was called Tea Bag. The inside was very nice though, plain but nice. This one was a 10 person mixed dorm, but there was no one in there at the time. As soon as we were assigned our bunks, we settled in and feel asleep soon after.
We woke up a few hours later ready for dinner. After some brief research we found a seemingly authentic place and tried for that. We didn’t get lost exactly, but we didn’t make it directly there either. When we finally did, we were borderline ravenous, but after skimming the menu we learned the cheapest dish was about €30, so we quickly decided to take our business elsewhere. We found another place that was alright, but the waiter was quite friendly. We went back to the hostel to join the pub crawl around 10 (obscenely early for us Madrelenas). By the now the common room was quite lively and filled with rowdy twenty-somethings from all over the world. The staff weren’t shy about participating in the shenanigans too, but they managed to remain in control of the situation. Once everyone had their wristbands, we headed out in one big mob to climb some more stairs to the first pub. It was a nice enough place I guess and we got a free shot (which was pretty much just juice). A lad nearby was kind enough to buy a round though, so Nola and I soon made the acquaintance of Simon and Matt, two young men from England that had met in the hostel earlier that day. They were both really nice and entertaining to talk to, but I couldn’t get over Matt’s sense of humor; I guess it was classically British, but everything from his diction to his timing had us in stitches. Simon was funny too, but he was a tad more of the intellectual type, which I also appreciated.
We were eventually corralled to another place, where we could enjoy a whole hour of unlimited beer or sangria. We had some more fun here and familiarized ourselves with some other people from the hostel. By the time we made it to the third bar, everything was so packed that it took us forever to be served, but we still had some fun. The fourth place was a “club”, but it sorely paled in comparison to anything I’ve seen in Madrid. It was a good time though. There was one young man there that started off ok, but quickly began to creep me out, so I went to find Nola and Matt and we promptly decided to leave. Luckily, we also happened to find Simon standing outside. Since we had gone to four places, we had absolutely no idea where we were, but Simon swore he did. I’m not saying I didn’t believe him, but we left the club at around 3:30 and didn’t make it to the hostel until about 5. It wasn’t all his fault though because for whatever reason we stopped to talked to a young local couple for quite a long time. It turned out the girl would be visiting Madrid in a couple weeks, so we exchanged information and promised to be in touch. We all shared some good laughs on the jaunt back, so, even though it had begun to rain, we weren’t too upset with Simon for taking us what was apparently the very long way home. I fell into my bunk that night feeling quite satisfied with our first day in Lisbon.
We woke up bright and early the next morning so as not to miss the pancake breakfast. We sat at tables among other zombie-looking people and passed around the Nutella and jam. We ran into Matt and all decided to go the big aquarium later that day. We retired back to our bunks and enjoyed a little bit more sleep before getting cleaned up. As we were walking back down to the lobby, I happened to see Simon through one of the open doors to a dorm and invited him along. We formulated a plan, but at that point it was time for lunch, so we first made our way to a café that Simon had to been to earlier in his trip. It was good food, and we enjoyed each other’s company. Afterwards we paid to ride on some huge elevator (a violation of lent I know, but they didn’t have stairs) to a lookout point. The city was even more amazing from above! We then made our way to the tram stop downtown and settled in for about a 45 minute ride to the aquarium. It was somewhat small compared to the one I went to in Gatlinburg last summer, but it had some very unique looking creatures. One of which was this Sunfish thing that was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen! We also got tickets to the temporary exhibit which was the largest Japanese garden in the world. It was basically this square room and there were aquariums built into the walls filled with what were apparently Japanese plants and fish. They were playing calming music, so we sat in there for a good while peacefully contemplating the nature of life. Overall we had a really great experience exploring the wanders of the ocean together.
We made it back to the hostel and took a quick power nap before the festivities of the evening began. Once a month, they host a feast that includes unlimited sangria and a trivia night. By the time we got downstairs it was kind of full, so we found ourselves seated next to entirely new people. One of them was from London, but the other two, Dominic and Johann, were from Germany. The food was just ok, but there was plenty of it, so I guess that helped. We were then split into teams for the trivia night. Ours ended up being me, Nola, the two Germans, and one dude from northern Portugal, which was completely unfair because all the other teams had 7-10 people. We did do some trivia, but there were also drinking games thrown in. One was like a relay flip cup race, which my team won. Then they started passing out straws and it all came together when they provided each team with a vat of sangria and said the first team to finished would win. Not only did we have less people than everyone else, but Nola hates sangria so was hardly even a participant. Regardless, Dominic, who was already somewhat intoxicated, stood assuredly and said, “Don’t worry, we’re German, we got this.” He wasn’t kidding; we actually managed to win that challenge too! At the end they collected our written answers and scored them privately, so I have no idea how we did on that part, but for whatever reason we didn’t win. Once the winner was announced, we all set out once again for the pub crawl.
