Local foods and nightlife in Lisbon

Local foods and nightlife in Lisbon

Wow it feels like the past two weeks flew by in the blink of an eye!  I’m already in Madrid, preparing for the second of three flights home.  Goncalo #2 met me in downtown yesterday after lunch to make the most of my last day in Europe.  Goncalo is my age, trained in advertising/marketing and has done a bunch of traveling through Europe, sometimes euro-exchange programs, (for example, helping scouts in Poland for a month)  opportunities that made me jealous.  It’s so easy and cheap to move between these countries and the geographically disadvantaged US has along way to go before it can successfully promote this degree of cultural interchange.  Goncalo also has volunteered at the Lisbon zoo for the past 6 years and his eyes would lit up when he talks about the tricks the vultures and macaus can do at the presentations he used to make.  As a born and raised Lisbonite, Goncalo didn’t waste any time immersing me in veggie-friendly local food experiences of his stomping ground.  We started at a teensy booth behind the hustling bustling street of shops.  I would have never thought to hide the original location of Lisbon’s famous cherry liqueur here!  But this is where you can get the beverage fresh from the tap, poured over a vase of cherries then poured in a shot glass to be enjoyed with a smile and “salud”! Lisbon’s famous cherry liquor From there, he navigated me to the entrance of the Castillo de St. Jorge.  After getting lost in the snaking streets yesterday, Aga and I gave up when we appeared at the backside of the massive complex and heard entry would require circumventing 3/4 of the building with a slightly challenging route.  I was glad to return with an expert, especially since Goncalo loved to share the history and wander the town built within the city walls.  Speaking of history, one of the places he took me to was the church of Carmelo, which was one of the few buildings to survive a 9 scale hurricane in the 1700s. Next door was where the dictator was taken during the peaceful overthrow of the dictator in 1970s.  We tried to find a postcard depicting the famous scene with children stuffing carnations into soldiers guns because the transition was so peaceful that only two people were killed, mostly because of a silly skirmish.  We stopped for roasted chestnuts as we walked to Peneira Portuguesa to try this fluffy, slightly sweet, sunrise-colored coconut bread (which they like to serve with ham and cheese).  He took me to several overlooks, around 5, we went to a place filled with teens and young adults gathered with beers, musical instruments and their friends to watch the sun sink behind the “San Francisco bridge”, with light reflecting off the Tagus river. Goncalo #2 and I at an overview of the city We went to an old-school shop that featured vintage products from regions all around Spain- port wine, special biscuits, toys that his parents grew up with, soaps and an extensive selection of sardines, which the area is famous for.  He took me to this super-retro, hipster street of revived warehouses filled with art galleries, unique shops, bars, an awesome library and large graffiti paintings outdoors.  Only a couple places were open when we went but it would be a really neat place to see on a Saturday, especially during the weekly flea markets. Pavilhão Chinês Club… best bar ever! For the purpose of people watching and an authentic-ish experience of Lisbon nightlife (as much is possible for a Sunday night during the holidays), we started a leisurely bar hops designed to drink in the sights, more than maximize alcohol consumption.  We began at a fancy place that was covered, floor to ceiling in collectibles.  There was a room filled with dolls and old toys, war paraphanela (from war helmets, to fighter planes to GI joe), paintings on the ceiling and statues.  We sat in velvet chairs to pursue the menu, which was more like a colorful storybook of hand-drawn, bare-chested flappers getting in all sorts of shenanigans as they danced around descriptions of their artisan cocktails.  He drank hot chocolate and I tried the famous Port Wine (too sweet for me) as we keep finding new objects to look at, feeling like guests in a royal cocktail room/tea parlor. To experience his more typical weekend night, we sauntered through Barrio Alto (nightlife hub of Lisbon), squeeze into a dim indie rock bar, only large enough to fit four small tables, sipping cheap beers in a swirl of smoke and Portuguese banter, accented by the clink of...

