I know, I know, it’s been a while. I’d like to tell you that this is due to amazing time I’ve been having, and in part this is true, but it might have more to do with the old unbreakable even in Europe habit of watching Netflix before bed.
Having just been to Morocco, the culture shock that it was, Portugal was a giant leap back towards my comfort zone. I was now more confident as a traveler and ready for my next adventure. But no amount of preparation, no amount of experience, and no amount of wit can keep you from ending up on a packed commuter train pushed in next to a teenage couple aggressively making out. Nevertheless, after a short, albeit intimate, train ride- I had made it to Lisbon.
In Lisbon, I’d be staying in Home Hostel, one of the best rated hostels in Europe. The place lived up to the standard, but staying in hostels creates certain unavoidable situations, no matter how good the accommodation.
Among them, is the fact that occasionally there might be people who are little more oblivious to the common courtesies than others. At 4:30am on my first night in Lisbon, I found myself in a place where pretty much none of them were observed.
At 4:30, the door opened and the lights came on. “What the hell!” I said loudly and instinctively.
“Oh, sorry mate!” a cheery British voice responded. The lights flicked off, but what followed were multiple pairs of footsteps entering the room. There was only one bed available- the one across from my top bunk.
No big deal I figure. It’s 4:30, they’re probably going to recap the night and go to bed in a few minutes and for the most part this was true. One by one they trickled out of the room until I heard relative silence followed by the sound of footsteps climbing the ladder into the top bunk. But what I didn’t expect to hear and what followed was a second set of footsteps climbing the ladder.
I hadn’t heard any girls voices in the room. Maybe there was one and she’d been quiet throughout? By this point, I was fully awake and then I began to hear giggling. The sound of two guys giggling and whispering.
Oh no I think to myself Oh nonono.
The giggling seemed to go on forever, but one sound was noticeably absent, the sound of any movement. After what felt like forever, I decided to look over. And what I saw shook me to my core: two men laying next to each other in bed and watching YouTube video’s at 5am.
One of my favorite things I’ve done on this trip so far was to take a surfing lesson. For this I went to a coastal town called Ericeira, Ericeira is the kind of place that they put on the front of any brochure. It sits atop cliffs that cascade down into a small beach that leads to the endless Atlantic Ocean.
Truth be told, I wasn’t all that worried at first. But after I stuffed myself into a wet suit for the first time since scuba diving in the warm forgiving waters of the Australian pacific coast, I looked out and there was a lot of rock. I think Joao must have noticed my look because he told me not to worry, he’d keep me out of those sections. He kept his word; the lesson took place in about 25 yards side to side of clear ocean and there were no incidents. By the end of the lesson I was using all the natural athleticism and grace that I’m well known for and was able to stand up and even ride a few waves for a bit. Before you think I might be glorifying this a bit too much, I should mention that none of this would’ve been possible if it weren’t for the grown man standing behind me in three feet of water pushing my board into the already broken two foot high waves. I’ll have to save tube riding for my next attempt.
After the lesson Joao showed me a bit of his hometown. He took me to a local cafe and bakery (which he dubbed the best in Portugal) and then gave me a ride back to Lisbon where I fell asleep approximately eight seconds into the car ride. After some dinner and explaining to my new friends how I was now “one with the water.” We headed out to checkout some of Lisbon’s rooftop bars. Lisbon is one of the nicest cities by night you can see. The entire city is built upon a series of hills, so no matter what direction you look to there is something different to see. It has castle’s, it has it’s famous graffitti covered tram cars, but it also has a number of copied things from other countries. They have their own Golden Gate Bridge, their own Arc de Triumph, and you know that open armed Jesus figure that you see in all the pictures in Brazil? They made their own and it’s a few meters higher.
Also worth checking out was the free walking tour. I actually think Portugal’s was my favorite of all the cities. The guide was energetic and funny, and the city’s history is quite interesting. Definitely worth a look, and just for some general travel advice; the free walking tours are pretty much always worth a go. The guides are always locals who really want to show you their city. It’s completely tip based, so you don’t have any paid for advertising involved. They’ll give you their opinions on which things you should see and which you should skip. If you stick around after the tour they’re also likely to give you some good local food recommendations as well.
