Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lisbon, My Love

In December I took a semi-impromptu weekend trip to Lisbon, Portugal with my friend David just before Christmas.  After an intensely busy month and the holidays just around the corner, I was exhausted and thought a trip was the last thing I wanted to do, but I had already committed and it was the first trip David and I have done together, so there was no way I could justify backing out.

Best. Decision. Ever.

At one of the many city lookout points
Lisbon is, in a word, AMAZING. Cheap food and accommodation, breathtaking views, bursting with romance, and full of the nicest people.  To get there we opted to use BlaBlaCar, which is a ride sharing website where people can post trips they are taking by car and find others who need a ride to the same areas.  David has used it several times for trips to the south of Spain, but for me it was the first time and I would 100% recommend it to anyone. It was the same cost as taking the bus, but saved us almost 3 hours, the company was better, and it's obviously a lot more comfortable.  My parents thought I was practically hitchhiking when I told them and looked at me with their "You did what!?" eyes, but I tried explaining that it's a legitimate and reliable website and I'm not as crazy as they think.  UWEC and many universities in the states have similar "ride boards", which I used more than once while in college to get a little extra gas money for trips to Madison.  
Arriving fairly late on Friday night and starving, our goal after locating our hostel was to find food.  In typical bad tourist fashion, we ended up eating at an Italian restaurant (in Portugal) but simply out of pure desperation.  Being unsure whether or not the Portuguese culture stays up as late as the Spanish, we didn't want to risk restaurants closing while we tried to find something Portuguese in a place we had never been before, so we went straight to the first thing we stumbled on.  But we can't be as bad as the couple sitting at the table next to us...who were Italian. C'mon guys, really?

On Saturday, the weather was sunny and glowing making this already enchanting city even more beautiful.  Add the Christmas decorations from rooftop to sidewalk and it was next to impossible not to fall in love with Lisbon.  David and I have really opposite travel styles, which I was nervous about when we started the trip because incompatibility when it comes to travel can ruin even the best of friendships.  Luckily I was mentally prepared, and am a very flexible traveller despite my anti-tourism attitude, so we spent the entire day doing not one but two of Sandeman's Free Walking Tours with a splendid Spanish guide from Granada.  I definitely recommend if not Sandemans then any kind of walking tour in a city you have limited time in.  It cuts down the time you waste trying to find things on your own.  I'm usually a big fan of wandering, but the fact is when you have a lot to see and only 2 days to do it, a walking tour lets you see all of it through someone who knows exactly how and where to go.  Plus it helps you become familiar with the city to make your own exploring easier afterwards.
That night we made a reservation at a restaurant called Chapito after it was recommended to us by one of the guys in the car from Madrid and also our tour guide.  

Located on top of one of Lisbon's many hills (it's not known as the City of Seven Hills for nothing), it's a bar and restaurant inside a clown school. Yes, a clown school.  From the outside it doesn't look like anything spectacular, but once we went inside through the jewelry store, we were greeted by a mysterious woman offering free samples of chocolate liqueur "love" potions.  Once we escaped her (which was hard because those potions were damn good and her voice was so enchanting...), dim mood lighting by dangling chandeliers and garden lights, wooden stairs and open air seating (for the summer) led us inside the restaurant where we were seated next to the windowed patio overlooking the city.  After we got over the shock of the menu prices, we spent our first hour justifying them by commenting on the amazing view.  The food was equally as satisfying.  We went for the dinner hour, but if I could have a do-over, I would definitely love to go at sunset.

Some succulent duck leg
Wine is a girl's best friend

The following day we ventured a little farther out of the center to Belém so David could take pictures in front of his precious historical monuments, like this one: 
The Belem Tower never looked so sexy
For me, it was all about the pasteles de Belém, custard filled pastries topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar.  In fact, it seems that Belém is famous for these delicious little delights.  The pastry shop Pasteis de Belém is named for them and they have been a staple since the mid 1800's.  A coffee and sweet treat for only a couple euros you say? Where do I wait in line?
No, I did not eat all four myself...although it would have been easy
 We had planned to spend our last day taking the train out to Sintra, a small village with an incredible castle (Palacio da Pena) straight out of every kid's Disney fantasy.  I was looking forward to this the entire weekend.  So of course it would rain.  The heavy fog made it almost impossible to appreciate the colorful towers and intricate design and I won't lie, I complained about it like a pouty brat the entire time we were there.  Give me a break-- I spend a lot of time with toddlers.  If you click the link, you will understand my disappointment.  Here's the best photo I could manage:

I fell head over heels for Lisbon.  It's the Mediterranean lifestyle without the harsh personalities you sometimes find in Madrid, not to mention exponentially better views.  And let me assure you as a girl who never fantasizes about weddings or proposals, if either of those things are in my future, the latter better happen in Lisbon.  It's the only way to the former.
Lisbon, my love, I will be back soon. Wait for me.