This year, I decided to spend my birthday in Portugal with Christine. She went to Madrid to get her ESL certification and teach for the year. I would have loved to have been home and spend the weekend with my friends and sister in Montauk, but I had already booked my roundtrip ticket in March and they refused to change it (even though I had insurance on it).
So, I arrived to Spain on the first of September and we left for Lisbon on the third. Lisbon is only a little more than an hour flight from Madrid. Lisbon is a hidden gem, which is rarely atop ones European bucket list. It is a beautiful city with a history as rich as any. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest in Western Europe, predating many other modern cities.
In Lisbon we stayed at one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in, Goodmorning Lisbon. The staff were amazing, the way it was decorated was awesome, and they had the most amazing free breakfast; eggs, fresh cooked waffles, fruit, juice, sandwiches; they also had awesome nightly events. Even better was that we met a bunch of awesome people
. When we first got to Lisbon our room wasn’t ready, so we decided to get food. At the same time we were sitting down for food 3 Aussies, Monety, Declan and George were as well, so we decided to sit and eat together. They would become our friends throughout our time there. I later found out they were going to Porto the same day as me (Christine wasn’t) and staying at the same hostel! Anyway, after lunch Christine and I explored the city, we walked down to the shore, wandered and weaved our way through old medieval streets to the Cathedral. We climbed to the top, which gave us amazing views of the city. There, we met a super friendly security guard who told us about a huge market on the weekend and friended us on Facebook to help us if we needed. The thing about Portuguese people is they are extremely friendly; friendliness with strangers that makes you weary about somebody. After the Cathedral we toured the castle with some people we met along the way. The castle was built in the mid-11th century, during the Moorish period on a hill in the middle of the city. The castle wasn’t anything special and definitely not the coolest I’ve seen, but it had amazing views of the city.
Later that night, the hostel had a tapas night, with 6-7 different tapas cooked incredibly by one of the hostel workers/chef. At first it didn’t seem like there would be enough for everyone because we were only getting small tastes, but by the end he was bringing over the pans with what was left. We didn’t do much after that, just kind of relaxed and took it easy. While we were going up to bed, we met 2 Australian chicks, Jodi and Cat, who had just gotten into Lisbon. We would hang also hang out with them the rest of the trip.
The day before my birthday…
We woke up and had the amazing hostel breakfast with another friend and dorm mate, Wax. After breakfast we did a free walking tour of the city. The tour guide was awesome, but like most walking tours I do, I don’t really remember much now. It doesn’t help that I’m writing this a month later. Some things I remember are that, for a 20 year period the capital of Portugal
was moved to Brazil and with it went the king, during this time the church convinced the citizens to murder Jewish people to gain acceptance into heaven, around 3,000 people were killed. There is a church in the center, its interior gets painted red by the people as a way of remembering this event. There are also two monuments outside of the church. Another thing is that Lisbon suffered a catastrophic earthquake in the 18th century destroying 85% of the city. After the tour we got lunch with some other people from the tour at a Portuguese buffet. Christine decided to put the Portuguese super insanely hot meat sauce on her salad and eat it, which prevented her from eating anything else. I on the other hand, got plate after plate of insanely delicious meat and other foods.
After lunch we went to the famous district of Belem. Belem is only a couple of miles from Lisbon and is the place where many of the great Portuguese explorers set off on their voyages of discovery. There are a few things to do and see in Belem. There you can find the famous Belem Tower, a fortified lighthouse that was built to defend one of Belem’s other famous historical building, the Monastery of Jeronimos. The tower was cool to see, but it wasn’t anything special, if you wanted to go into it you had to pay, we didn’t. The monastery is a massive structure that takes up the space of about two city blocks. We only went into the church. The church was beautiful and had incredible vaulted ceilings. Belem is also home to the world famous pastry of Belem. It’s like a tart kind of thing that you can find all throughout Lisbon and Portugal, but Belem’s is the original and the best. The recipe has been secretly guarded for more than 150 years.
Afterwards I went with Wax to this strange art exhibition called House of Psychotic Women. I probably would have never went on my own, but he was really excited about going so I went along. The artwork was inspired by several films; the female protagonist and their distorted contact with reality. It was pretty interesting and there was free wine.
Later in the evening the hostel hosted a free sangria night, which we all of course attended. We played drinking games which eventually turned into a hostel wide karaoke night of 90s music. It was cool to see so many people from different countries singing the same songs. At 12, prompted by Christine, they sung happy birthday to me and then we went out.
We woke up and of course had breakfast at the hostel. After breakfast, Christine, Wax, new friends Harry and Sean (who were also in our dorm), and I went to the street fair (the one the security guard from the Cathedral told us about) hoping to find cheap stuff. It was more like an outdoor goodwill. There you could find a strange assortment of all types of items; sometimes, it looked as if they decided to clean out their car, but instead of throwing it away, see if anybody would buy it. It was cool to experience, but I didn’t find anything. After the fair, Christine
and I departed from the others and went to Sintra. We didn’t enough time to see al that we wanted to in Sintra (there is a lot to see), so we settled on going to the Quinta de Regaleira. Quinta is an estate with a large palace surrounded by a park that rivals park Guell. Throughout the park you can find elaborate structures of varying architectural styles reflecting different types of ideologies
On the way to the estate we ran into a friend (Crystal) we met on the walking tour. We spent about 2.5 hours touring the gardens. In the gardens is a 27m well down into the earth. It’s more like a tower with stairs. We spent about 40 minutes at the top taking pictures from all different angles.
The park closed at 6:30, but at 7 there was a small fado concert in the basement of the chapel in the park. Small, maybe less than 15 people were there, more couldn’t even fit. Fado is a type of music specific to Portugal. It consists of a women singer and two guitar players. They are usually sad, but can be happy as well. The concert was awesome, and even though we couldn’t understand what was being said, the women singing conveyed her emotions so well we didn’t have to, we could feel it. She had one of the most mesmerizing voices I’ve ever heard.
We got back to Lisbon at 8:33 hoping to stop by the supermarket and grab some food and drinks. We didn’t want to take too much time eating and didn’t want to spend a lot on food, however the supermarket closed at 8:30. So, we walked around for a bit and ended up finding this cheap bar-like restaurant. For my birthday dinner I got a hamburger. We ended up at the hostel around 10 and started drinking with the others. Played some games and went out with a bunch of people from the hostel.
My Last Full Day….
Missed breakfast, but I wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway. Christine left before noon, she was going back to Madrid to start
her course. I went with Harry and Sean to Caiscais. Caiscais is a beautiful, quaint beach town like 45min on train from Lisbon. We chilled at the beach for the first couple hours, then went for a walk and saw the cliffside, tried to get food at this place recommended to us, but it was closed until 7:30 (we hadn’t eaten anything all day). So, we got hotdogs and went back to the beach and played some cards and when the place opened went there for dinner. The fish there was fresh caught that day, prepared and cooked by little Old Portuguese women.
Lisbon was an awesome city. We met so many cool people and did so many amazing things. It’s also one of the hilliest cities I’ve ever walked around. Somehow it feels like you’re always going uphill. My next stop had even more, Porto!