Recommendations for Lisbon: Surf! Stay at Home Hostel, free walking tour, almost any of the rooftop bars, and have some fish.
From Lisbon I headed out to Porto. Joining me for a bit was a friend I’d made at the hostel. He had an early morning flight out of Porto. Porto is famous for their wine cellars for port wine. They sit on the river and attract quite the crowd. For a couple euro, you can get a quick tour and try some different wines. The city itself is beautiful too, it sits on a river separating it’s two sides, they even have a bridge with two layers, the bottom for easy access to the more touristy riverside attractions, and the top which will give you a view of the whole city.
After exploring a bit, we decided to give the hostel recommended petiscos place a try. Pestiscos are like the Portuguese version of Tapas (though don’t let them hear you say that). But what the guy at the hostel didn’t tell us about the place was that it was extremely romantic. Me and my friend of just 48 hours were set up with a nice private candle lit table. The restaurant was dimly lit and they were playing romantic songs from the 50’s and 60’s.
As for the rest of my time in Porto, I spent a lot of it planning the next few parts of my trip and checking out the city. I made it up to the gardens which the many peacocks they have seem to actually be in charge of, I also managed to have another great European Hot Dog in a restaurant called Conga’s. This one was topped with cheese and pulled pork, I’m beginning to think we’re doing hot dogs wrong.
Oh! And here’s a thing that annoyed me. The “Harry Potter book store”. So they have a bookstore in Porto which they refer to as if Harry Potter were literally conceived of inside, and though JK did have some Portuguese inspirations in the book; Salazar (as in Slytherin) was a Portuguese dictator, and the Portuguese school children wear robes much like those from Hogwarts. But the “Harry Potter book store” is simply an aesthetically pleasing, packed out like you wouldn’t believe, book store with a fancy stair case in the middle that happens to be the only way to the upstairs part of the book store. This leads everyone trying to get upstairs to have to wait for everyone to take pictures of them posing on the stairs. I also managed to buy a children’s book on accident.
From Porto I headed to Athens and Eastern Europe and you’ll be able to check that out on the next edition of the blog which should be ready sometime in mid 2018.
Porto Recommendations: Conga’s for lunch, a wine cellar tour, and as always the free walking tour.
A little post script for you all for sticking with me.
I had a bit of down time in Porto so I walked around for a little bit, and my Uncle had given me a bit of advice, he told me I should try to meet more locals and hear more stories. I wanted to finally just go out and do it. Very uncharacteristic of me, I don’t like bothering people and I don’t enjoy introductions.
Lets just do it. I said to myself, and I boldly set off into the city on my mission. Now maybe this was because of something I’d seen in every sitcom ever or even in Forrest Gump, but I thought, why not start with a bench in the middle of the square. Old people sitting on benches always have the best stories.
So I found the oldest looking man. He looked like he’d had miles on his soul, he’s seen it all I thought to myself. This man knows the world. He knows what life is all about.
So I sit down and I wait a second. We’re sitting at the foot of a clock tower, and I look around to examine the square. It’s lined with the white cobble stone that Portugal is known for (it’s like they’re trying to make everyone fall) and people are casually going about their day, paying me and my future friend no mind.
Finally I look over to him. “Hello.”
He nods his head in return.
Ok, not a great start. I pause for a minute to reevaluate. No, you have to do this. You have to try this, you can’t care if it’s awkward and it’s not. that. awkward. It’s all in your head, Chris.
I look back at him, “How’s it going? Are you from Porto?”
The man looks at me, his mustache perfectly sculpted, his glasses coke bottle, and he looks at his watch and tells me what time it is in Portuguese.
We were sitting beneath a clock tower.
Thanks for the advice, Uncle Rich.
Also, no pictures this week. Wifi at the current hostel won’t allow it. Sad!