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Wandering in Portugal
Rating: (5.0) (8 votes)

Lisbon, Portugal
2nd December 2004

Pros : Beautiful scenery
Cons : None

Spent my last hours in Dublin at the mall, of all places, during the opening weekend of the Christmas season. I was looking for a place to eat breakfast, and here’s a travel tip for Dublin – I’ve been staying in the center of town, right on the River Liffey, on the main roadway through Dublin, and this is not a town that caters to the modern man. There are fewer ATMs, convenience stores and restaurants here than in even the small town of Killarney. I actually had to walk 15 minutes just to find an ATM and a place to buy cigarettes! Anyway, I headed for the soup shop where I’d gotten breakfast the previous day (10 minutes’ walk from the hostel) only to find it closed at 11:00 on a Saturday morning. So I walked further on, to the huge shopping area of Mary Street. I went into the shopping mall there for food, and ended up spending several hours and too much money in the bookstore.

With my belly full and my monster backpack on me, I waited for the bus (15 minutes late) and went to the airport. I managed to read an entire book (there was a lot of waiting around) before I finally arrived in Faro, a little town at the southern end of Portugal that I’d never heard of.

I got a taxi from the airport, and thank God I did! The directions online said it was just a 1 km walk, but I had my backpack weighed today at the airport, and I needed a taxi! Turns out the pack is 19.6 kg – that’s 43 pounds – and my shoulder bag is at least another 15 pounds. No wonder walking on travel days is torturous! Once I saw the route from the airport, I was convinced that it had been worth whatever the cost was (11€) – I would have ended up walking along a busy highway for 20 minutes.

When I got into the room, I was stunned. In all my years, I’ve only ever stayed in a nicer room than this – the room in Vegas at the Mirage, which cost $150 a night!

Here are the specifics: There are two twin beds pushed together to form a queen sized bed, with linens provided; a mini-fridge with an honor bar (booze, beer, soda, snacks); a TV (all but the BBC channel in Portuguese and German, but so what); a huge closet; a desk (where I’m writing this entry); I can smoke in the room (in Ireland, they have California-style smoking laws, so I couldn’t smoke anywhere); and, finally, a bathroom with a tub and – get ready for this – a bidet! There’s even a restaurant, where I had a yummy dinner of ½ chicken with bread and salad, plus two beers, for 9€ (my breakfast this morning cost more than that). If there was free wireless internet, I’d stay here for 2 weeks!

All of this for 34€ a night. This is how I’m traveling from now on…

Yesterday was another travel day. The train ride was uneventful, except for the beauty of the scenery. I actually saw 6 rainbows over Faro as we left town!

Once again, the first nice weather was on the day that I spent on the train. Faro was a little dull, and until today the weather was lousy. I was expecting it to be warm and sunny, but it’s been just the opposite. There was one thing I wanted to see – a “bone chapel” in a church, built from the exhumed bones of 5,000 dead monks – but I couldn’t find it. Plus, this being Europe, I’m sure I’ll find more of them!

I arrived in Lisbon and took another taxi (I’m getting used to traveling in style) to the hostel. The driver wasn’t quite sure where the place was, but we eventually found it. I got to the room, and it’s like a coffin compared to the last room. It does have more TV channels in English, so that’s nice, but other than that it isn’t all that great for 40€ a night.

I’ll be here until Monday, when I make my way to Spain, a country where I can at least understand the language. Portuguese is like a modified version of Spanish, but it’s so greatly modified that the spoken form is unintelligible to me. I can sort of understand written Portuguese, but not enough to really be comfortable. Luckily, just about everyone I’ve encountered so far (even the beggars on the street in Faro) have spoken enough English that I can communicate when I need to.

03 Dec 2004

Lisbon, Portugal I’ve made a terrific discovery – I can play foreign DVDs on my laptop! DVDs are encoded differently for different parts of the world, so I’ve wondered if I’d be able to watch videos. I was in a store and saw some cheap videos, and I bought a copy of “The Beach,” with Leonardo DiCaprio. I got it back to the room, and it worked! Now I don’t have to rely on foreign-language TV when I get bored, and I don’t have to worry about finding a good book every time I travel – I can pick up a few good videos and have entertainment on demand!

I also saw a movie in the cinema tonight – “Open Water” – and didn’t find it nearly as scary as I expected. In fact, I came out of it with the idea that I need to get scuba certified on this trip – I’m going to be at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, a place that divers wait their whole lives to go to, so I ought to learn how to enjoy it!

05 Dec 2004

Lisbon, Portugal

I’m finally seeing some of this city, and I’m glad now that I decided to come to Portugal. Lisbon is crammed full of cool sights and lots of history. The place has been around forever, and it looks it. At the same time, it’s got enough modern touches to balance it out.

While hanging out at the train station to make my reservations for my trip to Spain, I came upon a new area developed on the riverside for the World Expo in 1998. It’s thoroughly modern in this medieval city, with an enormous bridge that crosses the Tagus River.

Once my reservations were made (with my train pass I only paid 28€ for a 120€ cabin in an overnight train) I did some sightseeing around town. While I was waiting for the bus, I saw a protest in one of the downtown squares – it was a bunch of Ukrainians protesting the elections there! I had seen the same thin (only larger) in Faro, but I hadn’t recognized the orange banners and blue and white flags until today. I guess it is a small world!

There’s a castle at the top of a hill with amazing views of the city below. The place is completely open to the public – the first time I’ve been to a castle where there were no areas that were off-limits to visitors. In the case of this one, some of it should have been – the stairways were steep and the step too narrow, and there were no guardrails in the places where there should have been. The views were awesome, and the location was obviously the perfect place for a defensive castle – high up on a hill, with panoramic views across the river and the surrounding countryside.

As the sun was going down, I walked down into town and along the river to the ferry piers. I watched the sun go down behind the longest suspension bridge in Europe – it looks a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge, actually.

Tomorrow night I leave for Madrid – I’ll be there for a while, waiting for the Indian Embassy to process my travel visa for the trip there. From what I’ve seen the weather there isn’t so great, but I guess it’ll have to do!