We’ve spent the last 5 days in Lisbon and, to be honest, it’s been a bit of a weird time. It feels like the couple of months in the States suddenly crept up and bit us on the arse – we are both knackered! For whatever reason the 6 hour time difference between New York and Lisbon has been particularly brutal, and we’ve both been awake until the early hours of the morning and then wanting to sleep until lunchtime. Safe to say that the pace of life has dramatically slowed as a result, and we’ve spent a lot of time just mooching about in our neighbourhood and hanging out. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty that we’re not making the most out of every day, but Campbell reminds me that we’re away for a whole year and that it’s not humanly possible to “live life to the max” (or some other inspirational soft drink slogan) every single day.
Anyway, back to Lisbon. We arrived here at 6 am on Friday. We already knew that we couldn’t check into our apartment until 4 pm, so had the unenviable task of trying to kill 10 hours, having already been awake for over 24. We found a place to store our luggage and then walked the streets like zombies for a little bit trying to spend as little as possible to stay at a cafe as long as possible and bludge the free Wifi. We knew that would only work for so long, so had planned ahead and booked a free walking tour around central Lisbon (thanks Kay-Anne for the recommendation).
The tour was a godsend, not only because it killed 3 hours, but also because it gave us some much-needed background for our stay (both of us having accidentally on purpose forgotten to study up on Portuguese history). Our guide, Francisco, was a Portuguese history graduate who was very passionate about his country, but also very honest about its history and its strengths and weaknesses. We learnt that Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe (older than Rome, London and Paris), that a severe earthquake in 1755 destroyed almost the entire city, that Portugal has a history of lurching from economic prosperity to extreme hardship due to a love of ‘get rich quick’ schemes that inevitably fail, and that one of Portugal’s major exports is cork (one third of all corked bottles of wine in the world have a cork made in Portugal).
Francisco also helped us start to navigate the windy, hilly and extremely confusing Lisbon street layout. Lisbon is a very cool city – it has the lovely cobbled streets and architecture that you might expect of a European city, but it also has a very modern and slightly edgy undercurrent. There’s a distinct anti-establishment vibe here, which comes through in the street art that peppers the city and certain pockets of homes/people that you wander past. It feels like there’s a lot going on under the surface here, in a good way. The food scene, in particular, is really exploding, which means that I’ve been dragging Campbell from place to place to make sure we sample some of the stuff on offer – like this life-changing eclair. There are no words for how amazing it was. I only wish I hadn’t agreed to share it with Campbell.
It was well worth the wait (and being awake for 36 hours straight) when we finally got to check into our apartment. It is super cool- very modern, outdoor balconies, spacious and really handy to everything we need. The only downside would be the bathroom, which is a little bit compact for statuesque individuals such as ourselves. Campbell describes taking a wee as the equivalent of being a giraffe at the watering hole, and he’s not far off (don’t worry this isn’t a live action shot!).
We’ve also had to get our heads around using our very public washing line – nothing quite like hanging your “smalls” (or not so smalls) out the window of a busy pedestrian thoroughfare.
On the plus side, being located on a busy street means we’ve got to see a bit of action we wouldn’t have otherwise – like this charming lady taking a wee behind a car (hey, we’ve all been there), and this poor Brit girl making an absolute hash of parallel parking. In the end she totally lost her shit and a local had to come and move her car for her. He was ruthless and her rental car now needs a new clutch.
We enjoyed our first tour with Francisco so much that we signed up for a second tour with him on day 2. This time we explored Alfama – the only area of Lisbon that was not destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. Because of this, Alfama has completely different architecture and a different layout to the rest of Lisbon, and is the domain of Lisbon’s older population. It was another great tour. This time Francisco arranged for us to try some illegal home-brew liquor made by a lovely lady who took a break from watching the soaps to serve us shots from her kitchen window. The drink is Ginjinha, made from sour cherries infused with alcohol and spices. It smells like Christmas cake and burns on the way down.
When we haven’t been mooching about over the last few days, we’ve found time to visit the neighbourhood of Belem, which is home to the Belem Tower, the Jeronimos Monastery and Pasteis de Belem, which makes the famous Portuguese egg tartlet. Word on the street is that only 7 people know the recipe for the tart, and I’d give my right arm for it. They are delicious. Portuguese people have a major sweet tooth and there are amazing bakeries and cake shops dotted all around the city. Everything is sugary and creamy and ready and willing to take up residence on your upper thighs.
Today was our last day, and we were up bright and early (i.e. pre-lunchtime) to take the train to Sintra. Sintra is a town about 40 mins from the centre of Lisbon. It is set against the Sintra mountains and is surrounded by beautiful forests and numerous castles and places formerly inhabited by various nobles. It is an incredibly busy tourist spot and was absolutely heaving when we arrived. We decided to visit just two of the castles on offer – the Moors Castle (a fortress which dates back to the 10th Century) and the Pena Palace (a Romanticist style castle, and the star of the show as far as Sintra’s concerned). Both places were really beautiful in their own way, but it’s true that there is only so much castle action a person can take in one day. It will be interesting to see how our enthusiasm levels for castles diminishes as our time in Europe progresses.
At this point in our travels, we are relieved that there seems be a very low expectation that tourists will speak any Portuguese. When we first met Francisco he said that he would be pleased if we could all pronounce his name at the end of the tour – to which I rolled my eyes and thought ‘ummm d’uh, I can read your bloody name tag.’ My bad. The thing here is that nothing in Portuguese is pronounced the way it’s spelt. It seems like they forget to pronounce half the letters, and then add in a whole bunch of new letters that aren’t there – especially ‘hs’. Those little buggers are everywhere. The weird thing is that all that shhhhing makes everything sound strangely seductive. Even the woman/robot announcing the next station on the train today sounded like a total minx.
Tomorrow we leave for Porto where hopefully, our mojo will return. If not, Geordie Shore is on MTV here, so we’re still winning.