Thursday, March 24, 2016

Legendary Lisbon

Wednesday March 9th. 7:30pm. My Statistics for Engineers midterm was about to start. This was the only thing that kept me from thinking about spring break for the past week. Once that was over, I was bound to be home free for the next 2.5 weeks. Yep, you read that correctly, I was about to be free of school work and worries for the next 17 days. To say that I was excited was an understatement. 8:30pm. My facial expression switched from a worried little kid to a little kid who just received a three scoop ice cream cone. Our flight to Lisbon, Portugal was the next morning at 6:15am. I went home, had dinner and had every intention to pack my backpack for Lisbon. Intentions are good if you follow through with them; this intention had gone to waste. I ended up falling asleep without packing. Before I knew it, my roommate Kelly was in my room saying it was time to go because it was 4:30am. In a panic, I sprung out of bed, threw on some clothes, and frantically packed my 22 Liter North Face Backpack. Given that I chose to take Ryanair flights which only allow you to take a carry-on if you chose not to pay a hefty fee to check a bag, I've become very good at packing only the essentials and making the most of the limited space in my backpack.
We boarded the flight on time and finally I had a moment of relaxation and pure enjoyment as I embarked on a 3 hour flight to Portugal. I had the privilege to receive a window seat for the plane ride and witnessed the sun rising, one of the (very few) perks of such an early flight. It was incredible to see the sun rise above the clouds which looked like a giant blanket of white cotton balls.

At about 8:30am, I looked out the window to witness the photo above, a beautiful bird's eye view of the coast of Lisbon. We got off of the plane, took a shuttle to the terminal, and given that I was ahead of my other friends who came on this trip, I waited in front of the immigration queue. After a few minutes, my friends caught up to me and just as we were about to head to the immigration line, I heard "Wait, Brian?" only to turn around and see a friend of a friend who I had met three days prior at a bar. In excited shock, my eyes lit up and I ecstatically said "Alex?!! Wow I can't believe you are here, like what are the odds of this happening!" After a few minutes of introductions among my friends and hers, they asked us what hostel we were staying at and to our surprise, it was the exact same one as ours. I was just in shock at this situation, a good shock though. We took a very early flight on a Thursday morning before spring break had technically started for other people (since I don't have class Thursdays and Fridays) to a lesser frequented destination and some how I ended up running into people from my college in Dublin- I guess it pays off to network and get to know a lot of people! We all took the metro to a stop relatively close to our hostel, navigated like aimless tourists to our hostel, and settled in. We were all pretty hungry at this point but luckily the hostel was still serving free breakfast which consisted of pancakes with Nutella on top, enough to hold us over for a bit. We requested to be put in a room with the other people we ran into at the airport since I had 3 friends with me and my friend Alex had a group of 3 other girls. We threw our luggage in our room and set out to explore the city, and of course grab food.
One of the unique things about Lisbon, Portugal is that there are 7 peaks within the city which offer great views but at the same time strengthen calf muscles immensely. We walked around for awhile with intentions to visit the castle but somehow the guys of the group, Casey, Rankin, and I, got separated from the girls and ended up at this outdoor restaurant which offered phenomenal views of the water. The weather was perfect, sunny, 60s, and breezy, and since the girls had left, we were able to sit back and relax for awhile. We ordered a few brews, sat back in the chairs on the patio, and took everything in. The view was surreal and we were all commenting on how happy and satisfying the moment was. The pictures don't do these moments justice but it was just absolutely incredible. By pure luck, the girls eventually stumbled upon us; we had figured we wouldn't see them for the rest of the day since no one had cell service. We all continued to take in the views a little while longer before continuing on with exploring.

 We walked to an indoor market area which was recommended by the people in the hostel. It was very modern looking and a little more upscale than your typical city market. There were roughly 40 places, most of them selling food with different cultural varieties of meals. I ended up getting swordfish since I had never had it before and it turned out to very good. It seemed like a cross between fresh ahi tuna and salmon. One of the best things about Portugal was that even though they use the Euro as currency, things are cheap. I was able to get this meal for just around 11 Euro which seems very good for fresh swordfish.
After this meal, it was around 6pm and since we were very close to the water, we thought it would be a great idea to watch the sunset from beach or a pier nearby. We found one small pier near the water and reflected on the day as the sun reflected on the water.

