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Archive for the ‘Portugal’ Category

6/10/10: Lisbon, Portugal

Two important things are occurring in the world today:

  1. It’s my southern hemisphere birthday
  2. It’s Portugal Day

If my math is correct, the southern hemisphere takes up about half of the world’s surface and Portugal takes up about 1/5,000th of the world’s surface. Therefore we had a 50.02% chance of celebrating something today, yet despite these good odds, I have never had any reason to celebrate on June 10. It’s been as depressing as flipping a coin 24 times and calling tails each time, only to always have it come up heads. Kids, the lesson today is to never give up – one day your coin will land tails. Here, on my 25th try, I’ve finally come through. We’re in Portugal!

We wanted to celebrate the monumental occasion by doing something we’ve never done before, so we picked a day trip to Belem, home of some custard tarts that had been hyped up to us as the best food in Portugal. (Because it is Portugal Day and not my half-birthday, Zhou had some say in the reward; thus, the custard tarts.) But before Zhou got to the tarts, we had a few other stops to make, two of which I have deemed worthy of blog inclusion. Sorry Jeronimos Monestary, Padrao Dos Descobrimentos, mediocre garden and delicious Chinese restaurant – you’re all cut. You too, small lighthouse. Go home.

First, we spent some time at the Tower de Belem, an 500-year-old castle-like tower on the riverfront.

Normally we wouldn’t think about paying to enter places like this, but remember what day it is… entrance was free! The most interesting thing about the four-story tower was that it only contained one staircase – a cramped, dark, tiny staircase not fit for people walking in both directions. And because we weren’t the only ones who enjoy free things (read: the tower was packed with tourists), it sure made for some long ascents and descents, and some passes of other tourists that sure made me glad it wasn’t a nudist tower.

The only time we had enough room for me to take a picture.

The only reason I’m including this stop, though, is because I really like some of the pictures we took. Check them out.

The river spills into the Atlantic not to far from here.

View of the first floor from the top.

Me, hanging out a castle window.

Did you find Zhou?

Our next blog-worthy rendezvous was with the Berardo collection at the Centro Cultural de Belem. This was some rich guy’s massive modern art collection, and once again, entrance was free! Right off the bat I could tell I would like this place, as the first exhibit we came to was a big colorful room devoted to music.

The best part though? The piece was interactive – you could actually play all the instruments on the floor of the room!

I'm like New Radicals!

Right next to this masterpiece was another colorful room done by the same artist (Eric Corne). Unfortunately we couldn’t touch this piece, but we could photograph it, so have a look.

Despite what the awesome photography work would have you believe, this house is not on the floor, but high up on the wall.

See it, up in the upper left?

The back wall, decorated with Christmas of varying brightnesses.

After this exhibit things went downhill quickly for Zhou. The exhibit contained a series of images and videos that had her so creeped out that she had to leave before I had finished looking at all the rooms. Later she saw a statue that had body parts where they shouldn’t be (legs instead of arms, a head coming out from between two other legs, feet all over the place – I’m pretty sure it was representing birth), and she refused to look at it. As we walked through the room, I had to strategically position myself to be directly in between Zhou and the statue – as if I were the earth, Zhou the moon, and the statue the sun during a lunar eclipse. Shortly after that she came up to me practically in tears after watching an exhibit that picked up a pile of clothes higher and higher until suddenly letting them fall to the floor with a thud (her guess was that it represented someone dying repeatedly). This is what happened when I went to watch the exhibit and the clothes started to rise, creating a ghostlike shape.

Z (hiding behind me): I can’t watch!
K: Why, what happens?
Z: It’s scary.
K: It can’t be that bad, can it?
Z: I know, but it scared me.
K: Now I don’t want to watch! All that’s going to happen is the clothes fall to the floor though, right?
Z: Just watch.
K: Now I don’t want to.
Z: It’s fine, it just scared me.

Thud! The clothes crashed to the floor with a loud bang. The old couple watching next to us simply laughed. Zhou remained hidden behind me. I didn’t take a picture of this one because I didn’t want Zhou to remember it when we looked back on our trip.

Eventually though, we left the museum. I bet by this point you’re all wondering how the custard tarts were.

We survived the long line and got a pack of four.

Zhou’s review: mediocre, at best.

[Editor’s Note: Tomorrow’s post will be a mind-bending celebration: our last Puzzles for Postcards. For those of you who like these, come early and solve quickly. For those of you who don’t, please don’t waste your time by dropping by at all. Come back on Tuesday for our first post from Egypt!]
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Pictures of the Day: Dueling pictures of me on top of another interactive art exhibit.

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6/9/10: Lisbon, Portugal

Ah, Lisbon. (If you can’t tell, that was my way of starting a post that I have no idea how to start. I’ll admit that this is a bit of a departure for me, as it’s normally the endings I have trouble with.)

Having been sick and dying (read: mildly ill with a cold) the day before this, I really hadn’t gotten to see much of Lisbon the city. Luckily, I was in luck, because a) the cheap medicine Kevin so thoughtfully bought and forced down my throat actually worked, which means I woke up this morning cheerful and sore-throat-free and b) Kevin had forgotten to take his youth card to the castle yesterday, which meant we could go together today!

