Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Portugal travel letter: Lisbon

I arrive in Lisbon on Tuesday evening after some more shopping in London and a tiring flight. I don't know what it is about travelling. You sit on a plane and do nothing but end up being knackered. Getting to the hostel is easy, because they've done a good job at explaining and it costs only 3 euros, which is a nice change after paying 17.90 pounds only to get from Victoria station to Gatwick Airport.

The hostel is called Traveller's House and is, in one word, amazing. It looks really cute - more like someone's home than a hostel, they have an excellent choice of background music (very important for me) and the people here go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Make you feel at home. And it's a perfect place for solo travellers asthe whole communal area is so cozy that no one stays in their rooms. I stay in for the first night, because very conveniently there's a portuguese food tasting night.

On Wednesday i start my Lisbon day. One of the guys from the hostel - Joao, a slightly flirty and very attentive guy - gives me pointers of what he as a local suggests i should do in Lisbon. He really helps me with everything - where to go, which trams to take and where to buy the best pasteis. As it turns out, his information proves very helpful indeed.

I spend the whole morning wandering around Alfama, one of the oldest districts of Lisbon. They say Alfama has a slight North-African feeling to it so i keep comparing it to Marrakech. On one hand there are similarities, as the streets really are maze-like and seem to lead to nowhere and it's easy to get lost. On the other hand, it's cleaner and i think, newer, than Marrakech and what's oh so different is that when Marrakech it's all about zouks and it's loud and lively then here it's very-very quiet. I walk around the streets sometimes completely alone, occasionally spotting some lady hanging out the clothes to dry or just dreamily looking out of the window. Everyone says "Bom dia!" and i say it back or sometimes i just smile and it seems to break the ice nicely. I love Alfama, it's got a very good vibe.

I head to the other part of town for lunch. Joao has told me that the best place to get the famous pasties is a shop at Belem - Pasteis de Belem it's called. Those little cream custard tarts don't look like anything special but they totally live up to their reputation once you taste them. They melt on the tongue...heavenly! The rest of the afternoon i take a look at the Barrio Alto - an area which comes to life at night once all the bars and clubs open; and the Chiado district and also the "home neighbourhood" around the hostel, called Baixa.

I should also mention that all those districts - except for Baixa - are situated on hills, all of them on different ones, which means a lot of step aerobics up and down and up and down the hills. There are trams going but who am i to take the easy way out? However, at the end of the day you're boound to have calves of steel, but at least the lunch-time million calories from the pasteis have been spent.

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