Tuesday, March 24, 2009

FAH-la een-GLAYSH?

FAH-la een-GLAYSH is how you pronouce 'do you speak English' in Portuguese! We found that out this weekend when we took a 4-day trip to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Peni (my friend from Denmark) and I had originally been planning on going to Paris for our 4-day weekend, but turns out Thursday was national strike day in France, so all of the trains were cancelled which really messed up our plans! We couldn't bear staying in San Sebastian when we had such a long weekend, so we figured a 14-hour bus ride to Lisbon was in order ha. We bought our tickets Wednesday night around 8pm and at 12:30am were on the bus! Talk about spur-of-the-moment!

The bus ride, although long, was rather fun, except for the heinous eye infecton I got! Someone on the bus must have had some sickness and my eyes took to it. As soon as we arrived in Lisbon, I bought some eye drops and am all better now :D Peni and I were a sight for sore eyes (no pun intended) though - she is on crutches from a sprained ankle and I couldn't take my sunglasses off all weekend because my eyes were so gross. Quite the travelers ha.

My first quote off the bus was 'I feel like I am in Cuba.' Since I havent been to Cuba, I am not sure why I made this comment, but I figure I have an idea in my head and Portugal and Cuba matched up! I guess it could have been the clothes drying in the air on the clothes lines, the warm weather as we stepped off the bus, the tan taxi cabs, and the relaxed atmosphere of the people - all of which I loved right away!

We arrived Thursday afternoon and checked into our hostel - only 12€ a night! It was so nice and was in this old building with beautiful tiles. Lisbon is known for thier amazing tile mosiacs and the colorful tiles cover most buildings in the city. Since we had just survived the longest bus ride of our lives, we decided to call it an early night and were actually in bed by 10pm ha.
With a lot of rest, we woke up early and hit the town! We found a pamphlet for a tour of the city from the river which runs around Lisbon, and thought it would be a great idea. After searching for it on the docks for an hour, we found out that they don't start tours until April. Sadly, we just jumped on the tram and headed out to Belém - which means Bethlehem in Portuguese. This part of Lisbon lies right on the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and is the place where many of the Portuguese explorers used to set off from in the 15th century, including Vasco de Gama (the first person to sail from Europe to India.) Because of all of these explorers, this area is known as the Area of Discoveries, with towers, statues and monuments to explorers and new discovery. The most stunning for us was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastary) which is a huge church and monastary that sits right next to the water. It was built as a monument to Vasco de Gama's trip to India and was funded completley from taxes of sales of the spices he brought back. It was built in 1502 and is now is gorgeous reminder of discovery! Also in the Belém area, we tried the must-have Pasteis de Belém. This is a pastry that the monks at the monastary used to make and since 1837 have been selling at a nearby café and is the hit of the town! It was kind of like a custard pie with cinnamon sprinkled on top aka scrumptous!

After filling up on tasty food and pastries, we headed back to the main part of town to check out the shopping areas and more tourist destinations! We headed to a neighborhood known as Chiado, which is the hip part of town. With square tile mosaic cobble-stone like sidewalks, crutchy Peni struggled a little so we caught one of the historic trams to the center of town. It's funny because they have a huge red bridge that looks exactly like the Golden Gate (but here it is called the 25th of April Bridge - the day of the Portuguese revolution). So here they have this bridge and then they have these cable cars that run all over the city, but instead of calling them cable cars, they are called historic trams. It was kind of like being in San Francisco, except no English-speaking people! As touristy as it was, we loved the tram since it climbed the steep hills for us and gave us great views of the city on the ride!

Once in Chiado we poked around some stores and stopped off at a famous restaurant to try some Portuguese wine and cheese - my favorities. The appetizers were tasty but the actual dinner was not so impressive. For being in all the guide books and being so famous in Lisbon, we were expecting a delicious cod (bacalhao in Portuguese and bacalao in Spanish) which is what Portugal is famous for. Having had some cod in the Basque Country before, we were sadly disappointed with the dinner but didn't care too much and hit the town for the night - crutches and all! We found a few good bars, heard some live Brazilian music and met some Canadians! Since we wanted to get up the next morning we didn't stay out to late and eventually made it back to our hostel, with a nice Spanish-Portuguese language conversation in the cab haha.
Saturday morning we woke up bright and early and headed to the Castelo San Jorge (Grammy - remember how to say that name???), which is a huge castle in the neighborhood of Alfama. In 1755, Lisbon was hit by a massive earthquake and this neighborhood is the only one that survived, so it really shows the history of the city! The Castle was the first must-see on the agenda because if offers spectacular views of the city from atop the hill and also used to be a royal residence and I have never been to a castle! This castle has history all the way back to the 6th century and has still survived. It has been a castle, palace, jail and a barracks! Quite the multi-purpose area. It was built by the Visogoths and expanded by the Moors in the 1100s. In the 1300s, new walls were built around the city of Lisbon. There were originally 77 towers in the wall and we were able to see the 18 that still remain from that construction. I actually climbed up in one and posed for Peni, which caught quite a few nervous stares!

The Castle is at the top of the hill that is the neighborhood, so after walking the grounds of the Castle, crossing the the moat and scaling the castle steps, we were able to see all of Lisbon! It was a gorgeous view and we were so lucky to have perfect weather so that you could see the whole expanse of the city and could just breath and take it all in.

After feeling like royalty, we decided to leave our castle and wander the streets of Alfama. More amazing views followed from a hillside cafe we found that looked over the neighborhood and the water. Because this is the old part of the city, the streets are still little mazes and have tall, skinny and tiled buildings lining them. During Moorish times, it was considered the poor part of town and still is to this day, as you would notice by the unkept buildings and crumbling walls. Although poor and not the most glamourous it was nice to see a different side of Lisbon aside from the massive government buildings and perfect streets and cafés that we saw the day before. After our wandering, we couldn't pass up the Starbucks we found the day before in the Belém neighborhood and headed back out to that neighborhood for dinner and a tasty frappucino treat. It was such a weird thing - for dinner we had Turkish food, American Starbucks for dessert, ordered in Spanish, spoke together in English, all while in Portugal! Who would have thought?!

Sunday morning we woke up and had a few hours before we needed to catch our bus home. I had found in my travel book and have always wanted to go to a Cemetario (cemetary) that has the mausoluems (the burial chamber buildings). It may sound a bit morbid, but I think this old old Catholic cemetaries are gorgeous. There were buildings with doors that could be opened so that the family could go and greive inside the building and some that were permantley sealed. Each site was different and unique, some containing one person and some containing whole families. I saw a grave with someone buried in 1847 and it was so well kept. It felt a bit odd taking photos of these gravesites, but they were so beautiful that I couldn't pass up sharing them with you. It's odd, but once I read about this place in the guide book, it was the place I most wanted to see while in Lisbon, so I am glad we made it.

We then trekked back to the bus station and began our 14 hour bus ride home. After sitting around and waiting for people to load and then waiting for people who were late (dont ask me why) we left one hour late and barely made our bus connection in Madrid, but alas, I am back in Spain. It's so funny, because while in Portugal, I actually missed Spain. It's a weird feeling to miss a place that isn't really your 'home' but I guess that is what Spain is becoming for me. I felt so relieved to come back and speak Spanish - haha.

Back in town for the week and then headed to Germany for another weekend! I love being busy and love to fill you guys in on my travels and exciting little trips! I hope you are having a great week :D

Biejos (kisses in Portuguese)

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