I'm one of those people who feels weird if I don't hop on a plane to go to a new place every once in a while. Essentially, I'm cursed (or blessed, depending on where you are coming from) with a travel-itch.
Over the Martin Luther King long weekend, I went to Portugal. I was exited to get the hell out of New York because it was freezing (single digit in Fahrenheit)! Lisbon's weather forecast was 15 degress celsius, I was thrilled! I flew to Munich (Lufthansa had a sale and I was being cheap, hence the circuitous route). I had 30 minutes to run to the other terminal, which you would have thought might have been too little time, and by the time I got to the gate...uh oh....problemo! It wasn't that the plane left, in fact, it didn't even show up because it was foggy and snowing in Munich. So they re-booked me on a later flight out on TAP Portugal, I had close to 3 hours to kill in Munich airport, and discovered that Munich airport is great! Free coffee, free tea, free newspapers and they gave me 10 euros for lunch.
Long story short, I got to Lisbon a few hours later than expected but I got there. I checked into Sweethome Hospedagem, a guest house owned by a brother and sister. The guest house wasn't busy since it was the low season, only one other room was occupied. In fact, the next day, those folks checked out and I was the only person staying in the guest house for the next three nights. If it wasn't for the fact that I kept reading about the earthquake of 1755 that wiped out 1/3 of the population in Lisbon, I wouldn't be so freaked out. Not to mention, they don't have central heating in the older buildings in Lisbon, so besides my room which has a space heater, I was greeted by sobering chilled air whenever I stepped out to the bathroom/living room.
The craziest thing that happened on this trip was that Julia (a Romanian lady that I met on my excursion trip to Sintra on the second day) was almost pickpocketed by three young girls in Alfama (the oldest part of Lisbon town). The three girls approached us (Romanian lady Julia, Italian girl Melissa and me) with a map and asked us about the big castle, we kept telling them that it was closed but they shoved the map under Julia's face and tried to open the slingbag hanging infront of her. Luckily Julia felt the tug on her bag and caught them with her wallet half way out of the bag. Melissa and I were oblivious because they crowded around Julia and we didn't see what was going. Gosh, that was close. I reminded myself to be extra careful for the rest of the trip. I was told that Lisbon is fairly safe except for some petty crimes.
Lisbon is charming, it's understated compared to Spain. The city is filled with old buildings with mosaic tiles on their facades. The city is lined with cobble stone streets, and they love their statues, squares and parks in Lisbon. On every other block, you'll find a statue in a little square. The food is delicious, especially the seafood. I tried the salted cod (Bacalhau) fritters, grilled sardines, pork Alentejo (pork stewed with clams and herbs), spit roast chicken, seafood stew (a Nazare specialty) but my absolute favorite was the Pastel de Nata (custard tart, or in Asia, egg tart). The most famous place selling Pastel de Nata is Pasteis de Belem, right next to Jeronimos Monastery. It's crispy on the outside, and the custard is not too sweet, when you bite into the warm custart tart, it's just...PERFECT. I had two of those with a cup of espresso, and I bought two more for the road, I was in heaven.
Lisbon is fairly cheap compared to other Western Europe cities. If you plan carefully, you can avoid paying a lot of entrance fees. Some places are free on Sunday mornings, some will waive the fee or charge you half the price if you have a student ID. Public transportation is cheaper than other European cities as well, a full day pass costs 4 euro, which can be used on the metro, furniculars, elevadors & buses. My favorite place on this trip was Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, the Manueline architecture was beautiful and there was a mass going on when I went on with a beautiful choir. I explored the cloisters inside the monastery, I instantly felt calm the moment I stepped into the cloisters which was drenched in details. Pena Palace in Sintra was also interesting, it is situated on top of a hill, the view was fantastic and I love the colors. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside, but the palace was filled with very interesting furniture, paintings, collectibles from India, China, Spain, etc.
I'm lazy to write the full travel journal but below are the pictures from this trip with captions. :)
3 months ago