Awesome start of the trip – flight was delayed by 3 hours, because our plane had to come in from Rome, and they had a sick crew member forcing them to return to the airport after takeoff. Sounds like fun.
While at the Luton Airport, I thought I would exchange some euro first since I was not very organized and didn’t do it earlier. Then I looked at the rate. 1£ = 1.17€. Nope. I knew airport exchanges are bad, but I didn’t know they are THAT bad. I later found 1£ = 1.35€ in central Lisbon (interbank rate was about 1.37, so that’s actually pretty good). It’s generally not a very good idea to do cash exchanges while travelling, since foreign ATM withdrawals usually give the best rates (usually interbank rate + 2.5% fees), but my situation was a bit special since I had to get rid of all my £s and close my UK bank account, etc.
Three hours flight and half an hour of AeroBus later, I made it to Praça dos Restauradores, a square in central Lisbon dedicated to their independence after decades of Spanish occupation in the 1600s.
Can you spot the hostel in the picture? Neither could I. It took me about 15 minutes to find it, but it’s right in the centre of the picture. For some reason, hostels always have tiny tiny entrances.
A beautiful, young, and very friendly Polish girl showed me to the room (that’s all for now for the description of the girl, but she will come up again later in the story).
It wasn’t my first time staying at a hostel, but it was my first time actually sharing room with strangers, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
What I absolutely did not expect, though, is to have a 4-hours long conversation with a stranger about everything from our favourite books, to travel, to politics, to violin-playing, purpose of life, self-confidence, and social psychology. And that’s exactly what happened.
Meet German girl #1. She’s from Hamburg, and travelling to figure out what to do with her life. She is pretty awesome.
PS. I am not including names in order to protect the guilty, but also so that people won’t know if I have forgotten their names already.
PS2. If you are reading this, no, Hannah, I have not forgotten your name :).
PS3. Sorry I’m also not including pictures of people, because 1) that’s creepy, and 2) privacy and stuff. You’ll just have to take my words for it – they are beautiful people, unless otherwise specified (there WILL be people later in the story who are otherwisely-specified to not be beautiful).
There was also a German guy (German guy #1). He was slightly older, and works with special needs kids in Germany. I didn’t get to talk to him much unfortunately, because he had to go to bed early to catch an early flight. He was gone when I woke up the next morning. He did give me the last of his awesome Portuguese egg tarts, though.
The next morning, I joined a tour organized by the hostel to Sintra (an old town close to Lisbon). I love it when hostels organize tours. Saves me all the research. It seems like hostels that target solo travellers do this more.
Our tour guide (a guy from the hostel) is a Portuguese guy (Portuguese guy #1) from rural Portugal. He is still in his early 20s, and just finished his degree in international commerce (IIRC), and wanted to learn more about people and their different cultures from all around the world. What better way to do that than working at a hostel? So that’s what he is doing now. Funny guy. Not sure if his going bald has something to do with the job as well, but he didn’t mind, so that’s all good.
Also on the tour were Moroccan girl #1, Australian guy #1, Australian guy #2, and Bostonian guy #1. I didn’t talk to the Australian guys much unfortunately. Bostonian #1 is a life coach. I am still not entirely sure what exactly is it that he does, but it sounded fascinating. Something about helping people making/breaking habits. He is also a fitness trainer.
Moroccan girl #1 does international marketing back home, and is also deeply passionate about politics in that region. I didn’t join that conversation since I know next to nothing about Moroccan and Middle Eastern politics. Sounded intense, though. She also speaks fluent Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and tried to speak French to me upon learning that I am Canadian. That didn’t go very well. Also, apparently 14 hours work-days are normal in Morocco. I’m glad I don’t live there…
Sintra was pretty nice. It’s an old and historical town on a mountain, where many famous poets and writers once lived. Many Portuguese people see it as a spiritual place, and every night, a bunch of people would go up there to perform weird rituals or black magic, etc, often involving drugs, making it slightly unsafe for normal people to visit. But just like all dangerous and mysterious places, it has become a popular place for adventurous teenagers to sneak into at night. It also has a medieval royal palace that is now a museum.
We ended up having Portuguese food at a local Portuguese place (how do you know the restaurant is local? easy. They don’t speak English!). Huge pieces of catfish + beetroot rice + random veggies, for about 6€. Not bad at all! The tour guide said it’s so good that he doesn’t mind going there 3 times a week (every time he does the tour).
In Portugal, they will always bring side dishes (cheese, olives, breads, etc) as soon as you sit down. However, unlike in North America, that’s not free! You are supposed to refuse them if you don’t want them. Usually they are 1€ or 2€, and are basically treated as tips.
As the day drew to a close, we stopped by a pastry place where the deserts were so yummy that I forgot to take pictures.
Capo da Roca, the most western point of Europe… and where Australian guy #1 slipped and almost died.
“Where the land ends and the sea begins” – Luís de Camões (1525-1580)
To be continued…