December 5, 2013
Reached a milestone today: for 100 days I have been living in beautiful Barcelona now, away from home and everything and everyone. I really want to visit home now. My wish will come true in three weeks! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Last week nothing special happened. My presentation went well and a couple hours after, I was already heading to the airport. I stepped straight into the airplane and was on my way to Lisbon. I’ll tell you all about it in a minute. Let’s just take a moment to realize how fast time goes here. I mean, WOW, it seems like it was only yesterday when I arrived in Barcelona. Now that I have pointed this out, click on this link to hear some fado music to get in the mood. The artist of this song, Mariza, is supposedly one of the best fado-singers of Portugal. Do you like fado?
Thursday evening, arrival at the airport of Lisbon. During half our flight, the peace of the other passengers and me was disturbed by turbulence – not that I care about turbulence. I just kept on reading my book. Actually, I kind of like turbulence. I get this funny feeling in my stomach like when you’re in a rollercoaster. I’m well aware this is probably because I’ve never had anything bad happen to me in an airplane (yet). Also, I got to enjoy one of the nicest nighttime views I’ve ever seen from a plane. Lisbon is truly beautiful by night! Ah, those lights! Once arrived, I bought a Viva Viagem-ticket (€0.5 to be paid once for the card and then you add as much credit as you need) and hopped on a train to the city center, where Cilene my CS-host would be waiting for me. We went to her apartment so I could drop off my bag before we went to (my first ever) vegetarian restaurant. I’d never had toffu before, but it’s not as bad as I’d expected. When we returned to my host’s, we small talked for a long time until I finally admitted I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Also, it is one hour earlier in Lisbon (which I didn’t know until I actually reached Lisbon… so much for research!). The next day, I was planning on going to Sintra.
Friday, AM. I woke up before Cilene, but we kind of agreed on it happening this way. After a cup of tea, I headed for Rossio Square. There’s a train station there, where I could catch a train to Sintra (€3.9 for a return ticket). The benefits of staying at a CS-host’s place, is that they can tell what’s worth seeing and how to get around for the best price. Cilene had been to Sintra the week before with one of her surfers, so all the information she could give me was up-to-date. How convenient, right!
Arrival at sunny Sintra. Just like Lisbon, this city is situated in the hills mostly. A day of hiking coming up! The main attractions here are mostly the castles and the views. The first castle I visited is called Quinta da Regaleira, which is not that spectacular in itself. The territory around it is, though! I saw a big part of it, all up-hill and on an empty stomach. Not smart… The hills are all wooded – the trees keep out a lot of the direct sunlight, which makes it pretty cold. Anyways, the things that impressed me most are the ‘shortcuts’ – (more or less) hidden stairwells that are so small I had to be very careful not to fall my way down (they are obviously made for smaller people) –, the many cats (in the hills!!).
I was also impressed by the drinking fountains (they are everywhere) and ‘the abuse’ of them, the views over Sintra and Lisbon, the caves and, most of all, the Initiation Well (which is also the must-see in Sintra, and that’s not just me saying that!). Furthermore, I succeeded in getting lost again, even though I had a map. Either it was a sucky map or I had one of my blonde moments again. I mean, most of the tour was in a circle. How hard can it be? Oh, by the way, there’s an entrance fee of €4 for students and €6 for adults.
Friday, PM. By now, I was almost fainting with hunger. On my way to the center, I grabbed a quick bite and continued. The centro historico was tiny, but there are a lot of artisanal shops with self-made stuff that’s worth taking a look at.
With renewed energy (and courage) I started walking to Castelo Dos Mouros, a recommendation of Cilene. She said it wasn’t too far on foot. Man… I saw the castle from Quinta Regaleira, but I guess I didn’t realize how far away it is… While I was making my way up the hill, I hardly ever ran in to anybody. Except for some experienced walkers all geared out with those walking sticks, warm coats and white lips from the lip balm (the skiing type, you know…). I wasn’t exactly prepared for this kind of hike. I had some tough moments here when all I wanted to do was go back down, because what the heck was I doing here? I don’t do this! I never willingly walk up hills! But I have evolved enough the past few months to convince myself that I could do this and why give up now when I had gotten so far already? Just like with the other castle, the view was totally worth it once I reached the top. The castle is in ruins – there’s not much left of it to see. In fact, it’s the castle’s walls you actually go up there to visit. Back in the day, the walls were occupied by guards who had a clear view over the land and could warn the people in the castle of imminent attacks. Now it’s a perfect viewpoint for the 21st century visitors.
Friday night, Cilene and I had some traditional Portuguese food in the neighborhood. If you know where to go, you can eat very cheap in Lisbon. After dinner, I was meeting up with someone else from Couchsurfing. Cilene was busy with a research project for her business course. She was currently in between jobs and being young and unemployed, she was offered the opportunity to follow these business classes for free. If she does well, she could basically start her own business if she wanted to. See, this is what I like about CS: people like Cilene helping other people out, just because they want to do something nice, even if they don’t have much to give. But what she could give me, was more than enough! A bed, a shower, company and a life lesson.
