Cheers to the First Weekend Abroad while Abroad!

Trip Start Sep 01, 2013
Trip End Dec 20, 2013

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Flag of Portugal  , Estremadura,
Monday, September 16, 2013

This first trip abroad from Spain will be hard to beat. I've set the bar high very early on (this was only my second weekend here in Europe.) Lisbon is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been. What I loved most were the hills. The antique city with narrow, winding streets is built up from the water. By making it to the top of the city, I could see down to the beautiful water and sailboats below. 

Imagine San Francisco - then imagine San Francisco being built around 800 years before it actually was, according to the random dispersion of buildings seen in so may other European cities. What you have is Lisbon! Lisbon is full of old fashioned trolleys and even has a bridge that closely resembles the Golden Gate. The similarity is slightly bizarre.

The group of friends I traveled with this weekend were all from Butler. Nearly our whole group came on this trip to Lisbon. I'm happy to say the group has been getting along very well so far, which is good considering we are sort of dependent on each other to be friends this semester. Instead of flying to Portugal, we all took a coach bus. Lisbon is only about 7 hours away from Madrid, and the bus was much cheaper than a flight. The busses were overnight options to allow us more time to explore during daylight. Unfortunately it was not a very comfortable ride and I didn't sleep much, but I won't complain too much since taking the bus to Lisbon saved a bunch of money! 

The bus departed Thursday from Madrid at 9pm and arrived in Lisbon (one hour behind) at 4am. Half the group went ahead and booked the hostel for Thursday night so they could sleep. I choose to go with the other group to explore the city during sunrise! We were luckily able to lock up our bags in the basement of the Hostel. We could then check into the Hostel at 1pm. It was a long, tired 8 hours exploring the new city, and we all really needed showers bad after the hot bus ride. We ended up finding several awesome places that made the choice worthwhile. 

 The first adventure in Lisbon was watching the sunrise over the bay. My friends and I sat right up against the water bordering the most historical part of the city in this giant plaza and saw the European sun rise above the mountains to the east. Our first few hours there were slightly eery because the place was still dark and nobody was out. At about 7am on the dot, however. The trollies started moving about and people burst out from every which way! Its a very active place. 

One of my favorite parts of Lisbon was how easy it was to explore. The entire historical part of the city is very walkable, although hilly. Everywhere I turned there was a new staircase leading up to the next street which was at the level of the roof of the buildings below it. My group decided we would try to climb up to the top of the city to get a better view, and we would never have guessed what we found: 

The very top of this hill in the ancient part of Lisbon is occupied by an old Moorish castle. We next spent several hours exploring the castle. We received a discount on admission by being students so it was only 4 Euros! This castle was built by the Moors in the 11th century. Just as Spain contains many remnants of the times it was controlled by the Moors from the south, so does Portugal. The castle is called The Castle of St. George and the entire city of Lisbon was eventually built around it. Its towers and terraces offered incredible view of the bay and city. Please make sure to look for those in the photo section

After the castle, It was time to check into the hostel. The Golden Tram Hostel we stayed in was right downtown in the historic portion of town. It was only 2 blocks from the main city square where we caught all of our public transportation. For only 15 euros/ night this place was amazing! The inside had been completely renovated in a modern theme marketed towards young travelers! Everything was bright orange, including the showers, which were complete with LED color-changing shower-heads that gave the appearance of taking a shower in colored water! Most entertaining showers I've ever had. They were like a mini rave. We got a free breakfast in the mornings and the kitchen/ lounge transformed into a bar at night! 

Friday afternoon was spent at a popular beach just outside Lisbon called Cascais. This quaint little beach town on the atlantic has now become a huge tourist center. The beach was crowded, but a great choice for the 90 degree day. I swam in the ocean for a bit (it was surprisingly cold), laid out on the sand, and played sand soccer with some other of the Butler folks and one local teenager named Fabio. 

Saturday was spent in Sintra. Sintra-Cascais National Park is a huge national park about a 45 minute train ride west of lisbon. It contains a large mountain range, which would be attraction enough for tourists. Beyond this however, It also is home several royal palaces and one castle stretching back to year 900. 

This area has obviously been a favorite of the royalty for quite some time. Being so close to the major center of Lisbon, Queens, Kings and their court could retreat to the mountains for a few days. Tourists come here and can simply take a bus through the mountains from one palace to the next seeing how the architecture has changed through the ages and based on the group who built them. It was very expensive to tour these sites, and my group only had a limited singular day there, so we decided to go to the Moorish castle built there on top of a mountain. I thought I was impressed by the castle in Lisbon, this one however, is almost too amazing for words. Please refer to the pictures for better detail. Climbing around inside this castle we could look down what felt like a mile to the small city of Sintra below, and far to the west, to the outskirts of Lisbon! It was one of the best views I have ever experienced in my life, aside from possibly Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. 

Most meals on the trip this weekend were quick, cheap sandwiches in a porteria (Portuguese bakery). Saturday night, however, we did go out for a nicer meal, and sat down to bread and olive oil, at a restaurant right on the main tourist street. The food was very good although portions were smaller than I'm used to. An accordion was being played out on the patio, and it felt like being in Italy if you ask me. 

Sunday, our last day, was spent going to the tower of Belem, An ancient defensive tower built hundreds of years ago with some of the most incredible architecture and intricate stonework I have ever seen. The tower rises out of the water by the cost slightly within the bay and used to be a prime location to spot enemy ships entering the bay from the atlantic. A tiny spiral staircase led up to the top, which offered more amazing views. The staircase was so small that only one direction could travel at a time! Red lights an green lights controlled the flow of people, which was interesting. 

After the tower, I went back to the Historical part of Lisbon and participated in a free walking hour of the city (advertised by the Hostel). Over half of the sites visited on the tour I had been to on our early Friday morning adventure all over the city (we really managed to see a lot that first day exploring by ourselves). The awesome benefit of the tour, however, was catching a little bit of the history behind all these impressive sites. As I learned, Most of the city of Lisbon has been rebuilt due to a massive earthquake in 1755. Only one small district remains called Alfama, and it was quite obvious that this portion of town is the oldest. I was fascinated that cars and little old ladies were still managing to climb the streets that were no wider than 12 feet. 

The ride back to Madrid was much easier than the first ride to Portugal. I managed to sleep several hours this time - possibly due to pure exhaustion from having such a jam packed weekend. We really didn't break much from the sightseeing. The bust arrived in Madrid this morning at 5:30am, and I was back to my apartment in Alcala by 7:30am. Class this morning at 10am was tough, but I snagged about an hour of sleep! Most importantly I left the weekend with no regrets, feel like I saw every thing I wanted to in Lisbon, and am utterly amazed at what must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world! 


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