The first place was the same and Dominic generously bought us a round. I took a German class when I was eight and had learned some phrases last summer, so I successfully impressed them with my vocabulary. I even sang a song I remembered learning from the class and Johann commented that it was clearly Bavarian, which means my pronunciation was clear(ish)! It’s not often that I get use the German I learned, so it was pretty fun. The second place we went to was different, and we caught back up with Matt. We did have a great time, but we didn’t make it past that pub and returned to the hostel early. Well, when we left, we again had no idea where we were, but fortunately our wristbands had the address of the hostel (specifically for that reason), so we asked a random person on the street and he led us right to it. We got in around three or so, but there was…an incident in our room, so I happily sat on the couch in the common room watching It’s Always Sunny while it was taken care of. We later learned that some of the girls in our room were actually from Madrid, not far from where Nola and I live! I still regret not exchanging information, but oh well.
We managed to wake up Saturday morning before it was time to check out. You see, for whatever reason we had thought our flight out was Sunday morning around 5, so we didn’t see the need to pay for another night in the hostel when we’d have to leave for the airport around 3 anyway. Well, it turns out our flight was actually past 7, but that was alright. Since we missed the pancake breakfast that morning, we ventured downtown and tried a Chinese buffet; it was just alright. After that, we made our way to the castle on the hill. We trekked up the mountain and had to backtrack a few time, but we eventually found some foreigners to follow to the entrance. Once again, the birds-eye view of Lisbon was breathtaking! It’s hard to describe, and of course pictures won’t do it justice, but trust me, it was amazing. We had fun exploring the castle, which I’m pretty sure would not meet many safety standards, and we managed not to fall off any ledges
Our next stop was a neighborhood outside of the city that’s notorious for their egg tarts. I know that sounds disgusting, but they were actually quite delicious. We explored an old cathedral, but didn’t really do much else on that side of town and eventually caught the bus back. We had a meal, then just sort of ambled aimlessly around the city for a while. We eventually set out to find a neighborhood that’s famous for Fado music, which is a style of traditional singing and guitar. After getting lost in a very residential area near the castle, we found a cozy little establishment to settle in. It was an interesting environment, and we quickly got to know the party next to us. There were two middle aged men and their parents, who were all from Denmark but were somewhat familiar with parts of the US. They were interesting to talk to as we devoured our wine and cabbage soup. The music was also intriguing. If I focused really hard I could understand some of the Portuguese lyrics, but I was zoning in and out so I never really got the full meaning of a song. When the music started the lights would dim and the small room would fall silent, then several singers would rotate and sing for a few minutes each. The music would last for increments of about 45 minutes, then 45 would be spent serving food, eating, and talking.
Everything was going swimmingly until I made one of the worst mistakes of my life. One thing you should know about me is that after taking Biopsych a couple of years ago I diagnosed myself with a mild form of prosapagnosia, or face blindness; that is, I sometimes have trouble recognizing faces (Brad Pitt suffers from a mild of form of it too, so maybe we’ll meet in a support group someday). Anyway, once the music had ceased, I got up to go to the bathroom and when I came back I had the perfect opportunity to remind my waiter about the glass of water I had requested some time ago. Now nobody around here really spoke much Spanish, it was mostly French and Portuguese, but I had been doing alright speaking with them in one language and them responding in another. So I walk up to her and politely ask her if I could please have a glass of water. She seemed very confused, so I clearly repeated “glass of water” in Spanish. It just didn’t seem to be registering with her, which confused me because she had been understanding my Spanish the whole night. I happened to see a glass of water on a nearby counter, so I pointed to it and again said, “Agua.” Now she fully understood and in French she informed me that the waitress was on the other side of the room. She was nice about it and actually called the waitress over and requested some water for me. I returned to my seat shamefaced and told Nola that I had asked someone for water who wasn’t the waitress. After I pointed out the poor victim of my inattention Nola burst into laughter; apparently the woman had been one of the last singers to perform before the break and she had been walking around selling her CD. Now in my defense, she had been wearing a very distinctive shawl while singing that she later discarded so…that justifies it, right? I just feel so bad for this poor women who had been singing her heart out only to be mistook for one of the wait staff not ten minutes later. We left soon after.
Nola never really stopped laughing about that one as we made our way back to the area of the hostel. The pub crawl had just started, so we went to some of the usual bars to try catching up to them. I don’t think we ever did, but we sure did meet a ton of other people. I think I had more conversations with random people that night than I have in the last six months combined, but it was a great time. Various shenanigans ensued, and we retrieved our luggage from the hostel and called a cab right around 4 am. By then we realized our flight was later though, so sitting in the airport for a couple of hours was an enormous struggle. I had trouble keeping my eyes open as we stood in line to board, and I think I fell asleep immediately after taking my seat. It’s only a 45 minute flight, but I was bewildered when I opened my eyes and people where lined up to deplane. I felt better after the nap, but Nola and promptly returned to our respective houses before 11am for a much needed part dos. Overall Lisbon was such an amazingly fantastic (mostly) unforgettable experience and the perfect start to our travels for the semester!