My my my…what a weekend!
Two weekends ago, I traveled to Lisbon, Portal with my friend Aaron.
Let me just say the trip was incredible from start to finish. Now before I get right into it, you should know that every part of this trip has an interesting story. The one I found most hilarious is highlighted below, so you can skip to that if you’re just looking for something funny.
Aaron and I arrived in Lisbon around 8pm on Thursday, November 21st and we took the train from the airport to where our hostel was. On the train, we immediately began observing. From the language, to the style, to the kinds of people we saw. Lisbon seemed like a part of Europe I had not experienced yet, and even though it borders Spain, the culture didn’t seem all that similar to Spain. A funny thing about languages and traveling is this: You can know all the languages in the world, but when you are traveling and encountering many different languages in a short time span, it is so easy to jumble your words. In my trip to Belgium, I was speaking Spanish, even though I know French. And when I arrived back in Spain from Belgium, I was speaking French instead of Spanish! And now that I’m learning Spanish, I find myself thinking and dreaming in Spanglish! It’s a funny, confusing thing. Also, I didn’t realize how high pitched the Portuguese language was. A tall, strong man sat down next Aaron and started speaking. Aaron and I were caught off guard as we expected a deep baritone voice to come out, but rather felt like we were listening to Tinkerbell or PeeWee Herman…one of the two.
After that interesting metro ride, Aaron and I hopped out of the metro and were immediately greeted by the Lisbon center. Lights and cars in a round-about and a big statue in the center, which we used as our guide as the compass for our adventures. Our instructions told us the hostel was right around the corner, and in no time we arrived to the front gate.
Now the hostel itself is another story. The name of this hostel is the G-Spot Hostel, named after its owner and environmentally-“Green” practices, and it was recommended to me by a friend who was hoping to go to Lisbon. I checked it on hostelworld.com and saw it had a high rating, with great safety, a fun environment, and great proximity to the city. I checked out its website and video and realized it was a party hostel. I wanted a different abroad experience…and was maybe, kind of missing traditional American college parties. It’s their dead season now, but overall it lived up to expectations. I can only imagine what their high seasons are like…
So after arriving to the gate, we rang the door bell and were greeted by an employee who invited us in and offered us a drink as we walked the long walkway to get to the actual entrance. Upon entering to the living room/check-in area, I saw someone sitting on the coach who I recognized. I had to double take twice until I realized it was Jason Fudge, a classmate from high school. Needless to say, we couldn’t believe we just saw each other in the not only the same hostel, but in the same hostel in the same city, in the same country, and on the same continent 6,000 miles away from home. Too funny. From the time I arrived to the time I left, we still couldn’t believe it. Absolutely nuts! After checking in, we were brought to our room with queen size bunk beds. I haven’t slept on anything but a twin bed with a cushion as my mattress since September. It was great having a queen all to myself! Next, we met our 4 other roommates. Two of them knew people from my college and my high school.
It was almost time for dinner, so Aaron and I headed to the living room where there were massively long wooden tables, kind of like the ones you see in hairy potter, but like a quarter of that size. What’s great about the meals at the G-Spot is that for dinner it’s 1-Euro for all you can eat pasta. They also give you bread, wine, sangria, and water for free with your meal. For breakfast, you get freshly made pancakes for free! They also have the breakfast of champions (5 euros) choice that includes pancakes, eggs, and bacon, and a beer…in case you’re really trying to get started early, haha. I really enjoyed the dinners though because every one in the hostel came together to eat with one another. It was also interesting how diverse the company was. There were British, Australians, Americans, Canadians, Indians, Swedes, and Dutch people, which certainly provided for a comical environment.
After dinner on the first night, we were invited for a pub crawl. Even after a long day travel, Aaron and I mustered enough energy to go. We had to start our trip off right!
The hostel staff like to play games while we walk to the pubs. One game we played was “Shark in the Water.” When the name of the game was called out, we had to jump, stand, or climb onto something other than the ground we were walking on. So basically, you had people hugging trees and light posts, or wrapping and holding themselves around hanging chains…a pretty funny sight if you had no idea what was going on. The area with the pub crawl that we walked to is famous for having nearly 200+ bars in a single concentrated area. We visited one bar that is popular among Erasmus students, or the Europeans Students studying abroad within different places in Europe. Next, we went to a Mojito bar. The mojitos were 6 euros each but famous for their freshness and large drink portion. I didn’t buy one, but I took a sip and it was as tasty as promised. It was my first time on a pub crawl and it was great. All the locals were out, we were all dancing , and I had a dance-off with a middle-aged woman who thanked me for teaching her a few moves. In such a short period of time (less than 6 hours), I was already falling in love with Lisbon.