Saturday morning. It had been a long night and I was up early again to go and discover Lisbon. First, I took the tram to Belém – I’m still not sure whether this is part of Lisbon or not. It seems like everyone has a different opinion! Anyways, the tram was as full as it could be. Just imagine being in a tram so crammed full of people that you can’t even fall over because there is no space to fall (or to move in general). At some point even breathing became hard. When I reached Belém, alive and well, I strolled by the quay from the Monument of Discovery in the direction of the famous Torre de Belém. Back at my starting point, I quickly bought a pastei de nata at the place you have to get them: Pasteis de Belém. The concept reminds me a lot of La Durée and their macaroons, but different. Or like they say in Thailand: same same, but different.
Saturday afternoon. I went back to Lisbon with the tram – this time, I had a little more room for breathing though. Thank God! Next, I hopped on the metro to Martin Moniz, where I switched for the famous tram 28 that would take me to Graça. There I walked through the Feira de Ladra (which means Market of Thieves, not because the goods they sell are stolen, but because the customers are robbed without them noticing, so beware of pickpockets!) towards the Alfama neighborhood and made my way back downhill. Completely exhausted, I didn’t think I was up for a walk around the Chiado neighborhood as well. That’s why I took the metro back to Cilene’s place, where she was preparing a late lunch. Expecting me to be hungry, she offered me my second traditional Portuguese dish in a row.
Saturday afternoon – or should I say early evening? – I had some time left to head over to Chiado after all. It is where you’ll find the shopping streets, trendy bars, coffee bars etc. I had just reached the end of the first shopping street, where it was pleasantly crowded, when I bumped into an excited crowd on the Praça de Comercio. My eyes fell upon a guy surrounded by paparazzi – a guy that looked a lot like Bruce Willis! But just to be sure, I asked one of the bystanders who that man was – I mean, what would Bruce Willis come to Lisbon for? – and they told me that the man I saw up close was the Mayor of Lisbon who was about to turn on the Christmas lights. Two minutes later, that was exactly what happened… along with fireworks! How lucky am I?! Colored lights and fireworks – all at the same time? And totally by coincidence! My exhaustion was completely forgotten when I walked on the Rua Garret, a slightly more expensive shopping street, and back to the metro. I also passed A Brasileira, a famous old café/restaurant.
Saturday night. I freshned up before Cilene took me to the performance of her dance teacher. When we got there, we heard it wouldn’t start until a bit later so we went to a place across the street instead. There was this artists café – one of those where everyone knows everyone – where a concert was just about to start. The musicians – a cellist, two saxophonists, a flutist and a hand drummer – played songs they felt like playing at the moment, spontaneously. During the break, Cilene, a friend of hers and I went back to the other side of the street where the perfomance was now in full swing. It was not at all what I’d expected! Cilene’s teacher, a crazy African (there are a lot of them in Portugal!) was playing a weird instrument – at least, he was when he wasn’t dancing like a maniac on stage. I was told the music was typical Portuguese music, but not fado. More like folk. The locals danced like pro’s, too. Eventually, the people from the other concert were also drawn here. And then, after a long day and night, it was finally time to go to sleep.
Sunday morning. Cilene had trouble getting up in the morning. More than I did. She had, however, suggested to join me on a visit to Lisbon’s own castle, Castelo de San Jorge, before I had to catch my plane back home. The castle offers a view that’s just as gorgeous as the ones in Sintra: the red roofs, the river Taag… The climb up the hill was tough once again, especially while carrying my backpack with me. Is it me or am I just not used to anything? After having visited the castle and the complementary museum – where you can go watch potsherds if you’re interested, which I’m not, honestly – I bought Cilene some coffee and pasteis de nata to say thank you for her generousness, kindness and so much more. After this short break, we walked from Alto to Baixo and again to Chiado. Yes, Cilene was all about showing me Lisbon her way in the short time we had! This is how I realized I will have to return to Lisbon sometime, because, frankly, I had not seen all of Lisbon yet. And who could in only a day and a half?? By the time I had to head for the airport, I was worn out, but I had to hurry anyway because I was running kinda late. Nothing new here, right? In the end, I was on time – without having to run, but I have long legs – and talked to a Finnish girl who has been working in Barcelona for a year now. You can learn quite a lot from talking to strangers on a plane!
Once I was back in my room in BCN, I felt like I was hit by a truck. I was dead-beat, exhausted, stiff… all the frills! Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to school on Monday and I had an extra day to recover. On the other hand, I regretted not knowing about this before. I could have stayed one day longer in Lisbon, which would have meant I wouldn’t have had to rush everything. O well, since I am still not recovered by now, it’s probably a good thing I have an extra day off!
On Monday, I wrote down some pointers for my presentation for Modernism and finished up the essay for US Lit. In the afternoon, I worked on the deadlines for my Bachelor thesis.
The other days I went to school like on every school day. Today, I suddenly got this idea of watching the Belgian news on live stream and that’s exactly what I ended up doing. Why didn’t I think of this before?! This is how I found out the sad news about Nelson Mandela. Last month, I had mentioned the fact that I hadn’t heard about his health in a while and I wondered if he’d died without me noticing. I mean, knowing me, that could totally happen. The news, however, is sad and I can only imagine what the South-Africans must be feeling… At least he has had an exciting 95 years of life. He has achieved a lot and deserves some well-earned rest.
On that note, I hope everybody has a great weekend!