27. Lisbon, Portugal
(Actual Trip Date: November 3 – 5, 2010)
Because Portugal looks like a mundane, narrow strip of land smacked to the left of famous Spain, not many take a chance to visit this country. But as my friend told me, her doctor recommended a trip to Portugal since it contained many hidden treasures that would make Spain look like nothing. Taking the once in a lifetime chance, I decided to go to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal where I would completely fall in love with this country.
Coming off the train and metro system of Lisbon, the first thing that hit me were soothingly hot rays of sunshine. Pulling off my jacket immediately and huffing and puffing with the heavy backpacking I had on my back, I figured out quickly that this city was made of hills of cobblestone. But after coming from a frigid Paris, I welcomed heartily the Portuguese warmth.
I say a lot of wonderful things happened on my trip here. First of all, the best hostel I ever stayed at during all my time in Europe was in this country: Oasis Backpackers Hostel (one of the Famous Hostels chains). Checking in to warm, amiable surroundings and people, the lady led us to another guesthouse which I found delightfully was almost empty, leaving the entire apartment complex to myself. The showers were clean (!!!) and the kitchen was stocked with these packets of tea I had never seen before. They (especially the orange packets) quickly became my favorite tea and I was able to find them in several boxes at a grocery store. Needless to say, I lugged them happily back to America.
Secondly, in my opinion, the best pastries I’ve tasted in Europe goes to Portuguese pastries! Mhm! Warm, crispy, flaky with oozing, scrumptious yellow, fluffy cream humming on the inside — it was delicious! Best part? Some of the cheapest pastries ever!
The aura and ambiance of the town was amazingly chill and full of life. I’ve been using this word a lot, but I have no other way to describe this city: warmth just came in dozens from the surroundings and the clear blue sky and the sun. And when I say clear blue sky, I mean not a cloud marring its light complexion! You can see the ocean from almost any part of the city, sparkling underneath the sun’s beams and inviting all to its lovely beaches.
My second day in Portugal involved going on the I Hate Tourism tours which I highly recommend. While it is pricey, it’s well worth the price since it comes with lunch, wine, free pastry, wonderful tour guide, an awesome van to travel in, and most of all, since they only accept a max of eight people, it feels like a private tour. The two memorable places from the tour is Sintra and Cabo de Roca.
One of the most amazing palaces with unique carvings and styles and shining in white surrounding by an enchanted jungle with secret underground passageway lit by small strings of lights to an underground well is in Sintra. We spent a little over an hour there, exploring the area, hiking and giggling over all the small staircases, rooms, hidden dirt steps, and secret caves. It was quite an adventure.
Cabo de Roca is the most western point of Europe and the closest you can stand in Europe to being close to the United States. Up on the high hills with the wind blowing around mercilessly and the vibrant, deep blue waters sloshing tranquilly around, the green grass flowing, and the lighthouse in the distance, it was amazing. It reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland again except this time with no chilling weather. While the cliffs in Ireland gives off a mysterious, daunting experience, Cabo de Roca held a friendly, almost tropical atmosphere.
After a long day of sight-seeing and a satisfying dinner of Portuguese specialty juicy codfish (don’t eat the bread or they will charge you), I was all too ready for a third day just chilling on the beach. Therefore, on the third day after a delicious salad and seafood soup lunch, I spent the rest of the day lounging on one of many Portuguese beaches, writing letters, journal entries, reading, collecting shells, and dipping my feet in the icy water while the sun continued to beam happily above me. It was a most relaxing day ending with buying postcards, a box of Portuguese pastries, and watching the gorgeous sunset. To top off the night, upon getting back to the hostel, I excitedly screamed since I saw some more of my Maastricht friends who had just checked in into the hostel. Sharing a dinner with them in the backyard, the meal cooked by a local Portuguese mom (very, very delicious – recommend eating at this hostel), was a great way to kick back and chat before catching the uncomfortable night train.
So I guess the only down side of Portugal? The night trains that run into Lisbon sucks. Beds too expensive and the seats are uncomfortable accompanied with loud Portuguese men and random sleep disruptions throughout the night.
Otherwise, Lisbon is quite the recommended treasure.