Olá Portugal!

Welcome to Portugal!

My observations about Portugal in general: If the two Iberian countries are sisters, Portugal is the younger sister that always got the hand-me-downs and grew up in Spain’s shadow.  They’re both beautiful, and smart, but in their own way.  Portugal definitely got more beat up and teased than Spain did.  However, Portugal is more self-aware, self-confident and proud of who she is, whereas Spain has been plagued by insecurity and stuck in an identity crisis for a long, long time.

Having said that, Portugal needs a better marketing team.  It’s a country with a fascinating culture, great architecture and natural beauty, but I would feel confident in saying that most U.S. Americans know hardly anything about it.  For example: Did you know there’s an instrument called the Portuguese guitar? If you have heard about it, kudos.  It’s an amazing instrument that produces a great sound, and yet, it’s completely been overshadowed by the Spanish guitar. I suppose I might have to attribute this, in part, to the country’s size — Portugal has a population of about 10.7 million people.  Spain’s population is over 47 million.  I guess it’s only natural that the one with a larger population will receive more attention (other examples: Canada/USA; New Zealand/Australia).

As for Lisboa (or Lisbon, in English): it’s a lovely city, situated right on a bay, but it looks a bit worn down.  It’s like your favorite pair of jeans that are frayed and have patches on the knees and need to be restitched in places.  I would love to see this city with some new life breathed into it, but it’s beautiful either way.  I have to say that Lisboa has some of the best street art I have seen in the Iberian peninsula.  I highly recommend a visit;  Lisboa is worth seeing and I’m glad I did!

After Greece comes Portugal. ANARCHY!!!!Probably my favorite street art ever.Plouf!Fadista & Portuguese guitar

I also got to practice my Portuguese, which was one of the things I was most looking forward to. However, Brazilian Portuguese, as it turns out, sounds really different. I was able to read and communicate effectively, but understanding the fast-speaking Portuguese was a bit of a challenge! But that whole challenge of communicating with someone who speaks a different language is one of my favorite experiences in this world. I love everything about it: the patience and creativity you need to have, the frustration when you can’t seem to figure out how to communicate a relatively simple idea, the exaggerated body language and hand gestures (it’s like a real-world version of charades!), the excitement when you finally understand each other, the sense of camaraderie that’s formed when they realize you are making an effort to speak their language and understand their culture… I love all of it! Of course, there’s some people who will just treat you like crap no matter what, but I suspect they treat just about everybody that way.

Thursday we spent traveling by bus from Sevilla to Lisboa. It was about a 6- or 7-hour-long trip. As we crossed the border, my friend Ian whipped out his guitar and the whole bus sang a rendition of “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” by Michel Teló (Watch the video here!). Sooo it’s Brazilian, but since we didn’t know any songs from Portugal we figured it was close enough.

Jammin' at the rest stop in PortugalAlways with the harmonica

That night we arrived in Lisboa, wandered around, and enjoyed pizza for dinner.  We found a place that was about to close (the Portuguese eat dinner earlier than the Spaniards), but they were really accommodating, and served up some great pizza! Afterwards we just hung out in the hotel.  We wanted to save our energy for Friday night!

It's a blurry Lisboa!Mmmmm Portuguese pizza!

Friday, after a GLORIOUS hotel breakfast buffet, all day was spent on a bus touring the city. We saw the most famous spots, which included a beautiful Cathedral and an impressive monument dedicated to those who discovered the New World and funded their voyages.

Did you know that Lisboa has a Golden Gate Bridge look-alike? It’s called the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) and was constructed by the same company that built the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, but its rusty red coloring is reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lisboa's "Golden Gate" Bridge

We then visited two other nearby towns: coastal Cascais (we went to the beach and then the Boca do Inferno or “Mouth of Hell”) and charming Sintra in the mountains.

Mouth of Hell, right sideMore from the Mouth of Hell
Yep that's a castle along the top ridge.

Friday night we went out to a traditional Portuguese restaurant to try the local cuisine (I enjoyed Caldo Verde (green soup) and Bacalhãu à Brás (a mix of cod, eggs, and thinly-sliced crispy french fries)).

Sopa VerdeBacalhao a Bras

Then, after taking an hour to figure out the Lisboa metro system and deciding what we wanted to do, we partied it up in the Bairro Alto — a giant grid in the city completely dedicated to getting people intoxicated.  It’s street after street after street of bars and clubs.  Have I mentioned that everything is legal in Portugal?  Well, it is.  All drugs are legal there, and the country is doing fine. So if you wanna party, the Bairro Alto is for you (and the name is definitely not a misnomer— we had to make our way up a steep hill to reach it)!  Another observation: they guys in Portugal are taller and broader than the Spaniards.  And much more flirtatious than the guys in Sevilla.  Sevillanos, y’all have gotta step up your game! You don’t wanna be shown up by the Portuguese do you?

MetrooooooNot THAT many people...Ok it was packed.

Saturday was a free day, and in the morning after yet another GLORIOUS breakfast, we went somewhere really, really cool: The Thieves Market.  It’s a giant flea market, where people come and lay out their blankets and their wares and set up their little shops and display the most random, eclectic collection of stuff I have ever seen.  You can find anything in the Thieves Market. I had a field day running around and looking at everything, but I didn’t end up buying anything.  I regret it though!  They had such cool things! For so CHEAP!! (The market lives up to its name: some items were definitely stolen… like beautiful tiles pried from the walls of the city… O_o)

Afterwards, we went in search of the restaurant Chapitô (that was a mission) for lunch, and Kevin and I accidentally ate our friends’ tapas because we had all ordered the same thing and they had brought it out combined on one plate.  It was only nine small pieces, so we thought it was one serving.  The moment when we realized what we’d done was horrifying and shameful. We paid for all of it, of course, but it was still so embarrassing!  After the fiasco at Chapitô, we headed back down into town and ate at a famous pastry shop while we waited for everyone else to show up.  We were all being taken by API to go watch a Fado performance.  Fado is Portugal’s national music.  It usually involves a woman who is singing in the saddest way imaginable— it sounds like she’s crying as she sings.  She’s accompanied by a Portuguese guitar, which, as I’ve said before, is a really cool instrument and deserves to get more attention.  After the performance we went to a market to get snacks and alcohol (what else do you need?), then had dinner at a really classy establishment: McDonald’s.  I’m proud to say I only ordered a McFlurry.  I had a bocadillo in my backpack that I had made that morning at the hotel breakfast, so that’s what I ate for dinner.  We went back to the hotel and ended up playing charades and drinking the whole entire night.
Trolleys!!LisboaaaaaI had to be sneaky to get a pic of FadoKeeping it classy. Mickey D's.

Saúde!

Sunday: That’s the one anecdote I have from Lisboa that deserves its very own individual post. Here’s a preview: tears of despair and abandonment were involved.

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