Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Lungs of Lisbon

Last weekend, I took my first trip to another country in Europe! Six other girls and I went to Lisbon, Portugal! The trip to Lisbon was probably my favorite so far. I absolutely loved Portugal! It was different being in such a huge city. We had to do A LOT of walking and a lot of taking taxis, buses, trams, etc. I did not even think about all of the pubic transportation I would need to take since we were in such a big city, so I spent a lot more on transportation than I had hoped. Also, the transportation in Lisbon is awful. I will explain more of that later in this post. However, the public transportation is my only complaint about Lisbon and Portugal. The Portugese people are so nice everyone... including tourists! I don’t think we encountered any rude or snotty people from Portugal, and they were all so helpful! This was different because a lot of times, Spaniards are not this way. Also, the country of Portugal is so beautiful! I can’t wait to go back.

We boarded a train that left Caceres last Friday at 2 in the morning. I think this was only the second time in my life I have traveled by train. I prefer traveling by train as opposed to bus because they have bathrooms and they are a lot smoother, but they are still uncomfortable for me to sleep on and they have creepier passengers. When we first got on the train, we all sat in our assigned seats that were on our tickets. We were all basically in the same section of the train, but some of us had two seats to ourselves and some of us were seated with each other. I was the lucky one who was in the front of our whole group, closest to the creeper. I had put my bags up and gotten situated and everything, and then I looked over and this man was just staring at me (for who knows how long) right over his seat, so I could only see his eyes. Creepy, right? I looked at him and we made that “awkward stranger eye contact” where you both usually look away, but he just kept staring. I turned around to my friend in the seat behind me and told her to look and see if he was still staring, and sure enough he was. Claire told me to come sit in the empty seat next to her, so I did, and the staring continued on and off throughout the train ride to Lisbon. It was very strange.

Our cabin in the Lisbon Lungs!
When we arrived in Lisbon around 8 am, we searched and searched for the bus that we needed that would take us to our hostel. Our hostel was located in the “Lisbon Lungs” and we stayed at a campground in “bungalows.” After walking around for an hour trying to find the right bus, we decided we would just take taxi’s for the first time, and then ask about the bus situation when we got to the hostel. We took two taxis, which ended up only costing about 2 euro per person, which is about how much the bus would have cost anyway. We checked into our ‘bungalow’, which was just like a cabin… it reminded me a lot of Camp Okoboji in Iowa. It had three rooms, a small kitchenette, and a small dining area. It was adorable. Well, that’s what most of us thought anyway. One girl in our group has arachnophobia and nature just really isn’t her thing. Since we were in the middle of the woods in a cabin, you can imagine how many spiders and roaches there were. Funny story about that one later, too.

After we checked into our cabin, we decided to take a day trip to Sintra. Sintra is a small town outside of Lisbon that all of the Spaniards compare to a “faiytale land.” We got to the train station (which was a different train station than the station where we first arrived to Lisbon) and we went to go buy our tickets. We use the ticket machines since there was nobody working there. We had a lot of problems with these machines and at that train station in general. It turns out that that exact day (March 25th) was the day that the train station decided to go on strike. So after we spent so much time trying to buy our tickets, and having a cleaning lady who didn’t speak English or Spanish tell us what was going on with the strike and why the machines were having problems, etc, we realized we didn’t even need to buy the tickets to Sintra because the gates were open all day since no one was working them even though the trains were still running. We never fully understood the whole situation but in the end, we felt like good Samaritans for paying for our tickets anyway.

Sintra, Portugal
Sintra WAS Cinderella land. It was a small, cute little town full of castles and gardens and pillars and flowers. We all decided that we were going to either get married there, or honeymoon there. We spent the day walking around the town, drinking Portugese coffee, getting hit on by 12 year old boys. We decided to buy groceries so we could make dinner, so we found a very small grocery store that was closing, but the very nice old man decided to open it back up for us. He gave us discounts on the food we bought, taught us some Portugese phrases, and kept telling us that they opened at 8 am in the morning and to come back in visit. 

Dinner in the cabin!
We took the train back to Lisbon and then we had to get on a bus to go back to our campsite. We got on the bus after riding it for about ten minutes, it stops at a bus stop and the driver says everyone needs to get off because his shift was over. So everyone got off and we were told that we would have to wait for the next bus and then pay again! We waited around for the next bus which never came so we had to take taxis again. We finally made it back to our cabin, had a wonderful meal of spaghetti and grilled cheese for dinner, and called it a night.

