Alternative titles for this post:
- DO NOT Take Shortcuts Through Portugal
- Getting Lost in Portugal
- I Better Have the Cutest Butt After All These Stairs
- Where Did I Get All These Maps?
- Where Are We & How Do We Get Back on the Map?
- All I Want to do is Eat
What was supposed to be a nice, easy, relaxing few days in Portugal turned out to be really anything but. There’s a sign at the bus stop beside my apartment that advertises “24 Hour Bus Service to the Airport” and silly me assumed that the 106 bus to Barajas was the advertised direct bus to Madrid Barajas Airport – wrong. So, an hour before the check-in for our flight was due to close, Diana and I found ourselves in front of an elementary school in the middle of nowhere which was apparently the end of the bus’ route. Refusing to panic (I was panicking a little, thank God for Diana’s unwavering composure), we asked for directions to the nearest metro stop and prayed for a taxi to accidentally wander past the oddly located school. After walking a mile or two with our luggage, we finally found a taxi and paid an unreasonable amount for the 5 minutes ride to the airport. But we made it, with minutes to spare, and navigating Madrid’s international airport and finding the gate was painless in comparison. Also, I’m pretty sure we were the only two people going through security who took our shoes off and I think the security people laughed at us.
We flew into the Lisbon Airport and from there to the metro to the city center, where we switched over to a train that would take us to Sintra, which is a beautiful small town northwest of Lisbon. In Sintra, Diana and I met up with her friend from back home in California, Yadira and one of Yadira’s friends from her study abroad program in France. While in Sintra we visited Cabo da Roca, which is the westernmost point of the European continent and hiked the cliffs a little bit and enjoyed the sunny, if not altogether warm, Portuguese coastal weather. The Portuguese coast is absolutely beautiful and I wish I could go back in the summer when it’s warmer.
After our adventure to the beach, Yadira and her friend Grayson were tired so Diana and I decided to go explore the nearby Quinta de Regaleira, which is probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. The estate is huge (it covers like 4 or 5 hectares) and Diana and I spent several hours exploring (I use “exploring” as a euphemism for “getting hopelessly lost in”) the mansion, chapel, and gorgeous extensive gardens. We alternated between comparing the property to a fairyland and the perfect setting for a slasher/horror movie. A heads up to anyone planning on visiting the Quinta de Regaleira: bring a flashlight! The whole place is connected by underground tunnels that I unfortunately did not get to experience because my vision is less than useful in the dark. Also, you may not want to discuss horror movies too thoroughly beforehand because the tunnels see much more sinister when you walk past them and think “this is where the murderer could hide” or “this would be the perfect place to hack up bodies” or “this is the part where I’d die.”
Afterwards we ate at this super authentic Portuguese diner restaurant, which was owned by an older couple who spoke absolutely no English or Spanish. Diana and I ended up splitting an entire chicken which was incredibly delicious and called Frango de Churrasco. It was SO COLD at night in Sintra, so we went back to the hostel where Diana and I had awkwardly online-booked a private double room (which we were led to believe was a private room with two beds, but was, in fact, equipped with one double bed). As luck would have it, however, because the hostel didn’t have any sort of heating system, snuggling with my roommate definitely saved us both from hypothermia.
The next day we visited the Palacio da Pena with Yadira and Grayson. For those of you planning on visiting it, TAKE THE BUS. If you try to walk/hike it, it’ll either take you the whole day or you’ll be so tired that you won’t want to see the actual palace. Also, prepare to feel a little queasy after the bus ride up. The Palacio was one of the most interesting castles I’ve ever seen and I felt like it was very Portuguese in that it was several different colors and styles all mixed together to form a very unique piece of architecture. It also boasts a gorgeous view of Sintra and the surrounding area and I definitely recommend taking the walk around the castles walls.
Afterwards, we parted ways with Yadira and Grayson and took a train back to Lisbon. While trying to find the way to our hostel (which involved a lot of map reading and getting lost – have you noticed a theme?), I quite literally bumped into my roommate from Arizona. She’s currently studying abroad in France and it turned out that she was spending her Spring Break in Portugal with some of her friends from France. It was probably the craziest coincidence that has happened to either of us and I still can’t really believe it. We decided to meet up later that evening for dinner and drinks and Diana and I finally found our way to the hostel (which took an hour and a half longer than it should have) and met up with the rest of our group from Madrid. Have I mentioned yet that Portugal (Lisbon, in particular) is probably the hardest place to navigate? There are so many stairs and steep uphill climbs and never before have I been such a fan of gridded city planning. Around 8 o’clock we left to meet Natalie and her friends in the center, armed with three different maps so we could find our way back to the hostel later. We hopped around from place to place for dinner, trying Portuguese tapas and sangria and ending up in Bairro Alto which is apparently the district in Lisbon known especially for it’s nightlife. We were told that drinking and socializing in the streets rather than in bars or clubs is very typical for the Portuguese nightlife and I loved it! It was a lot of fun meeting locals and hanging out with my old roomie.
The next day, our whole Madrid crew decided to go to Belém and one of the beaches that was recommended to us by people at the hostel. A tram and a couple trains later, we’d had lunch, the best pastéis de Belém, and saw the sunset at Pedro do Sal beach. It was a really nice, relaxing day and I definitely realize why Portugal is so well known for its pastries.