So we made our way through the narrow streets and up the hill to St. George’s Castle. We remembered our youth cards, so we did get in half price. Here’s where I’d like to tell you a little bit about the background of St. George’s Castle. But I can’t. Because I don’t know anything about it. What I can surmise though, is that no princess ever lived there. Because there were no ceilings in the castle, and you know what princesses hate more than anything else? A castle with no ceilings. It ruins their hair. And since it’s obvious that there weren’t ever any princesses there, this means I can also surmise that there weren’t ever any scary, fire-breathing, princess-guarding dragons there either. Which is a major bummer.

Tiny Zhou.

And tiny Kevin.

The castle had a bunch of tall walls that you could walk along, so we made a complete square, making sure to stop at every turret.

Tall Kevin.

We also played a game that I made up, which I called, “The One Who Finds the Most Snails Wins.” That was a fun game. Which/Because (choose one) I won. Kevin claims I had an advantage because I was walking in front of him and could see the snails before he could. Can you believe this? Kevin beats me in every single competition that we have! AT LEAST LET ME HAVE SNAILS, DARN IT!

Snail number one.

(Hey, do you remember at the beginning of this post where I said I usually have trouble with writing ends to posts? It’s happened again. Kevin wants to get this post uploaded to the blog, and I have been lying here for 10 minutes trying to think of a way to finish it, but all I really want to do is take a nap. So to make us both happy, I’ll tell him this post is finished and just succumb to my napping desire. This means this post has no real ending. Sorry about that. If it makes you feel better, it wouldn’t have been very good anyway.)

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Picture of the Day: Lisbon is famous for its tiles.

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6/8/10: Lisbon, Portugal

You didn’t think I could stop with only two masterpieces in the Homeless Kevin series, did you? Like Jason Bourne, Mission Impossible and a moderately hungry customer at an all-you-can-eat buffet, I’m back for a third and final time. Let’s cut right to the story, because like Lord of the Rings III, it’s a long one.

Sneeze. Cough. Cough. “I think I’m dying,” wheezed Zhou when she woke up this morning. “I’ll get you some cheap medicine,” I replied. I made a quick run to the nearest pharmacy, knocked out Zhou with some drowsy pills and then headed out the door, excited to have the whole day to myself.

In a bit of a rough start to the day, I immediately got lost among the hilly Lisbonian streets that put even San Francisco to shame. I was definitely somewhere on my map, but it lacked the detail necessary to help me out, so I simply pushed forward into the unknown. As it turned out, my first stop ended up being some church or nice-looking building or something.

Fortunately for me, once I found this I knew that I was very close to the flea market that I was trying to get to. (Funny how whenever Zhou’s not around I do the one thing I enjoy least: shop.)

This market was known as the Thieves’ Market, but if it were up to me I would have named it the Garage Sale of Crap, because I’m pretty sure the local merchants simply put down a blanket or table and try to sell off all the junk they don’t need anymore from home. (Of course, the Thieves’ Market could be a reference to the fact that they steal the junk from other people’s homes.)

Of course I didn’t end up buying anything here, but I did manage to take a picture of me in front of some famous Portuguese tiles.

From this market, I strolled over to a series of lookouts over the city. The first one I came to was described by our hostel as the most thigh-punishing, but worth the climb for the view. I took one look at my massive thighs and knew the climb wouldn’t be a problem. Check out the payoff:

Not too shabby, but at that point I wished there was some blue sky to brighten things up. Oh well. I then headed down to TPV’s baby cousin: non-thigh-punishing view.

I’m sure by now you’ve noticed my indigenous iPod earbuds from Hong Kong have made the journey all the way to Portugal. I didn’t want to wear them two days ago in Madrid because I knew my senses needed to be on high alert for pickpockets, but here I was able to bring them out again. (The music du jour? Matt Wertz in the morning and Michael Jackson later in the afternoon.) Anyway, my travels then took me the long way to St. George’s Castle (as seen in the background of the picture from the first lookout), allowing me to pass things such as streets decorated for the upcoming holiday,

flower pot-lined staircases,

and even red doors.

Unfortunately I forgot my student card and didn’t want to pay full price to get into the castle, so that excursion will be saved for another day. Right about this time though, my stomach began growling, so I decided to make my way back to the hostel to check on Zhou. On the way though, I popped into another large church, this one with quite intimidating dark front doors.

Zhou was still fast asleep in bed, so my adventure continued into the afternoon. But first, lunch from the same place we ate at yesterday. This cafe had a tourist menu, but I chose to go with something more local and more unknown, and I was quite relieved when I was served some sort of delicious meatballs and mashed potatoes. If only Zhou were here to share my triumph of the lunch menu…

After lunch I boarded Tram 28, a cable car that one reviewer on TripAdvisor described by saying, “if you do anything in Lisbon, take this tram ride!”

The ride itself was decent, albeit very herky-jerky, but there was one problem. I thought it would do a big loop and drop me back off where I started, but instead it finished somewhere a ways off my map. And I really didn’t want to pay to get on another tram back into the city. What to do?

