Lisbon, Portugal

by smokinchestnut

No trips are perfect. When you’re visiting another country and you have no idea how to speak the language, you’re definitely prepared for mishaps.

But we didn’t have any mishaps in Portugal. Minus the one time we were trying to navigate a very large bus station and had to run to find our HIDDEN bus to Óbidos (It was seriously hidden! Why would they park the bus far away from all the other buses behind a huge pillar? To screw with us, you see…), everything during our two week long trip to Portugal was great. Perfect way to spend our official honeymoon/year anniversary together. And a special thank you to Matthew’s mom for helping make that trip happen.

But getting there? And getting home? DISASTROUS! First the Random Snowstorm of October 2011. Then, a day after being delayed, the plane malfunctioned as it was taking off. Then the airplane mechanic has a heart attack while working on said plane. We ended up taking off at midnight the second day and found ourselves in Portugal with no other problems. On the way back? The Great Car Debacle of 2011, which started off as a dead car on the side of the road, which led to being STRANDED in BumbleF, Kentucky for three days, which then ended with massive car problems due to incompetent mechanics. Which we’re still dealing with over a month later. But THAT story has been told over and over again and I won’t bore anyone here.

SO I DIGRESS! Because this post is about the first leg of our journey in Portugal. When we arrived in Lisbon on October 31st, we caught a bus to take us as close as we could get to our hostel, which was smack in the popular Baixa district.We hopped off the bus, weighed down by our camping backpacks (best decision we made on how to carry all our stuff) and consulted the map. Once we hit the main street, where our hostel was located, it didn’t take long for someone to ask us if we — specifically Matthew — wanted some drugs.

“You want some marijuana?”

“No, thanks,” Matthew said.

“You like cocaine? I have good cocaine!”

You know, because the jump from marijuana to cocaine is a small one. We learned to spot these guys after a while. Shifty eyes, see. They’d stand in the middle of popular intersections and approach anyone who seemed… I don’t know, like they wanted drugs? Matthew’s hair is long and you KNOW what that means! And man, some of them like sales people! One guy asked me if I wanted every drug in the book after I kept saying no. Then there was the old guy who slowly came up to Matthew one day and croaked, “Yoouuu liiiikke maaariiijuuaaannnaaaa…?” That was our favorite phrase for a while.

The hostel, Travellers House , was incredible. Smack in the middle of everything with TONS of amazing reviews and yearly awards, it was the perfect place to get acquainted with the city and with other travelers. The staff organized events every night, from wine tastings (went to that!) and chorizo tastings (went to that!) to bar crawls and scenic tours outside Lisbon. Our room was quiet and at the veeeerryyy top of the building, which shared a common area, kitchen and bathroom with two other rooms. It was perfect, with a small refrigerator and lots of pots and pans and utensils in case you wanted to cook one night. We only had one night there when we first arrived, since we had been delayed a day, but we ended up coming back earlier since it was such a great place.

After being shown around and told the rules of the place (along with when breakfast was served — eggs and toast and juice!), I practically ran up all the steps to take a shower. One of the staff members, Gui, gave us a map and suggestions as to how to spend the next few hours before chorizo night. The Baixa is the main hub of the city, where tourists and locals constantly mill about. There is the occasional street musician, which makes for nice ambiance, and often times restaurants will have tables and umbrellas out in the middle of the (pedestrian only) streets.

And so we wound our way around the Baixa for a bit before following the tram lines, per Gui’s instruction, up to the Alfama district. This is the oldest part of Lisbon and, in my opinion, the most photogenic. Every crumbling wall, every window sill with chipped paint, every destroyed piece of tile — it all sat there waiting to be admired. Which I did. A lot.

We stepped into the Sé, one of Lisbon’s cathedrals, and took a quick look around. I snapped photos as quietly as I could, leaning against the cool, stone walls to bolster my camera as I set a low shutter speed.

We eventually found our way to the top of the city just as the sun was finding its way to the horizon. We ate at the Club de Fado, which was our first Portuguese meal!! And we had…. sliders. Mini hamburgers. An omen of things to come regarding the cuisine here. Oh well, we would be eating Portuguese chorizo that night. But I’ll just say that the country isn’t really known for exotic dishes or exotic spices — or any spices, for that matter. That’s the foodie coming out in me.

And as I told a friend of mine, “A salty egg is NOT a spice!”

At least the views from the top were great. We saw a bit of the ocean and watched the sun’s progress until we finally decided to wind our way back down to the hostel.

Ah, chorizo night. We hit up a wine store beforehand, since dinner wasn’t until 9pm. Yep, that’s how they roll in Portugal. Can’t get a table at a restaurant before 7pm and if you do, you get to sit and wait until the chef arrives and begins preparing food at around 8pm. But that’s all right, because we hung out in the common area and talked to a couple from England and Poland.

And then… we gorged. And drank red wine. And ate more. There was a little piggy spit where the chorizo was cooked, then sliced up for all of us who paid to hang out and eat. We had bread, soft Portuguese cheese, olives and all different types of chorizo. It was so good! Some were spicy, some were thin and crispy like bacon and others were mild and soft. Matthew mingled with some Canadians while I spoke to a German guy about world politics.

Even though I don’t know very much about world politics but it was still so much fun. Though at the end of it my body was craving vegetables like mad. That’s the other thing about Portuguese cuisine… not too big on vegetables.

Oh, and since it was Halloween night, apparently a memo went out to half of Lisbon to get together and impersonate zombies. They did a great job at it, too! Lots of moaning and screaming and bloody faces… A perfect accompaniment to chorizo night, I think.

And so finishes our first day and night in Portugal. The next post will be our trip to one of my favorite towns in Portugal — the beautifully-picturesque-at-every-corner town of Óbidos.