Lovely Lisbon and Spectacular Sintra


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July 1st 2010
Published: July 6th 2010
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The first stop of our trip went off without a hitch. I stepped off the plane in Lisbon after getting up very early, catching the first metro to the airport, and waiting ages in the longest line ever (thanks, EasyJet). Mom was there at the baggage claim in Lisbon waiting for me. Bags, euros, taxi...no problem, and we were at the hostel before lunch time.

Our hostel was right in the center of the city center...it doesn't get much more convenient than that! Well, it would have been more convenient if there had been an elevator...but dragging three massive bags plus carry-ons up four flights of stairs is all part of the fun, right? We had a room to ourselves with a very nice shared bathroom and a balcony overlooking Rua dos Correeiros.

After determining that Portuguese cuisine isn't really our thing (I don't care what you add to salted, dried cod, it still doesn't sound appetizing), we ate some toasted sandwiches (cheese and banana? why yes, I'd love to eat that) and sat outside people-watching and drinking iced teas. One thing I'm going to miss about Europe is the ability to eat outside about seven months of the year. Even in Douai, as soon as it was sort of tolerable outside, you could sit under a tent and eat while huddled up next to the heater. Eating outside on the patio in the US with the highway or parking lot right next to you just doesn't cut it. Due to lack of sleep/jet lag, we went to bed early in our little hostel room.

Friday, we got up, scarfed down some cornflakes and headed to the Rossio train station. We bought these weird cardboard tickets that magically are also electronic and good for a year and jumped on the local train to Sintra. After about forty-five minutes, we reached the end of the line and were dropped off in a beautiful little town. We had come here solely based on a recommendation of a guy I met in Paris four months ago. I figured that if he survived several hours with me, Jess, and Chris in the Erotic Art museum and a very long, rainy trek to the (closed) catacombs, he must be a pretty cool guy. I will forever follow any advice Matt Guzman decides to give me.

Quinta da Regaleira, a mansion and its grounds, set on a hillside in Sintra was absolutely spectacular. There were underground tunnels, grottoes, caves that you had to enter by carefully using stepping stones by a waterfall, gardens, statues, jungle-like plants....suffice it to say that I am very upset I do not live at this palace. We spent several hours running through the pitch black tunnels (read: running into walls), climbing underground wells meant to symbolize the connection between Earth and Heaven, and climbing towers that gave amazing views of the surrounding areas. We also drank from the Fount of Abundance. I'm not quite sure what sort of Abundance it is promising, but it had better be good because there were snails crawling along the spout and we drank it anyway.

After finally dragging ourselves out of the grounds, we decided to walk up to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Caste). The man at the tourist office told us it was definitely too far to walk. After insisting we didn't want to take the bus, he finally admitted it would take about 25 minutes to walk there and drew the path on the map. After a slight wrong turn (oops), we found the steps behind Igreja Santa Maria and climbed up to the top of the 500m hill. Exploring the castle was pretty much how I imagine it would be to play inside a Playskool castle (aka: totally amazing). We climbed towers (and then had to carefully climb down said towers with no railings and narrow, slippery stone steps), scaled mountains, walked up endless steps, and had some amazing views of the countryside. Anyone want to go in on a summer house in Portugal with me?

We skipped dinner (due to a late lunch and adrenalin rush from invading castles, perhaps?) and opted instead to share a bottle of wine and watch the Ghana-Uruguay game. We were surrounded by Brazilians (who were rather pouty after their team was eliminated earlier in the day) and Africans (who turned pouty as well when Ghana was eliminated on penalty kicks...lame).

We were up early the next morning to climb one of the seven hills to visit Castelo do Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle). It looked much more daunting to climb than it really was, and we arrived in no time. The castle is the top visited sight in Lisbon, and it has amazing views of the city. We wandered around for a bit, climbed a bunch of stairs, took gorgeous photos, and then made our way back down the hill.

Our trip to the airport was easy...but that's where things stopped working in our favor. What should have been a relatively short trip to Dakar turned into a looooong day spent in airports. Our flight from Lisbon to Casablanca was delayed over two hours, and in typical European/African style, no one told us anything...the plane just never arrived and no employees came by to alert us of updates. Fortunately the Argentina - Germany game was on, and there was a decent café in our section of the airport. We finally boarded our little puddle jumper to Casablanca and set off to Africa!

We had had these elaborate plans of escaping the airport, taking the train into Casablanca and exploring the city center for an hour or two, but alas, Africa won again and we were trapped in the airport. To make matters worse, our flight to Dakar was delayed over two hours. Fab. After a run in with a less-than-pleasant Moroccan hotel clerk, I managed to get a hold of our hotel in Dakar to tell them to pick us up from the airport about 2:30am, and we settled in to wait out the delay. There's not a whole bunch to see in the Casablanca airport, though I had a good time exploring the kitschy Moroccan souvenir shop, scheming up ways to get a multi-colored tea set home (I'm still working out the details), and trying on leather slippers with curled up, pointy toes. Finally, after midnight Casablanca time, we boarded our flight and set off to Senegal...


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