After taking a minute to sum up all my inner creativity to avoid paying the extra 1.40€, I figured out a solution: follow the cable car tracks back!

These tracks eventually led me back onto the map, where I stumbled around aimlessly past a plethora of gardens, churches and interesting architecture. I passed the time climbing up spiderweb ropes on the playground,

stopping by the Palace of the National Assembly, where some important people were arriving to a symphony of trumpets and a gaggle of cops,

and enjoying the view of one of the city’s touristy funiculars. No, I did not get on this one.

Toward the end of the day I thought about throwing some Smart Cars into canals, but then thought better of it.

As my day was nearing its end, I found myself in a small mall close to our hostel. Of course one store called out to me in particular:

Surprisingly there was nothing there for me, but while sniffing the new shoes (I love that smell!) I got to thinking about this blog post. It came to me that one place had tied the last two posts together, even though they occurred half-a-world apart. It’s really the only thing that unites people from all over the world around one common goal. I quickly headed upstairs to the food court, where I knew that one had to be waiting for me. Even though it was now 4pm, this place was still quite crowded, but crowds are something you grow to love at this food haven. I waited in the back of the line, and just a few minutes later I finished a great day in the perfect way: with an M&M McFlurry.

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Puzzles for Postcards

Rhyme Time! Solve all three of these European geography triple rhymes.

The soft, warm jacket one’s brother’s daughter bought outside the Parthenon
A dwelling for Travelocity’s mascot near the Colosseum
A country in the United Kingdom Fedexes small, sharp objects it bought at Home Depot
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Picture of the Day: My favorite picture from my romp around the city today.

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A Hostel Life

6/7/10: Lisbon, Portugal

It’s June 7, 2010 – which means we’re almost at the nine-month mark on on trip. Which means we’ve stopped counting the firsts on our trip, and now we’re counting the lasts. And this morning marked a very important and very special last for us: our last night sleeping in an airport.

Now, it’s important to note that I pretty much spent the entire day yesterday sleeping (/pretending to be deathly ill when I was only medium-ly ill) at our hostel, and if the subway here opened up earlier than 6am, I would have spent most of last night sleeping at our hostel as well. But unfortunately, with a 7:30am flight and a half hour metro ride, we decided to play it safe and spend the night at the airport. As airport sleeping amenities go, last night would have been one of the better nights. We found a quiet spot with a cushioned bench, listened to a Hamish and Andy podcast together, and then Kevin promptly fell asleep. I stayed awake. I don’t know if it was the unexpectedly plush surroundings or my sore throat or maybe some leftover airport-sleeping-angst from our night in Lima, but I stayed awake the entire night. So it’s with happiness that I announce that our last airport sleeping night on the trip (and perhaps ever – hopefully!) was not too bad, given the circumstances. Now – let’s move on to better topics.

Our hostel in Lisbon.

A picture of our room at Yes! Lisbon Hostel courtesy of Hostelworld.

Our picture of the same room.

Don’t let our picture fool you. Yes! Lisbon is one of the best hostels we’ve stayed at on our trip so far (my personal favorite is still Han Tang Inn). Upon arriving this morning at 9am, we checked in and were given yellow bracelets with our bed numbers on them. Your bracelet unlocks the front door, the door to your room, and the storage locker underneath your bed. Did you hear that? A storage locker under your bed that is opened electronically BY YOUR BRACELET. That blew my mind. (Hey, it’s the small things.) Yes! Lisbon (I love typing that) is also pretty cheap; our dorm beds cost us 13 Euros each. I especially love the privacy curtains and the fact that each bed has its own individual reading light. Yes! Lisbon also offers a dinner menu every night for eight Euros (soup, appetizer, main course, dessert and three drinks), which I’m sure we’ll be partaking in at some point during our stay.

Having stayed in lots of hostels over the past nine months, Kevin and I have really learned to appreciate the hosteling lifestyle. This has been especially clear to us over the past few days, when we stayed in a place that was more of a hotel than a hostel. There was no common area to sit and chat with other travelers. It didn’t have a book exchange, a kitchen or laundry facilities. And you know what we missed the most? Hostel staff. Hostels’ staffs know everything about a city – they know where the nearest grocery store is, where all the good restaurants are, what events are going on at a certain time – and more importantly, they’re happy to sit down with you and answer as many questions as you want. In fact, they usually want to sit down with you and help you plan out your stay. But in Madrid, we had to actually plan out our days in by ourselves (gasp!), and we never asked the guy in charge any questions. Now that we’re back in a real hostel in Lisbon, that’s all going to change. (What’s a good place for a cheap lunch? We’ve got three days – what are some of the things should see? Where’s a good place to watch the World Cup opening match? How do you say “thank you” in Portuguese?)

As for Lisbon itself – well, it’s no Madrid, but it’s still a lovely city. And as soon as we leave our hostel and actually see some of it, we’ll tell you how it is.
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Picture of the Day: Trams are just one small part of Lisbon’s charm.

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