Lisbon, Portugal

Trip Start Feb 27, 2008
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Trip End May 28, 2008


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Where I stayed
Travellers House Hostel

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Day 5 - Arriving in Lisbon
Immediately after stepping off the Lisbon metro into the city center, Karla turned to me and said "I like this place." I couldn't really put a finger on it, but I liked it too. Maybe it was the tile facades of the buildings, the marble cobblestone streets with decorated patterns in black and white. Or perhaps it was the fact that it was one of those perfect days where there isn't a cloud in the sky anywhere. Whatever the reason, Lisbon had a great vibe from the beginning.

We checked into our hostel and found out that it was absolutely AWESOME! We had a two person private room as opposed to a 4-8 person dorm style room. It was on the 4th floor (5th floor in America, Europeans count the ground floor as the 0 floor) and had a great overlooking view of Rua Agusta, the main walking street in the downtown area of Lisbon. The three double rooms on the top floor shared a bathroom, shower kitchen, and small living room area, we felt like we had our own private loft apartment. Above all that, it was a great deal. The hostel had an excellent common room area where every night there was some kind of socializing event. This really brought the group together and added to the friendly vibe of the hostel. (One night they had local wine tasting with wines from around the area, one night there was a food sampling party where we got to try local dishes and socialize. The last night we were there the hostel hosted a keg party where for 1.5 E you could drink until the keg was gone... they empty kegs as fast or faster in Europe as they do in America.)
The host of the ostel JoAo (Portugese for John) was the nicest guy I've met on my trip so far. He went out of his way to make sure that everybody's stay in the hostel was comfortable and enjoyable.
We noticed when we arrived in Lisbon that the Metro system seemed really crappy for a city of that size. We soon found out that it's because Lisbon has an intricate, yet very old  system of surface Trams that criss-cross the city and provide public transportation. The trams are small and painted a classic yellow color. If I had to guess I'd say they were from the 1940's or 50's and remind me a lot of the San Francisco cable cars.
The first day we were there, we walked up the hill to the top of the Alhambra area. At the top was the Castillo de St. Jorge, an 11th century castle built when the Muslims inhabited the Iberian Peninsula. This was not so much a palace to house a King as it was a fortification to protect an army against invaders.  We explored the castle and enjoyed the view from the top. Then we took the senic "tram 28" back down the hill to our hostel where we bought some groceries at the corner market and made ourselves a lovely dinner in our semi-private kitchen. We did go up near the park later that evening to a store called "El Cortes Engles" this place is the biggest one stop shopping store I've ever seen! 8 stories of clothes, sporting goods, books, home supplies, a cafe, bar, and super market all slammed into one. There are aparently stores located all across Spain and they are large enough to shock even the hardened American shopper.

Day 6 - Sintra
The next day we got an early start and took a day trip to Sintra sponsored by the hostel. The first stop was the "Quinta del Regaleria" which was the vacation of the royal family built in the early 1900's. Not only was the house totally awesome, with wood floors AND celings. But it had an amazing grounds behind it that included a chapel, art workshop, lakes, tunnles, circular wells that you could climb down and connect with tunnels. It was the 19th century version of a natural theme park. I actually think that the grounds of the palace were almost cooler than the Estate itself. We toured the palace and explored the tunnels. I was actually glad that I brought my headlamp along with me. The tunnels connected to wells that have stairs around the outside. It was really neat seeing how 20th century royalty vacationed.
After lunch we traveled all the way to the top of the hill overlooking Sintra where there was an old Moorish Castle and the royal Palace of Pena. This was where the royal family lived unitl they fled to Brazil in the early 20th century. The Palace was built in an array of styles (muslim, moorish, traditional Portugese). It's probably an Architecture student's dream, but it looked a little bit like somehting out of a Disney movie to me. I've seen a few palaces by now, and I must say, this was not the most elaborate. However, it did have a pretty commanding view on to of the hill looking over the countryside and the ocean.
After the Palace we drove back to Lisbon along the coast, Stopping to visit the "Westernmost point in Europe" I'm a geek for things like that. When we arrived at the hostel we were so wiped out from sightseeing that we actually took a short nap before making dinner and doing the evening "keg draining" social event.

Day 7 - Belem
We woke up early and caught the tram to Belem.  The first thing we saw was Monsteiero das Jeronimos, It was a Monistary that was built in the time when Henry the Navigator when Spices from Africa and India were  only being imported through Portugal. The revenue from the import of Pepper alone helped build this monistary. We paid to tour the cloisters and it was nicely restored, but we thought they were going to be a little bigger. The monistary was huge but we didn't realize that it shared space with the natural history museum and the maritime museum. I wanted to tour the maritime museum but Karla was not interested in paying to see boats, so she went to the modern art museum that happened to be across the street (how convinent) After lunch we went and got the famous Pastries de Belem. When the Monistary ran out of money from the trade and sale of Pepper, one of the monks came up with a recapie for pasteries and started selling them to finance the completeion of the Monistary. They not only finished the monistary, the pasteries became world famous and now the reciepe is hidden under lock and key in one of Portugals largest banks. After that we said our goodbyes to Lisbon andgot on our night train back to Madrid.
Portugal was a terrific country, I definately plan on going back sometime and seeing what else it has to offer. The people were friendly, the food was good, the weather was beautiful (reminded me of California actually), and the prices of things were relatively less expensive than the rest of Western Europe.
Exotic, Clean, Fun, Friendly.....Four Stars for Portugal ****
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