Exploring Belem and downtown Lisbon

Exploring Belem and downtown Lisbon

Despite a bleak forecast, my frenzied sun dances paid off and it was a brilliantly sunny day in Lisbon.  A toasty 16 degrees Celsius- I couldn’t be happier!  We spent the morning getting Aga ready for the bus tomorrow so she can head off to “sleep with” her Polish host in Porto. Her naive use of English ushered a day filled of teasing, Jorge in his exotic accent asking, “so you will take her, in the night, in your strong polish wrestler arms and she will call you ‘my Tarzan!'”.  When we saw that even the doves were canoodling outside the monaster, we predicted a good love forecast for Aga in Portugal’s seaside hub, famous for their wine cellars (Port wine! Get it?). Famous Belem pastries We started our sightseeing at Belem, tasting the Belem pastries at the oldest and world-renowned Pastéis de Belém.   Unless you’ve been to Portugal, you may not be impressed with the accolade.  But I’ve never been to a country with so many pastelerias- I’m convinced that’s all they eat.  There’s one on every corner and especially when real restaurants are shut own for the holidays, that’s practically the only option.  I liked the little tart- creamy, almost rice pudding-like, mini tarts in an almonds he’ll dusted with cinnamon nod optional powdered sugar.  Not too sweet which was nice.  After spying on their production line, we headed net door to the monastery of San Jeronimo, with the canoodling doves, precisely trimmed gardens with a music fountain which created rainbows in the sunshine and the monument to the discovers, which had excellent views of the “San Francisco” bridge and Portugal’s Cristo.  I barely knew what country I was in with all these conflicting national landmarks.  But then we took photos after mounting (yup some more jokes were made, poor Aga) the obligatory cows before heading off to Belem tower, the monument for the first trams-Atlantic flight and the Africa war monument. Aga and I at the San Jeronomio monastery Portugal has a bit of an identity crisis… After exploring that part of town, Jorge dropped us by the “penis fountain” to explore the city by ourselves for the next several hours.  As with many stoic statues to commemorate good battles, this fountain looks oddly reminiscent of a male sexual orgn.  Jorge was laughing as he told us how he was bragging about the ever flowing waters of this vigilant member, overlooking the city to a Mexican couchsurfer he picked up late from the airport. They arrived at the fountain just before 11 and the water stopped flowing!  Jorge prescribed Viagra.  He’s a lawyer but he loves to prescribe things.  At 10 am, he prescribed I drink vodka for my cough and sore throat. Even though he doesn’t drink, he had some in his trunk and recommended I carry it around all day for convenient swigs for my daily doses.  I decided to stick with my ineffective cough drops but I probably would have forgotten all about my cold if i tried his technique! In case you were curious… “Penis fountain” looking down on the city Anyway, so the rest of the afternoon was kind of a blur, as we blindly followed the map between pink circled attractions,neighborhood and streets.  We found lots of churches, many fountains, beautiful overlooks of the Atlantic, we kept dodging cable cars (the bridge isn’t the only similarity with San Fran) and generally had a good day. Cable car near Barrio Alto I’ve been shrugging to find a cohesive conception of Portugal and it has been tough.  First, we’ve mostly been in tourist territory but it’s pretty hard to figure out what a stereotypical Portuguese personal looks like.  Spain, it’s easy.  Dark-hair, dark-eyes, petite (even most of the guys- I commented that I was surprised how daintily kings were portrayed on statues. I even went in a male bathroom by accident once because the stace and stature of the sassy hipped stick figure looked like a girl to me until after I got out and saw the real girl).  The first night, I was getting Jersey Shore cheesy beach vibes from the beach across the bridge, the second day in Sintra and surrounding nature was more surfer/fisherman/fairy princess vibes and today… San Francisco vibes? “Want some marijuana with your sunglasses” vibes? Very historic and usually cute but then you round a corner and you are in a dump vibes?  It would probably help if I could taste their food beyond bread (which is rather extraordinarily for bread) but dishes are meaty and fishy and not veggie friendly. Hopefully meeting locals tomorrow will better clue me in.  I was...

Day trip from Lisbon: Outdoor Portugal attractions

Day trip from Lisbon: Outdoor Portugal attractions

So I arrived in Lisbon yesterday but in my first 24 hours, I’ve been spending time everywhere but the city itself.  I was expecting to be received in the airport Jorge, a born and raised Lisbon-ite lawyer.  Sure enough, a blonde girl with pantalones rojas and purple framed glasses emerged from the crowd and muffled through a hug, I heard, “Katie! I’m George!”.  I’m infamous for displaying my uncensored thoughts and emotions on my face so I started to say with surprise, “I thought you were a man”.  Since I like staying with females better, I decided to shrug it off and hug it out.  She kept a straight face but the real George, a perpetual jokester, couldn’t contain his laughter and emerged from behind.  Turns out the blonde girl is Agnieszka, a Polish girl who arrived earlier in the afternoon and will be staying the next three nights too.  So the sun had set but Jorge took us across the “San Francisco” bridge for some nice views of the “cape of jewels” beach and the city, moon-lit oceanside strolls (it’s weird to be on this side of the Atlantic) and a pizza dinner. Jorge drinking a yogurt milkshake on the coast Today, we set out for a mini-road trip along Jorge’s favorite road in Portugal, along the Atlantic Ocean for a day trip from Lisbon to see some of Portugal attractions that less lucky travelers may not be able to get to.  We drove through cascais, with some of the country’s most beautiful homes then embarked on one of my favorite parts of this whole trip: the hike to urca.  Jorge explained the mythical origins of the beachside rock formations, something about a disowned mama bear.  I didn’t retain much of the story but the hike was absolutely gorgeous, even with dark skies and in the misty rain.  We sauntered through fields of aloe vera plants (they look different here) and yellow windflowers, the wind whipping through Jorge’s “rain cape” (poncho), which he insisted on wearing “I feel like a bird! I can fly”.  One of his friends is a medical representative so Jorge had a box of ponchos in what looked like Pokemon balls.  Throughout the day, he used the ponchos for rain protection, trail markers, picnic table cover… And now I’ve got a magic item of my own to use for everything.  If only it could keep the rain from falling from the sky in the first place!  Anyway, we marched along, me plodding in the 5 euro clown boots that I traded my blisters boots in for in Granada, puddle-hopping then scooting down rocky banks.  When we got to the beach, we stood in shadows of looming rock formations, found a hidden waterfall and peeked around all sorts of other hidden places. Me at the start of our hike to Ursa Aga and I at the most Western point in Europe After Ursa, we stopped at Cabo da Roca, the most western point of Europe and headed to Sintra National park.  We picnic-ed in the moss-covered, “mystic forest”, where Jorge claimed spirits like to roam (he said that about he 130 year old apartment we’re staying in too but I haven’t experienced that except for doorknobs perpetually falling to the floor) and witches like to brew things.  I didn’t believe him until we repeatedly saw a haggled, German woman impatiently cursing her photographer husband.  I didn’t witness her casting any spells but I tried to be on my best behavior with her around.  After the national park, we checked out some of the sites that made Sintra a UNESCO site and the “most romantic town in Portugal”.  We peered at the moorish castle overlooking everything, several royal palaces and the queens gardens (Jorge knew all the best spots to get pictures without having to pay).  Then we walked around the tiny, tiled streets of downtown, I got jittery on Portuguese espresso and we tasted Sintra’s famous little cakes. One of the (non-royal!) palaces at Sintra After Sintra, Jorge didn’t want to waste the daylight so we craned our necks to take in Portugal’s largest convent then stopped at some cutesy park built by a famous potter.  This guy made an old-fashioned Portuguese mini village with windmills, scenes of everyday life and model railroad villages which he insisted should be free to visitors.  After enjoying that “strange little adventure”, we headed home after enjoying more ocean views and twisted, fishing village streets at Ericiera, one of the world’ stop surfing destinations.  And I couldn’t believe it, but people were riding the waves in wetsuits even today. The evening was more relaxing-...

