Archive for September, 2006

Last day in Lisbon

September 29, 2006

I think I walked more today than I ever have in any other single day in my life. I woke up relatively early and hopped on the train to Sintra, which is a beautiful little town about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon by train. There are about 5 different palaces and castles to see in the city, but during the course of the day we only ended up seeing two. There was just so much to see!

Before we saw any castles, we went and sampled the queijadas, which are another pastry that is a specialty of Sintra. I mentioned before that Europe smells like exhaust and cigarette smoke, well now I’m starting to associate the smell of pastries with Lisbon, there are just so many pastry shops around here.

After the pastry shop we decided against taking the bus up to see the moorish castle and instead began what ended up being an hour long hike up the mountain. It began innocently enough on paved roads that had a pretty steep incline, then went to a huge flight of stairs, some incredibly steep cobblestone roads and the majority of the hike was through the forest. The stairs were made out of pieces of stone and you had to keep your eyes on your feet the entire way up to make sure you didn’t break your ankle.

The moorish castle was amazing. It was the remains of a castle built in the 8th century, that is all now heavily covered in moss and is a mere remnant of the huge structure it used to be. The interesting part was walking along the castle wall, which I heard over and over again that looked a lot like The Great Wall of China. It was just incredible and not only had views of the city of Sintra, but you could see all the way back to Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean.

After the moorish castle we saw the Pena Palace and the gardens surrounding it, which really was more like a forest. The Pena Palace was really something different. It was built in 1869 and it was so huge and elaborate and tacky that you just had to laugh. I can’t wait to put of pictures of this one! It was filled with the furnishings of the royalty that occupied it at the turn of the century, which was actually quite interesing to see. Being the troopers that we are, instead of taking the 30 minute not-so-difficult circuit around the grounds, we opted for the 90 minute somewhat-taxing circuit, which took us to the highest point of the mountain range at 530 metres above sea level.

Every path that we seemed to take was uphill, and not just a moderate uphill, I’m talking a leaning into it, high kneeded, heavy breathing uphill. My feet are still aching. I’m relaxing in the hostel now, having a beer, getting ready to get to bed so I can get up early tomorrow and catch my flight home. I’m getting the feeling that my body is going to be in a lot of pain tomorrow on the plane ride home.

Need some help!

September 28, 2006

Before I finish all my shopping here I need to know how much alcohol I can bring back to Canada having been gone for two weeks. I tried to go to the Canada customs website, but the information is in pdf form and they don’t have the reader installed on this computer and of course they don’t give you admin rights on these things. So anyway, I need this info tonight, if you can get it please email me!

Lisboa

September 28, 2006

I got into Lisbon in one piece this morning after spending nearly 4 hours in the bus station in Sevilla waiting for the overnight bus to leave. I gave myself a lot of extra time to get from one station to the next, but I was lucky enough to buy my ticket from Sevilla to Lisbon while I was still in Granada, which aleviated some of the stress once in Sevilla.

The overnight bus was brutal, and every time after I take an overnight transport I swear never to do it again because I can never sleep on things that move. The bus kept stopping, turning on the lights, letting everyone know where we were and announcing smoke breaks. I attempted to sleep, but mostly stressed out about the fact that I was thirsty but didn’t want to drink anything because there was no bathroom on the 6 hour bus ride, and none of the smoke breaks or stops were places that had washrooms.

I met a couple of interesting girls in the bus station in Sevilla who were American and but living in Seville and studying at the University. They had decided that since they had no class on Thursday and Friday and happened to be walking by the bus station that they would buy a ticket somewhere and that happened to be Lisbon. They had no clothes, no passports and no luggage, save for their purses. I thought this to be somewhat ridiculous, but if you’re adventurous, travel savvy and resourceful I’m sure it would be ok. The only thing was that these girls weren’t any of these things. They had never stayed in a hostel before and when I gave them the name and some directions to a couple of good ones they just stared at me blankly and said “hey, that sounds cool” and wrote nothing down. When we arrived at the bus station at 5:30am I looked in my guide book and found out that the metro didn’t open for another hour so I was going to hang out at the bus station until then. They said that they’d rather hang out in the city instead of the bus station because at least they’d get to see stuff (did I mention that it’s 5:30am?) and they were going to take a taxi. At this point I have to mention that Lisbon isn’t the safest city, especially after dark. Not that there’s rampant crime, but there’s a huge drug trade and at 5:30 in the morning a lot of people are still drunk and coming in and out of bars. Not the safest place for two 18 year olds to be who have never really travelled. The only thing I could do was tell them to be careful and grimace as they smiled and waved goodbye. I’ve never felt so old.

After the metro opened, I headed to the hostel that I booked, expecting to be told that check in was at noon and that I could leave my stuff there and come back then. But much to my surprise, the guy at the front desk led me to a free bed! Aaaaaaahhhh sleep! I curled up into the nice feather duvet and slept for a solid 2 hours.

