Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lisbon, Portugal: Couchsurfing the Capital during Carnaval

Synopsis: Last minute decision (a few days before) to use a three-day weekend for travel and I want to go to Portugal. Porto, Faro, or Lisbon? RyanAir times don't work for me so I'm gonna have to pay a bit more. Let's go to couchsurfing to see if I can find a host. Hmmm, got a response in Lisbon, guess I'm going there! And this will be my first time staying with someone from couchsurfing.

Trip Overview:
Day 1: Land in Lisbon in the late morning and I hail a taxi. I am trying to speak spanish to the cab driver, who is nice about it, but tells me, in broken english, that they speak portugese and I am saying everything wrong. He tries to drop me off and I say I don't see the house and he is just pointing. The cab fare is 8€ so I give him a 10€ and say keep the change. He directs me to stay in the cab and then drives me the extra distance to the actual place of my host, in Alfama. Money talks!

So, I'm in a pretty sketch neighborhood and I manage to figure out which house is my host's and I ring the doorbell. Apparently, I woke him up and he tells me to come in. He introduces me to his other surfer, Diana, from the Philippines, who is touring Europe. She arrived last night and has no plans today so I invite her to walk around the city with me.

First we head to São Jorge (St. George) castle. It offers an impressive view of the city and there are peacocks all over. From there we go down to the Praça do Comércio, the main square, and go down to the harbor. We sit with all the teenagers and tourists, watching the boats go by.

Thoughts: I won't describe in too much detail about my host's place, but it is not the most well-kept apartment. There is also no heat, and my "couch" that I surf on is actually a mattress in the attic, accessible only by a ladder (yes, a legit ladder). I slept with all my clothes on, including my shoes, because of the lack of heat and the uncleanliness of the place.

My new pose for pictures. The Superman

The Alfama neighborhood, where we stayed

If you've seen me at work, you know I like to imitate the peacock with my wardrobe

Castello Saint Jorge

Me and a fellow couch surfer, Diana

Praça do Comércio

These dudes were at the crib every night...can afford to party without a job!

Yeah, we were in the hood. That was our grill

Sometimes when you couchsurf you don't get luxury

Day 2: Today, I decide to take the hop on/off bus and tour around the city. Diana wants to tag along as well. We walk down to the blue line stop, Santa Apolónia, and grab a bite at a cafe while we wait for the next bus to arrive. The bus takes us along the coast up to the Oceanarium and to Torre de Vasco de Gama, where we can see the Vasco de Gama bridge, Europe's longest bridge. We don't get off the bus, but continue back into town to Parque Eduardo VII. We get off the bus here and walk around the park a bit and take photos. We jump back on the bus and finish the azul route at Praça do Comércio.

There are hundreds of people at the square and we go toward the crowds. Come to find out, it is a Carnaval celebration. There is music and a parade going on. We enjoy the parade as different groups go through with dancing and instruments and dressed in costumes, or promoting some cause written in Portuguese, or representing some organization. It was really interesting. Then we walk up Rua Augusta to catch the next tour bus. We wait there for well over an hour before a bus arrives. Then, the driver tells us that because of Carnaval, the buses aren't running anymore. So, we continue up Rua Augusta until we are at Praça Dom Pedro IV, where there is a free concert and people dressed up everywhere. We hang out for a bit and eat dinner before heading back home.

Thoughts: It is nice to have someone traveling with you so they can take photos of you. I did not know it was Carnaval! And my host didn't say anything and didn't help me to embrace or enjoy the festivities. Not so good of a host...

Taking a tour bus around the city

Carnaval di Lisboa

Part of the parade

Never seen a roman numeral "IIII" before.

Concert at Praça Dom Pedro IV

Day 3: Today, we have to do the other half of the bus tour, the red line. We jump on and ride it all the way until we get to Jerónimos Monastery and we get off there. There is a market setup in front of it and lots of people in the park. We walk through the market, but don't buy anything. Cross over the pedestrian bridge to Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and we get off to go take photos. We are able to walk to Belém Tower and get photos there as well.

After we finish with the sight seeing, I go back to Corte Ingles mall and Diana heads back to the house to get dinner started. I don't buy anything but I just wanted to hang out away from the cold house for awhile. Once I head back, they have already started cooking but it is freezing inside the house. We eat and then I head up to bed.

Thoughts: Thankfully, it was sunny and clear skies. It is so much easier to enjoy the scenery when you can see it. Pretty much the whole day was spent on the tour.

Marquess of Pombal Square
Henry the Navigator's Jerónimos Monastery

Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)

Padrão dos Descobrimentos and Ponte 25 de Abril

Belém Tower

Makin dinner...notice the jackets cuz aint no heat in the house! 

Day 4: Head back to Brussels, to my clean house, and my rainy city.

Thoughts: Sad to leave the city of Lisbon, since I know there is so much more to discover, but happy to be out of that apartment.

Final Thoughts: So, I enjoyed my time in Lisbon, but it just wasn't spent quite the way I had hoped. I will definitely have to come back and experience it the way it should be, and I will plan further in advance so I'm not pressured to make a hasty (poor) decision. I am grateful to my host, but next time, I will make sure I get one that does a better job of helping me to discover the culture and doesn't have a home that antithesizes cleanliness! (yes, I made that word up). Basically, I got a place to stay, but I would have rather paid money to stay at a hotel and hired a guide to take me around and help me enjoy Carnaval the way it's supposed to be enjoyed!

Location: Lisbon, Portugal


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