So after the pub crawl, more or less 2o of us took taxis to a club. Upon entry to the club, you were given a card that you were to use to buy drinks. Instead of paying at the bar, you would hand the bartender this card and they would credit your drink on the card. When you left the club, the bouncer would scan it, and then you would pay for the drinks. If you lost the card, you had to pay 100-Euros…which is more than the card is worth, and more than you could spend on the card assuming each drink is less than 25-euros; each card has a limit of 4 drinks on it. If you wanted more than 4 drinks, you had to ask for another card. Having all of these credit cards along with alcohol in your system, is an accident waiting. You’re more likely to lose the cards and/or just spend way too much at the club. Smart but shady business model on the club’s part. This one girl on the pub crawl, we’ll call her Emily (for confidential reasons) could have had a smoother night. I met her at the hostel and we had been hanging out since she was one of the few girls at the hostel and had been studying in Madrid. When she entered the pub, her friend, Jack offered to hold onto her card for her. Later in the night though, Emily was getting ready to leave but couldn’t find Jack and realized that he had left the club. She didn’t have any money on her and her phone was dead. But most of all…she didn’t have her CARD! She tried leaving with her friend but the bouncer asked her where her card was. After explaining what had happened, the bouncer was adamant about her staying in the club until the morning. I was watching what was happening and all of a sudden, the bouncer looked a way for one second and Emily bolted for the street. She was literally ran out of the club and was sprinting. The 5’7” 250 lb bouncer saw her run and yelled at her in Portuguese just before he started chasing after her. I went outside to get a better look and saw Emily see the bouncer. She looked like she could have run for miles. She was holding two jackets that she threw on the train tracks so she could run faster. It was raining, so her jackets were getting wet but she told me later that she didn’t care. She wanted to get out of there. So as I’m watching all of this go down, she all of a sudden stops running, turns around and starts crying, saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do.” The bouncer grabbed her arm, half-twisted it and wouldn’t let her grab her jackets. He brought her back to the club and prevented her from leaving. Meanwhile she was calling out to us to grab her jackets. We were all telling her to come outside but she didn’t have a chance. Lucky for her, an employee from the hostel was inside and helped her find someone who worked at the club and spoke English. They told her the only way she could leave was if her friend came back with the card or if she gave them something to hold onto as collateral until she came back later and returned the card. She ended up giving them her bracelet that she got in Andalucia, Spain. She told them it was worth 200 euros and pure silver. She told me later that she really got it for 15 euros. They accepted the trade and let her leave. Very fortunate for her though! Two days after, she went back to the club, gave them her card, and got her bracelet back. She loved the bracelet so much, so she was willing to go back and get it. The next day, she had to leave Lisbon to go back to Madrid. She messaged me on Facebook the next day telling me the following: I was getting ready to go through security. I took off all of my jewelry and put it in my pocket. When I went to put everything back on after security, my bracelet was gone. So I went through all that and ended up losing my favorite bracelet.” Can you believe it? What a story…
So after that fiasco, we got back to the hostel to rest up for a day of adventure.
So the next morning, Aaron and I grabbed some pancakes and were on our way.
It was raining all day unfortunately, but you know what they say…if you love a place when it’s raining, you’ll really love it when it’s sunny. We had plans to walk along the mall lawn area that was behind the statue in the center, then make our way down the main street, then to the castle on the hill over looking all of Lisbon, before heading to Belem to see more monuments. While wandering, we couldn’t help but relate Lisbon to San Francisco (I thought) and Rome (Aaron thought), with its cobblestone roads and narrow, elevated streets combined with colorful buildings and ocean views. Also, the same architect for the Golden Gate Bridge designed a seemingly identical bridge in Lisbon, making it really seem like we were in San Francisco.
Here are some pictures from that day. We did most of our sightseeing this day. After this day, we headed back to the hostel. We were absolutely exhausted though, so we rested before dinner and then stayed in that night.
The next morning, we headed off early to Sintra. Sintra is a quaint little town in the far west of Lisbon and it took us an hour to get there by train. The western most point of Europe is in Sintra, and we saw it while we were there. Sintra is known for its old castles and fairy-tale like environment, something I had desperately wanting to experience during my time in Europe. Once we arrived to the Sintra, we walked to the tourist office where were greeted by the guard who gave us instructions in Portuguese. Aaron and I do not speak Portuguese, but the language is not totally different from Spanish and French, so we were able to get by with no problem. We wanted to go to the Moorish Castle that was up on the hill. To get there, we walked through the forest and several gardens and even a zip-lining place. The walk took roughly 35 minutes and it was so worth it. By far one of my favorite places in Portugal.
After Sintra, we tried to make it back to Lisbon in time for the Thieves Market. This market is where pickpockets come to sell the things they’ve stolen. We missed it by 15 minutes though and decided to get some lunch. I ordered seafood, which was delicious, but I was just exhausted so I went back to the hostel and slept for a few hours before having dinner, going out again, then getting ready for our last morning in Portugal.
When my dad was 20, he stayed in the Ritz Carlton for a few days. When I was preparing for Spain and my other European travels, my dad suggested I go to Lisbon, since he also was there when he was 20. He specifically remembered drinking tea in the restaurant and suggested I do the same thing. So the last morning in Lisbon, Aaron and I headed to the Ritz Carlton for some tea. It was a 10-15 minute walk from our hostel and its facade, relative to the surrounding buildings, suggested it was identical to when my dad has visited. So Aaron and I were greeted to a comfortable area where the waitress brought us biscuits and our tea. I explained to the waitress why we were there. She thought it was so cool that she suggested we go up to the top floor, where the gym was, to get a great view of the city. She even took us up in the elevator and had a gym trainer give us a brief tour of the gym and outside deck. This was the best view of the entire trip. The trip could not have ended better.
From seeing a high school classmate, to spending time with people from all over, watching someone get chased by a bouncer, wandering through the forest to find a castle, to connecting with my dad through tea over 6,000 miles and 40 years later, my trip to Lisbon was incredible and unlike any other trip. I hope I can go back soon with friends and family to show them just how great of a place it is.