Here today, Spain tomorrow!

Here today, Spain tomorrow!

If you haven’t heard, I decided yesterday to go to Spain tomorrow.  If you’re like most people I’ve told, you might be nodding empathetically.  And about ten minutes later, realize what I actually said.  I barely believe it myself, but it’s happening.    Why Spain? Why now?  I’ll tackle the second question first- this week, I switched my dissertation topic and went from a 0% to 60% completion overnight, with my committee member’s blessings.  I also retroactively got reimbursed with two grand of student fees (thank you National Science Foundation!).  Switching my dissertation topic also means the clock is ticking for me to take advantage of the flexible freedom of graduate school and being able to write from everywhere.  And the way time flies these days, I’ve realized time is the most precious resource and what better time to live life to the fullest than when you’re young, able-bodied and relatively free? Why Spain?   They say Disney World is the happiest place on earth but when I look at pictures of Barcelona’s carefree, colorful architecture, I can’t imagine how anyone could walk around the city without a smile on their face.  I’m completely smitten (and expect to be disappointed) but until I see it for myself, I’ll keep dreaming about skipping through streets surrounded by a blend of modern, gothic and renaissance self-expression.  It’ll be nice to revive my Spanish skills before they meet an irreversible demise.  I’ve never been to Europe and it should be a pretty safe place for my first completely unchartered solo travel adventure.  And because one of my couch surfing friends here is going to Madrid over break (he’s Brazilian but has lived in Madrid the last nine years and loves it) and he didn’t think my plan was crazy.  Well, maybe he did, but he thought random adventures like this give life flavor.  If other people in Spain embrace this kind of insanity, I’ll be in a good place.  And last-minute flights were absurdly reasonably priced.  We’ll see if those are actually good reasons. I know probably should be a frenzied machine of frantic preparation but things are falling into place so I thought I deserved a writing break.  The past 45 minutes I spent dancing in one sock and teal leggings, transporting random articles from my closet into my backpack to Shakira radio on Pandora.   Multi-tasking packing with practicing my salsa shake made one of my least favorite activities infinitely more bearable.  And as previously mentioned, I think I’m in pretty good shape for the next two weeks.  Within 48 hours of this decision, I have an itinerary and I’ve found friends almost everywhere I’m going.  Between Otta, his friends and couch surfers, I’ve got plenty of help for three days in Madrid.  I found a Greek girl who I should be able to travel to and stay with in Grenada.  From Grenada, I’ll take the overnight train to Barcelona where several friendly people volunteered to show me around.  For the Christmas festivities, I’ll be celebrating and staying in a hostel with a couple other travelers- an Indian engineer who works with Saab in Switzerland currently and his American friend that he met at the University of Maryland.  From there, I’m flying to Lisbon where three people offered to host me.  I’m getting such good vibes from that city and can’t wait!  After four days in Lisbon, I’ll fly back to Madrid and fly home in time to watch the acorn drop in Raleigh for New Year’s Eve. So we’ll see how this goes! I’m leaving my computer home so I’m not sure how many pictures and good quality posts I’ll be able to share during my journey- pecking on an ipad hardly leads to award-winning narration.  I’ll close with a quote from Jack London, “I would rather be ashes than dust.  I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot.  I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in a magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.  The function of man is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.  I shall use my...