The European Mexico
29.12.2008 - 31.12.2008
Lisboa, the capital of Portugal is a city extremely rich in culture and history, which I honestly didn't know much about until speaking with the locals. The language, first off, is so fascinating. The words are sometimes similar to Spanish, mixed in with French and then spoken with a Russian accent. I loved hearing it and wanted to just jump in somehow. It's pretty easy to get around though because most people speak at least a little bit of English since it is required to take it for 8 years in school, otherwise many people also speak French because THAT USED TO BE the language that the Portuguese had to take for 8 years in school, in the 80's I believe. Anyway, speaking Spanish is fine too, I walked around asking, "Farla Inglez, frances, espagnol?" Although NO was often the answer with the older generation, they were INCREDIBLY NICE and would try to talk to me any way I could. So far, I'd definitely have to say that the Portuguese are the sweetest, kindest people around. I felt very comfortable there. Portuguese men are also very attractive. =P
By the time we reached Lisboa, my leg was really killing me so I really felt like I was dragging down my traveling companions and I wish they would have just ditched me because we didn't do as much as we would have liked, but thanks to our couchsurfing host, we still learned a lot about the culture. http://www.couchsurfing.com is a wonderful project aimed to help travelers connect with natives, save cash on lodgings and make friends worldwide. I had never tried it before and while I was nervous and excited, I never could have expected it to be as amazing as it was. Our host talked to us at length about Portugal's history, among various subjects, he also cooked for us, took us out on the town and bought us pastries. I couldn't have asked for more. I know that without João we would have been unable to really get a feel for what Portuguese culture was all about. Thanks to his hospitality, frankness and willingness to host Americans even during this rough time, I fell in love with this city.
Castelo São Jorge
We spent the better half of our first full day in Lisboa walking around and trying to get to the Castle, which was particularly hard for me due to my limp-ish leg. On this little journey, we got to see so much of the city and saw how old it is. Parts of Lisboa are really old, but I can't stress enough how awesome that was. Madrid and Barcelona were both cities so changed throughout the years, they're both so busy and capitalistic, that they've lost that old world feel that Lisboa still has. The city is very diverse, with areas that are very modern, others that are influenced by the arab and african cultures and then these buildings that seem to have existed forever.
There's quite a bit to see while trying to get to the castle, since it's a nice hike to get there. We ended up getting really hungry half-way up and decided to sit down for some traditional food. In Portugal, they eat a lot of meat and fish, but as was mentioned many times, more than anything, they love cod fish. I'm not a big sea food fan, but I did try a manta ray dish that João made for us on the first night and also some codfish dish my roommate ordered at a restaurant.
Codfish Purée of some sort that Hillary ordered
Baby Octopus Salad
My other friend, Maggie, had this baby octopus salad that I was not a fan of. I don't get why people eat it, it's just rubber in your mouth that you chew in an attempt to try to swallow it, but I don't know if that ever happens.
I went for the most traditional thing I could find, which was a meat and pea stew with an egg in the middle.
Ervilhas com Ouos Escalfados
Some other sights on our way to the Castle...
I have to admit, I feel as though so much of the trip consisted of eating and walking a lot. Traveling is hard work. ^_^ After seeing the castle, we wanted to go see this monastery called Bélem, but by the time we got there it was already closed and I was only able to take a few pictures from the outside, it looked very impressive and I really regret being unable to see it. However, after being so horribly disappointed about our bad timing to Bélem, João came to pick us up and bought us pastries. They are these little custard cakes that we found later on also in Porto, but the ones from Bélem are world famous. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasteis_de_belem
Pastéis de Bélem, also called Pastéis de Nata
Our host gave us a little tour of Lisboa and even took us to see the ocean, unfortunately, it was night and raining so we didn't get to enjoy it as much as we would have liked. But in the little quick tour that João gave us, we got to see how much pride the Portuguese have for all of their achievements and how proud (in a good way) the people are about their history and culture. I really admired that about the people. More than once random people just started up conversations with us- I was traveling with two blondes and that's kind of unseen in Portugal, so we really stood out- people would try to talk to us and I was constantly surprised at how nice they were.
On our last full day there we went to the Gulbenkian Museum which is really huge. I think it's more like 3 museums combined into one. They had more tapestries than I'd ever seen, but in general I really liked it. This painting in particular because it's so sinister. Muahaha.
The great weather, rich culture and friendly people made this city one of the most charming I've had the privilege of visiting and I'm also eternally grateful to João for living the couchsurfing lifestyle and showing us such a wonderful time.