As a continuation of my December travels, I went to the capital city of Portugal. It was my first time there, which seems a bit silly because it’s so close to Spain.
Another new experience for me was taking the night train. It was significantly cheaper than a flight when I looked at tickets about a month ago. I didn’t upgrade to a bed in a private room. I just decided to stick it out in a normal allocated seat for the duration of the trip (about 8 hours). It wasn’t so bad because a friend of mine offered to let me borrow her neck pillow for the weekend. It definitely allowed me to properly get some shut eye without killing my neck in the numerous, awkward poses that you make when sleeping upright in a seat.
The best part about taking the night train was taking complete advantage of the time that I had to spend in Lisbon. I went to work like normal on Wednesday and I attended my two private lessons afterwards, then I went home to grab my bag and eat dinner. My train was scheduled to leave the station just before 10:00pm, so I had plenty of time. When I arrived in Lisbon, it was 7:30am. So it felt like I hadn’t wasted any time at all (plus I had two less nights to pay for a hostel since I would be doing the same for the return trip).
The hostel that I chose was recommended to me by a friend, she raved about it and everyone she sent there would rave about it as well. The hostel is called Home Lisbon Hostel. It’s owned by a Portuguese family and they have nightly dinners cooked by “Mama” who always joins the guests at the dinner table in her reserved seat at the head of the table. I decided to eat dinner at the hostel on the first night that I was there. The meal consisted of lentil soup, the famous Portuguese codfish dish (my vegetarian version was made with mushrooms instead of codfish), and a slice of coconut-pear pie with a scoop of ice cream. Talk about delicious!
Rewind a bit to when I arrived earlier that day. Despite sleeping little on the night train, I was energized by the excitement that a new city always brings. So I went to the city center to search for a coffee and breakfast. I tried a pretty good place called Fabrica Lisboa. They didn’t have fantastic coffee, but it did the trick. After breakfast, I walked to the meeting point for my free walking tour.
One of the most intriguing things that I learned about was the impactful 9-magnitude earthquake that took place in 1755. It was devastating and took the lives of many people because of its poor timing. There seems to never be a “right” time or place for natural disasters or tragedies. However, if the earthquake would have taken place just a half-hour beforehand, many lives probably would have been saved. The earthquake happened on All Saints Day at exactly 9:40am. Which would have been when many people gathered together to celebrate the holiday. Most of the roofs of the cathedrals collapsed on the people inside the moment that the earthquake struck. The wealthy (and highly Catholic) part of Lisbon was flattened, while the poorer community on the other side of the mountain was spared (as a result of the mountain absorbing the shocks of the quake).
For lunch, I went the the public Time Out Market near the main plaza. Inside the market, there is a food-court styled dining area. But instead of a typical fast-food-court, it was a group of gourmet restaurants downsized to fit in the tiny stalls. It’s the best way to experience a plethora of traditional Portuguese options all in one place. Like most of the weekend, being a vegetarian was slightly difficult because there was so much seafood. But with a quick search, I was able to find a few options and I ended up choosing a pumpkin risotto that knocked my socks off.
On the second day, I took a short trip to a neighbouring city called Sintra. There, I would see famous palaces that were situated on top of a mountain. The town and its numerous palaces were beautiful, but the famous Pena Palace was the best one of all. It was at the very top of the mountain with a great view. But you’d have an even more incredible view if you turned around and stared at the palace walls and towers. The colors were vibrant yellows and reds with a little bit of purple thrown in. But the shapes and curves gave Pena Palace a sort of comical and cartoonish feel to it. Many people think that it belongs in a Disney princess movie (and I would have to agree). Due to a recommendation from friends, I didn’t enter the palace. Instead, I purchased a ticket that would allow me to freely walk the gardens and grounds all the way up to the palace front doors. There was plenty to see without going inside (and my friends had told me that it looks like the typical cookie-cutter European palace on the inside). I spent literally hours walking around the palace grounds. There was an incredible amount of forrest surrounding the famous site.
When I returned, I walked around the city centre to experience Lisbon’s Christmas lights and their Christmas markets. They weren’t as fabulous as Berlin’s, but they were a step up from Madrid’s markets. Along the way, I picked up some roasted chestnuts to eat while I walked.
On the last day, I checked out of my hostel (but still took advantage of the daily luggage storage that most hostels offer because I wouldn’t be leaving the city until 9pm that night). I ate the free breakfast that my hostel provided and had plans to walk around the famous Alfama district on the other side of the mountain. This is the district that survived the earthquake, therefore it is largely authentic and original architecture from the 11th century. During my breakfast at the hostel, I learned that there would be a free walking tour of this district and that there was still room for more. So I ditched my plans to walk it alone and joined the group. I ended up meeting some friends and we four ate lunch together.
I was quite the social butterfly in Lisbon. That’s atypical for me during solo trips, but it ended up being nice because I never really felt alone. I met so many welcoming people in Lisbon. I definitely hope to return some day.