After this, we went back to the hostel to get settled and ready for a night on the town, trying to figure out if Lisbon had better night life than Dublin :). We signed up for a pub crawl which proved to be a good way to get to find some of the good places for night life. That night, we went to 3 bars and a night club and although they were all fun, they didn't beat the experiences back in Dublin.

The next morning, we woke up and wanted to go to find a beach since we were on spring break, in a coastal town, and it was warm(ish) and sunny. We took a train to a town about 30 minutes away and arrived around 3:15. It was a great sensation to have my toes in the sand and the warm breezy air hitting my back. Although I had brought my swimsuit, the ocean temperature felt like taking an ice bath so I only dipped my feet in the water.
After the beach, we took the train back to Lisbon and walked to our hostel which was about 30 minutes and 500 feet of elevation change up a hill the whole time (wasn't kidding when I said my calves took a blow this weekend). That night, since it was Friday, we went downtown to a region known as Pink Street which was home to bars and clubs on both sides of the street. Just like every other night that I've gone out during study abroad, it was a blast.
On Saturday, we woke up and followed one of the staff members from our hostel who was one of the coolest Australians I've met named Jack into to town. We were en route to a market area known as the Thieves Market. According to Jack "half the stuff they sell there has to be stolen because the prices are just so cheap, only 5 Euro for a jacket". It was nice to be lead by a local through the city and since the market was on the complete other side of Lisbon, Jack took us some back ways which were much prettier than the route that all the other tourists take.
We browsed around the market for awhile, ate lunch there, and then wanted to catch the train by 2pm to take it to this place called Sintra. Spoiler alert: this was one of the best places I had ever seen. We took a bus from the train station up to the top of a mountain where a castle was set. The bus driver was incredibly talented and maneuvering a city bus through twists and turns up the side of a mountain as if we were on a high speed chase in a movie- can't imagine the training the drivers go through ot learn how to be fearless bus drivers. We made it to the top with no scratches on the bus and honestly I think the passengers were more afraid of the bus getting damaged than the driver was. We paid the 14 Euro entry fee (I've learned that all castles cost money) and walked for another 20 minutes up the mountain to get to the actual castle. The area surrounding it was beautiful and very well landscaped.
The views from the castle were nothing like I had every seen before, I was in complete awe. From the top of the castle, you could see miles and miles out into the distance, rolling hills and the coast on either side of small towns. No amount of words can describe how happy and amazed at the beauty of this view-plus the weather was perfect and made it easy to see everything.
I felt like I was on top of the world with everything at my fingertips
The Lisbon Legends in all of their glory
My best friend Kelly and I attempted to recreate the famous Titanic scene
After getting my fill of marvelous views and sunshine, we decided to call it a day. We took the train back to Lisbon and went back to the hostel. That night, the hostel was having their feast night where each member of the staff made a different dish and everyone got to enter a food coma. It was 10 Euro but for the amount of food I had eaten, it was a great value. They had pasta, salad, Shepard's Pie, loaded nachos, scalloped potatoes, and a bunch more.....I'm getting full just thinking about it again. My roommate Kelly and decided to take it easy that night and stay in rather than going out because we were exhausted. I ended up talking to a girl in our hostel from Barcelona for a good portion of the night and learned a lot about life in Barcelona given that she has lived there her whole life. That's one of my favorite things about studying abroad: meeting people from all over the world and having the opportunity to expand my cultural horizon.
The next morning, we got up to catch our 9:15am flight back to Dublin. It was a bittersweet goodbye to the best city I had visited in Europe so far. From the incredible views to the cheap food to the great people we met at the hostel, it was a picture perfect trip and everything went as planned. I had a hunch before going there that I would fall in love with the city's beauty and I absolutely did. I will definitely plan to take a trip there later in life but until then, thanks for a legendary trip, Lisbon.


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