Our time in Lisbon was brought to us courtesy of STA travel, as they were able to get us a 2-day layover in Portugal instead of flying directly from New York. Then, we were able to find someone to stay with via couchsurfing.org (hereon referred to as CS), so our stay was essentially free. For our first real stop on the trip, I’d say we did pretty well! This was our second redeye flight in a row, and again no sleep, so arriving to Lisbon at 6am again had us a little tired. After discovering there wasn’t any internet connectivity in the airport for us to contact our CS as planned, we held out until the info booth opened and figured out how to get to his place. The subway system was pretty easy, fast and clean, and not very crowded at that hour, either. After getting a little turned around outside the metro we found our way to Fernando’s house, where he and his dog Messiah greeted us. He had named his dog Messiah (MESIAS), because although he rescued him from the same fate as the rest of his siblings in a plastic bag in a dumpster, he felt that the dog had saved him.
Fernando was a great host, above any beyond what one could expect… by far. After talking with him for a bit, we went out to explore the city. We started out walking along the water near the Alfama district, toward the main plaza, Praça do Comércio, to take in the fresh air from the ocean and soak up the sun. Ben loves this spot because unlike many other plazas in European cities it opens up to the water for great views.
We then walked through the winding streets to see the Castle of São Jorge. We decided not to pay to enter the castle (as we had been told it wasn’t worth the price) but we did manage to climb up an old wall just outside the grounds for some great views. After soaking up the vistas there, we were able to pass safely through the street where Ben was mugged in 2006. The condemned homes that used to line the once abandoned road are no longer being lived in, and instead there was a tourist group stopped where before there were four people, one knife, and a metal pole.
Starting to get more tired and hungry, we did what all locals do for some mid-day energy… grab a Ginja. One thing that made us smile about the people in Lisbon was the frequency of locals walking into mini-Ginjinha ‘bars’ or coffee shops and downing their drink or espresso in two minutes while standing at the counter and then moving on with their day.
From there we made our way to El Corte Ingles and got makings for bocadillos and had a picnic on the top of the Parque Eduardo VII. After that we used our remaining energy to get back on the Metro and back to Fernando’s pad to rest our eyes for just a few minutes… An hour and a half later we got up just in time for dinner. Fernando offered to make, a traditional dinner, Soupa Açorda à Alentejana (soup from primarily cilantro, egg, bread and garlic). It was just what the doctor ordered as it had just started raining at this point. We enjoyed the delicious soup and watched the storm from the window as the thunder and lighting started. After talking and eating it was after 10pm – we were almost late to meet his friends for pub trivia! We made our way down to the local Snooker Club (yes.. Snooker is an actual sport — Amanda thought it was fictional from the show The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret). Fortunately for us, they had photos for every trivia item with the question, and we ended up coming in second (it helped a lot that so many questions involved the US). By the time we got home it was after midnight and we crashed.
Our second (and final) day in Lisbon we took Fernando’s dog for a walk, then went to find a place to work for a while. What is easy when you have a phone and internet can be a lot more challenging in a foreign country, with a foreign language, and no Starbucks just around the corner. No luck at the university connecting to their system, a runaround for a café, and then – the downstairs café of where we were staying worked perfectly (after two hours of walking). We were able to enjoy a couple of beers and a coffee all for less than $5 while we caught up with business. When we returned to our CS pad, Fernando had a friend over and we had lunch. He then offered to take us out of the city to explore a nearby town of Sintra and the coast. We went out 4 people, 1 Messiah, 6 empty water jugs, and grabbed a fifth person to join as well. The fifth was an Italian couchsurfer who in the end stayed elsewhere but still wanted to meet up. So all of us packed into the compact Citroen and headed to Sintra. The town itself was very tiny and quaint. It had great views of the countryside, and driving past the town it was totally green and had a castle (of course). The real treat came later though when we went up to an old monastery on the very top of a mountain. From there we could see the coast and the most western point of continental Europe.
As we came down the mountain Fernando took us to his favorite spot in the forest, where the leprechauns and fairies live. There he would fill up all the water jugs from a fresh running fountain, and while we were there we played around on the moss covered boulders as it grew dark. Coming back, we stopped along the road a couple times to see landmarks, such as the Boca del Infierno and the city of Cascais. Upon returning we got to share a home cooked Italian pasta dinner with the company before packing and getting ready for Madrid in the morning! We spent approximately 48 hours on the ground in Lisbon, but we got to see a lot, and had a great first experience couchsurfing abroad. It’s going to be a great trip. Next stop: Madrid and Ben’s family.