We boarded a plane early on January 1st, leaving Sevilla and headed for Lisbon (or Lisboa). We had heard so many fantastic things about Portugal, it had been a dream of ours to go for years… one aunt of mine once said it was the most beautiful country she had ever seen (she used to be an airline stewardess and travelled quite a bit). So we had high hopes for this city.
Let’s start from the beginning, though… (but please, feel free to ignore my ramblings and scroll down for the pictures!) with TAP Portugal airlines. We arrived to the airport about 2 hours ahead of time after a little hitch getting there (there were apparently 0 taxis available on that first day of 2015… quite a stressful ordeal, let me tell you). We tried to find the check-in counter for TAP, but found nothing. I asked one guy who worked there if he knew where the counter was, and he pointed to the other end of the long hall. So we walk all the way over there to see nothing open, and no signs for TAP. After running back and forth trying to figure this out, the same guy found me again and explained that TAP doesn’t open it’s counter until something like an hour before the flight. Ah. So we waited around for awhile.
We were finally able to check-in, check our luggage, go through security, and get to our gate. Normally, planes board 30 minutes before take-off, right? Well, time kept passing and still we had no sign of our plane… and they weren’t announcing anything. Finally, 10 minutes before take-off, a bus showed up outside. We were ushered in and then driven to another part of the airport where a small little adventure plane was awaiting us. Wow! Let’s hope for calm skies…
It turned out to be a great flight, and they even provided everyone with little sandwiches and water bottles. As we approached Lisbon, the views outside of our windows were absolutely stunning. I got this warm feeling in my gut that I’d absolutely love this city.
We took a taxi to our hotel (FYI – taxis here are SUPER cheap and it is definitely worth taking one instead of trying to figure out public transportation!), quickly unpacked, and headed to the metro station to get into town (rookie mistake – just take a taxi! Trust me!). The metro station was absolutely dead (and hard to find in the neighbourhood we were in). We tried to buy a metro pass on the machines using our credit cards, only to find that it was declining every card we had with us. Oh, and it only accepted credit cards. This first day of the new year was proving to be a frustrating one.
We walked around the metro station a bit more, hoping to find someone who worked there. We didn’t find that, but luckily we found another machine that accepted cash. They have a weird system where you have to actually buy the card for 50 cents and then add money to it, and the more you put, the more of a discount you get. We decided to buy a card and add 10 euros to it for the both of us.
I swiped the card and had my mom go through, then I tried to swipe the card again for myself… to no avail. It doesn’t let more than one person use the card. How absolutely ridiculous. So I had to go back to the machine and buy yet another card with €5 of travels, and I had to do it in a hurry to catch the next metro. Super frustrating.
Anyways, we finally made it to the Chiado region of Lisbon, and from there we were going to try to get to the Castle of São Jorge nearby. I got a little bit lost and decided to step into a hotel to ask for directions. Before going on the trip, I decided to learn a little bit of Portuguese to get me by, such as “Você fala Inglês?” or “Do you speak English?” so that I wouldn’t just rudely walk up to people assuming they’d know my language. I highly recommend trying to learn a few phrases! It isn’t too hard, and the people there really appreciate it. Anyways, the hotel staff said yes, they spoke English… another quick note: MANY people in Lisbon speak English fluently! It is incredible.
So I asked if they could direct me to the castle, to which they responded that it was closed 😥 In fact, pretty much everything would be closed that day because they considered January 1st a holiday. What an unexpected and unfortunate turn of events. Apparently all of Spain and Portugal decides to shut down if they have ever the slightest excuse…
We asked them if they would recommend anything else we can do to sight-see so that the day wasn’t completely wasted, to which they replied: “You can try to go to the other end of Lisbon and see some of the monuments, or you can just do what the locals do: eat, drink, and be merry.” We chose the latter since we had planned another day around the monuments.
We ended up eating at the My Story Hotel and had an absolutely delicious meal. We actually went back twice more during that same trip! Many of the other restaurants in the area are too touristy, bland, and overpriced, but at the restaurant at the hotel they had some delicious, relatively cheap Portuguese options. It was amazing! We had the cabbage soup for €3 each which was to die for, and then took the recommendation of our waiter and had this delicious meat in a garlic sauce with potatoes. Definitely worth trying! And the ambiance is very nice.
One interesting tradition that both the Spanish and Portuguese have is Jamón Ibérico, or Iberian Ham. It is basically the entire leg of a pig, smoked and cured, and then mounted on a small pedestal where you simply shave off the meat you need. It is very common to go into a restaurant and see these legs hanging in the windows or from the ceiling. This day we were lucky enough to see the process of how to mount the leg and shave off the skin/hair properly in order to get to the meat, which is harder than it looks. In the states, we have a thing against seeing where our meat comes from. So it is super strange to see a leg, hoof, hair, and all, just chilling on the counter.
And the taste? Oh, it is delicious! Definitely give it a try! It is their prized meat, and is often quite expensive. One quality leg of ham can cost hundreds of euros.
After eating, we decided to walk around the Praça do Comércio, or Commerce Square. It is also known as the Terreiro do Paço, or Palace Square, because the Royal Palace used to be located there before a huge earthquake destroyed it in 1755. On the day we went, there were many stands of local hand-crafted jewellers which was really fun to see. I even bought a few things! It was a lovely day to walk around, and it is always beautiful by the waterfront. You also have a great view of the Ponte 25 de Abril, a red bridge that looks a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Portugal, not Cali!
On the other end of the square is the Rua Augusta Arch, built to celebrate the reconstruction of the city and the square after the big earthquake. It also serves to welcome people into the city from the port, so it is a very important and popular square to visit.
If you walk just inside the archway, on your right hand side you will see a door (and probably a line) where they allow you to take an elevator up to the top of the arch for about €3. It was well-worth it, in my opinion. Once you climb all the way up, you have gorgeous views of the city. We got up there just before the sun went down, perfect timing! We got to see the sun set over the bridge and also some nice views of the rest of the city, along with the beautiful lights in the streets coming on one by one.
After we were finished snapping away photos, we wandered the streets a bit. They are famous for their sidewalks with various lovely designs in black and white. I really liked the effect it had, but for some it can be difficult to walk because it is very uneven.
That night, although no actual stores were open, there were many street vendors selling various souveniers and crafts. They actually had some lovely things to offer! With my limited Portuguese, in fact, I could have an entire conversation void of any English… I was so proud of myself!
Vendor: Olá! (Hello)
Me: Olá, como bonito. Quanto custa? (Hello, how beautiful. How much is this?)
Vendor: Seis euros. (6 euros)
Me: Muito obrigada. (Thank you very much)
Even though it was a very simple conversation, you could tell the locals appreciated my effort.
We continued wandering the streets and found many different beautiful squares and fountains with beautiful Christmas decorations, such as the giant presents below. Lisbon is definitely a fun place to explore! And the locals know so much English it makes the world a whole lot easier. On our way back using the metro (I repeat, don’t bother with the metro… just do yourself a favor and take a taxi!), a young and very attractive guy recognized the horribly confused and lost look on my face. He went out of his way to help my mother and I find our way back to the hotel without us even having to ask, and in perfect English no less. I can not say enough how impressed I am with the rest of the world in their ability to learn numerous languages, especially when I’m stuck here learning my second. Oh well…