July 6 2009, 4:14 PM
Day 4It´s actually day 11 as I write this, so I´m starting to forget some things. There´s little time to sit down and write stuff, especially because computer time is scarce in hostels. And when I find some time and an open computer, I rarely want to write anything, just read the New York Times. Although I´m having ambivalent feelings about the value of memories, I still think it´s good to write all this down. Lisbon was entered via a morning EasyJet flight from London. On the plane, I slept for the two hours flight duration, and it was the only sleep I got that night. Stepping off the plane, the first thing I noticed was the heat. The airport was a buffer zone for language, mixing Portuguese with English and Spanish. Outside, at the bus stop, it was all Portuguese. Strangely, I did not feel nervous. I followed pretty good directions to get to my hostel: the Aerobus 42 went to the Grand Arch (it´s truly grand), I walked under it and turned left onto Rua Augusta, then turned right on the fourth street. On the way, an old man approached me, holding something in the palm of his hand. His skin was leathery from decades of sun, and he was wearing an old dusty suit. He spoke multiple languages (¨French? Very good French!¨) but I just kept saying no and walking. In his hand were four brown blocks, each about the size of a packet of gum. I certainly did not understand what they were. Easy Hostel was super nice! Good interior, really open lounge with a lot of couches and those beanbag chair deals in front of the TV, three nice computers, FREE LAUNDRY, free lockers, good beds, and a nice kitchen with solid breakfast. For 14 euros! By the way, the entirety of Europe in my experience has no ventilation in the bathrooms. After I checked in and put my bag in the luggage room, I introduced myself to the three people in the lounge. Larissa, Timur, and Logan were the names, and they were all from California UC´s. They were going out to lunch and asked if I wanted to join them. It was precisely what I sought to hear, and so off we were.
Larissa got a recommendation from someone at reception, and so we looked for a place to eat on only one street. We found a place with the most locals and went there. Nobody knew any Portuguese, so my little cheat sheet ripped out of a Rick Steves phrasebook got some preparatory use. But fortunately, our waiter, Nelson, spoke English. Nelson was sweet, he complimented Larissa´s choice of cod and recommended that we get the traditional Portuguese wine (¨White wine, red wine, green wine. Let me recommend the green.¨). ¨House wine¨ comes in a vase and is cheap cheap. Green wine tastes like less bubbly, sweeter Prosecco, and is absolutely commendable. I got steak with mushrooms, also delicious, for a total cost of about 10 euro. After lunch, we took a tram (like in San Francisco, rickety streetcars go up and down hills. Unlike in San Francisco, some streets are so narrow that you can touch the buildings if you reach out a hand) somewhere, got off at the last stop, and then started walking toward the Castillo, a big castle that presides on a hill over Lisbon. The neighborhood is called Alfama, and it is incredibly steep. On the way, we heard a bunch of older folk singing in the street accompanied by an accordion, saw a lot of grafitti, a cat sleeping on the hood of a car, and some nice views of Lisbon's red roofs. These are all pictures, but I can't post them just yet. Castillo featured amazing views of Lisbon, medieval style castle walls, and peacocks. I really enjoy views from high places, so I sat and took it in while everyone else found the bathroom. Coming back to the hostel, we were tired. I can't quite remember what I did until the evening, when I went out with the same folk again. We walked the streets of the Bairro Alto looking for a bar with music, and found a pretty cool one. It featured Cuban music that night, and had people spilling all over the narrow street outside. By the way, old Lisbon is three neighborhoods: flat Baixa, where the hostel was, is flanked by hilly Bairro Alto and Alfama. All streets are lined with old buildings of various colors, a lot of them covered in different tile patterns. By the way, the image below composes most of the reason for why I went to Lisbon--the cover of some electronic music album called Lisbon, I have not heard it.
We stood outside for a while, enjoying some sangria and backing up onto the sidewalk as the occassional taxi insisted on going through the crowded street. Some local guy danced with Timur a little bit. Timur and Logan are roommates at some UC, and Larissa met Timur in Italy where they are both studying. At the end of the night, I successfully purchased some sort of pork sandiwch from a woman who was cooking them up outside of her house, in the street. With a bit of ketchup and hot sauce, it was a tasty end.
Day 5This morning I was hanging out in the lounge, talking to some girls who just got in, and a guy named Sergio, who's moving to Seattle to be a Product Manager at Microsoft. He's from Harvard (is it condescending when people from Harvard say they go to a college in Boston?) and discovered that he likes computer science even though his major was something else. A girl named Cherissa, heretofore sitting quietly in the corner, asked everyone in the room if anyone feels like going to lunch, because she's starving. Sergio and I did, and so I took them back to the same street as yesterday. Indeed, we went to the same place, which was the best decision, because Nelson recognized me and was even friendlier. He talked to us, recommended the grilled fish platter (amazing) and brought us little half glasses of port at the end of the meal, gratis. Cherissa is a student at University of Ohio, I think, is from Houston, and wants to go to veterinary school. Nelson kept refusing to bring us the check, so we spent a good 2 or 3 hours at the place, and so talked pretty extensively. When we got back to the hostel, Cherissa and I decided to go check out Lisbon, the parts I haven't seen. We walked for hours through Bairro Alto, the Jardim Botanico (garden), some park with a sweet climable structure made of rope, and a Basilico, where we observed Mass. I was mega hungry when we got back to the hostel, but I could not find anyone who wanted to get dinner. I think I walked around for a long time looking for something, but ended up getting silly bruschetta toast from some touristy place.
Day 6First lazy day. I hung around the lounge in the morning, watched Super Bad with Sergio, then, having failed to convince him to get lunch (the guy's an ascetic), ventured out on my own and got a plate called something like "meats of Portugal" at some cafe full of locals. It was a bunch of second-tier cuts on potatoes and rice: ends of sausages, really fatty pork, and beef brisket. With the unsurprising exception of pork, it was delicious. I loved the black sausage in particular, also known as blood sausage. Then I came back to the hostel and I can't remember what I did until dinner time, when I, again, ventured out alone. Tired of looking for places that don't look too touristy and aren't expensive, I just went back to Nelson's cafe. (Nelson: "Ah! You lost all the women!") I got some fish and a glass of port. After dinner, I drank tea and ate a pastry I picked up on the way back, and then hustled to the train station for an overnighter to Madrid. Now I remember what I did during the day: I went to the train station and spent the longest time behind some Australians as they failed to comprehend what the ticket vendor was trying to explain to them. A Eurail pass for Portugal and Spain is no good: you have to make reservations for everything, which means going to the train station in person instead of just buying tickets, which are pretty cheap in the first place, on the internet, I'll probably end up losing money and time because of my pass. I live and learn.