Our rings we bought at the market
On Saturday, we went back into the city to try and find the market. We walked a long time but we eventually found it. On the way, we found a store that was giving out free samples of Vino Porto which is a strong wine from Portugal that we were told to try before coming to Portugal. We walked around the market for a few hours. At first, most of the stuff at the market reminded me of Goodwill. There was just so much crap! I was beginning to wonder why we came. However, the farther up the hill we climbed, the better the stuff got. There were some really neat clothes, jewelry, and paintings. Claire, Keely, and I all bought matching handmade rings. After the market, we decided to take one of those old city trams so that we could see more of the city. We paid to get on the tram, rode it for about 15 minutes and then they made us get off at one of the stops. We were told that we needed to wait for the next tram. Sound familiar? Another tram didn’t come. Instead, the SAME tram moved 5 feet and we had to pay again!!! It was ridiculous. 

Santa Justa Elevator
We got back to the center of the city where we first got on and went to go find the Santa Justa Elevator. I had read before we came to Portugal that there is a back way to get to the top of the Elevator that only the locals know about and you don’t have to pay the 3 euros and we actually figured it out! The view of Lisbon from the top of the elevator was amazing! While we were up there, I heard some students about my age talking in English so I asked where they were from. They were all from the US but from different states… they mentioned New York, California, and then one girl said IOWA! Even though she goes to University of Iowa (unfortunate) it turns out she went to high school with one of my friend’s roommates! Small world.

Fado Restaurant
After the Santa Justa Elevator, we went to dinner at a Fado restaurant. Fado is a very traditional song of Portugal and it is very common for restaurants to have Fado singers during dinner. The Fado restaurant we went to had two guitarists and two or three Fado singers that would take turns singing while we ate dinner. After spending three hours at the restaurant, some of us wanted to go out and some of us wanted to go back to the cabin. I went back to the cabin with 3 other girls. When we got back to the cabin, my friend with arachnaphobia decided she was going to take a shower. She went into the bathroom and shut the door. Now, the door to the shower room was a little tricky to open because it was a wooden sliding door so it always required two people to open it after you showered.. one person on each side. After she had shut the door to take a shower, 5 seconds had gone by and all of a sudden she started screaming bloody murder and banging on the door yelling “let me out, let me out!!!!” So Claire goes over to help her open the door and Ellyn runs out of the bathroom, still screaming. She caught her breath to tell us that a spider had fallen from the ceiling and landed on her. The rest of us went in to go look at it, and I’m not gonna lie, that was one huge hairy spider. Of all people for that to happen to.

On Sunday, we checked out of the cabin and headed for the bus stop to go back into the city. As we were walking to the bus stop, I realized that I had left my ring that I had bought at the market back in the cabin. Claire and I had stopped to talk about whether or not it was worth it to go back and get it because it is quite a walk. As we were standing there talking about it, Claire was messing with her ring on her hand and ended up dropping it in the grate that we had just happened to be standing on! So she fished her ring out with a stick while I went to go back and get mine. We both ended up getting our rings back and it ended up being a funny story (only because we got them back.)

Discovery Monutment
On Sunday, we spend the first half of our day at Belem. Belem the part of Lisbon that has the Christopher Columbus Discovery Monument, The Monastery, and the Belem Tower. After doing all of these touristy things, we went to get lunch at a café. This is also where I had one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten in my entire LIFE. They are called Pasteis de Nata and they are only made in Portugal. They even beat Kinder Buenos! All they are are just little custardy-egg tarts but they are amazing! This is the number one reason why I am so excited to return to Portugal in a couple weeks. After lunch, we toured the Lisbon castle which reminded me of the castle in Trujillo. However, I will admit that the views from the castle in Lisbon were significantly prettier than Trujillo. Seeing all of the red rooftops of Lisbon was pretty neat.

Pasteis de Portugal :D
After the castle, we headed for the train station to return to Caceres. There weren’t any creepers on the train ride back, however we almost missed our stop in Caceres since we arrived at 5 in the morning and we had just gone through Daylight Savings Time AND an hour time change so we were all way off. I think the train conductor figured that we were students and we were stopping in a college town so he asked to see our tickets. When we read that they said “Caceres” he started yelling at us telling us this was our stop and we needed to get off because the train only stops for two minutes. Some of us were still a little confused... probably due to the fact that it was 5 in the morning, he was yelling in Spanish, and we all thought it was a different time because of all the time changes. Anyway, we all made it off the train and didn’t end up going to Madrid. 

I just realized how long this post is! Sorry for that.

Caceres Sunset
Last night, most of the group climbed the mountain for the second time. We climbed it at night so we could watch the sunset and make s’mores. We made our own fire and luckily, one of the boys in our group knew how since he used to be in boy scouts. We sat around the campfire singing songs and telling stories. It was a great night!

Lola went to her pueblo last night and just called us asking if we wanted to come today and stay the night until tomorrow. We aren’t sure, but we think our host brother is picking us up. If that is the case… it will be an interesting ride to Miajadas. (Which I think I forgot to mention is the tomato capital of all of Europe!) 

Monday is my last Flamenco class! It’s all finally coming together and pretty soon I’m going to be a pro. Just wait. :)

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