This past weekend our group make the trek to Lisbon, or Lisboa, the capital of Portugal, Spain’s neighbor to the west. We took the overnight train from Valladolid which was an experience in and of itself but we arrived in Lisbon at about 7 AM without a problem.
We learned very quickly that Lisbon’s reputation precedes itself. Let me explain. After a few days of Internet research concerning the city one gets a little bit of an understanding about a city. Lisbon, according to multiple sources, is known for quite a few distinct things: Hills (built on 7 like Rome or SF), uncomfortable cobble stone streets, great weather, crazy drivers, cheap food, and dog poop on the streets. I can safely report that all these assumptions proved accurate.
For anyone wishing to go to Lisbon in the future, bring the best pair of walking shoes you have because you’ll need them I promise. We walked out of the train station and headed for out hostel, or rather a metro station to get to the hostel. Of course in our 7 AM tired stupor we didn’t notice that there was a metro station in the train station so what did we do? Got lost running around the Alfama district. This probably sounds horrible but this is actually a must visit sight in Lisbon and a lot of people recommend simply exploring this rich cultural part of town known for its unnavigable streets and night life.
Eventually we made it out of Alfama and made our way to Plaza Comercio which is one of Lisbon’s main plazas located on the bay. Here we went to the tourist office to purchase “Lisbon Cards” which gave us access to the city transportation and many different sights around town for free. With free transportation in hand we headed north to Plaza de Pombal, which acts as the center of the city and the closest metro stop to our hostel. Lucky for us our hostel was located at the top of one of Lisbon’s very steep hills which made walking to and from the hostel very tiring.
The “Chillout” Hostel in Lisbon was without a doubt thee best hostel/hotel experience I’ve ever had. The staff spoke perfect English, the hostel was very clean, had great views, and the other people staying there at the time were very nice. Our group of 5 was put into a 6 bed room so I had the pleasure to bunk with a 23 year old engineering student from Sweden on Erasmus named Emil.
With our bearings and wits about us we preceded to see the sights such as the garden at the Plaza de Pombal, São Jorge’s Castle, the Tower of Belem, the Monastery of Belem, and the Estadio de Jose Alvalde, home of Sporting CP, one of Lisbon’s soccer teams.
During the night, the staff at our hostel booked us a reservation for a “Fado” restaurant which is a very traditional Portuguese dining experience complete with musical entertainment. The meal consisted of vegetable soup, some sort of fish, and freshly grilled sausage that you put into the bread they give you. To drink we had our choice of either Portuguese wine or beer. I chose the latter and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. It’s called Sagre for those inquisitive minds. While we were eating we had the pleasure of listening to some live traditional Portuguese music which consisted of a mandolin player (who seriously shredded), an acoustic guitar player laying down rhythm and a vocalist. They were all extremely talented and it was definitely an experience I will never forget. Oddly enough the Portuguese language sounds like Russian when you hear it at first which was highly perplexing to me. After some research I came across a thread on the topic and saw that other people subscribed to my sentiments and one person said that they both have roots in the Slavonic language tree which is interesting considering Portugal is surrounded by Romantic languages. Who knew?
All in all I can safely say that Lisbon is city with great weather, lots of English speakers, Hills, and cheap eats. If you get a chance to travel to Lisbon do it, but bring some good shoes and don’t walk in the dog poop, it is everywhere.