Once I woke up I met a guy from the states who was in my dorm room and he was headed to Belem, so we decided to go together. It started raining really hard when we first got there, so some of the pictures of the monument to discovery are pretty dark, but once we actually climbed the monument the sun started coming out and the rest of the day turned out pretty nice. We went to the famous pastry shop and got some pasteis, which we ordered way too many of and started feeling a little bit of sweetness overload. We saw the rest of the monuments in Belem and then hopped on the bus, which we thought would take us right to the hostel. We sat on that bus for a pretty long while, hoping that it would eventually loop back around to where we wanted to go. It didn’t.

But it did go to the Park of Nations (the site of the 1998 world expo) which was one of the things that we both had wanted to see! It was fate. So we wandered through the park, took the cable car and I climbed on the jungle gym meant for 8 year olds, we had some tapas and then hopped on the metro back to the hostel. I’m hoping that tonight will be a pretty quiet night, as I haven’t slept that well in the past couple of nights and I have to get up early tomorrow to go to Sintra.

Leaving Granada

September 27, 2006

I don’t know what is in the water in Granada, but it’s definitely something different than the other cities that I’ve been to because I have been harassed on the streets more here than all the other places put together. Yesterday, within 5 minutes a homeless man tried to kiss me, another man put his smiling face about 2 inches from mine outstretched his arms and started trying to say something to me in Spanish, and two young guys yelled at me from a truck, that time in English (I don’t even want to tell you what they said, but it had something to do with the ice cream cone I was eating). That was only yesterday.

I’m leaving Granada today, and aside from the random cat calls on the street, I’m really going to miss it. I’m taking the bus to Lisbon, but I have to change buses and bus stations in Seville and then take the overnight bus from Seville to Lisbon. I tried to buy the ticket on the internet, but for some reason it couldn’t authorize my credit card, so I have no reservation for the bus. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a ticket and not get stuck in Seville tonight. Cross your fingers for me.

"If you have not seen the Alhambra you have not lived"

September 26, 2006

I finally lived today! I know I had plans to get up early yesterday, hike up the hill and stand in line for hours to get tickets, but the night previous of drinking and getting to bed at 3am proved the 7am wake-up a little difficult. Yesterday I walked around Granada some more, saw the Alcazin, shopped a bit and hung out on the terrace of the hostel, which overlooks the city. The hostel had a huge dinner last night and unlimited sangria, which made me incredibly sleepy so I went to bed early, which was a good plan for getting up to see the Alhambra.

I met a couple of other people in the lobby of the hostel this morning (the 7 or so who said they were coming never actually showed up) and we headed up the hill in the freezing cold and stood in line for an hour to get tickets. We managed to get a 30-minute entrance slot to the Nasrid Palace right when we were there so we went in and spent about 4 hours exploring the entire Alhambra. It was absolutely amazing. There really aren’t words to be able to explain how beautiful it is. It’s the remains of a moorish castle with tons of small intricate carvings all over, but there are many different gardens and buildings and towers it takes such a long time to see.

After we’d seen everything, we headed back into town to enjoy some free tapas (when you get a drink), then back up to the terrace to enjoy the heat of the afternoon sun. God, I love Granada.

I think I’m getting a little sick though, and I have to wait until siesta is over to go to the pharmacy and mime sinus pain to the pharmacist, who almost certainly won’t speak english. The hostel is having a tapas tour tonight, so I most likely will push through the illness for some awesome spanish food!

Granada

September 24, 2006

Granada is amazing. Its so different than what I was expecting and I’m so glad I made the decision to leave Seville and spend some extra time here. I already love it and it’s sunday, so most of the stores are closed. There’s a huge arabian influence here, it’s like a mix of the two cultures, they sell hookas in most of little touristy shops. I walked down this tiny little alley and every spare part of the walls were covered in some sort of shirt or blanket in the most vibrant colours. They had also draped large white cloths along the top to block out the sun and it felt like a morrocan market place (not that I’ve ever been in one, that’s just what I imagine it’s like). I’m holding myself back from buying things already because I know that I’m going to go nuts with the souvenirs here.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to get up early to go to get tickets for the Alhambra. They sell them online, but they’ve been sold out for days now. The only way to get tickets is to go at 7:30am the morning of and line up for hours.

Getting on the bus again

September 24, 2006

I´ve made an executive decision and I´ve decided to leave Seville a day early. I saw all the big sights yesterday and quite frankly I´m not all impressed with the city and this hostel. Well, actually the hostel is gorgeous but the people who are staying here are all students that are starting their fall term at the university of seville and are just staying here until they can find a flat to rent. There aren´t even any australians!

Seville is under a huge amount of construction right now, and it seems as though every single way you turn there is some sort of fencing up to keep you out of an area where they are digging or scaffolding covering bridges and buildings. This is what I am blaming my inability to find my way around the city on. I swear it´s like the movie Labyrinth here, whenever you turn around the street that used to be behind you magically turns into a dead end. I had less trouble trying to find my way around Venice than this place and all the maps of the city just seem to be wrong.

So the moral of the story is that I´m on to Granada and after that up to Lisbon, but I´m giving serious throughts to going back to Lagos. Man, that place is like a black hole….

Seville!

September 23, 2006

I officially hated Seville this morning. After the caffule last night involving my hostel room and a veritable array of other things that I couldn´t book because of a combination of a bad internet connection in my hostel and unavailability of different hostels, tickets and bus rides, I was just damned pissed off. This morning I woke up deciding to have a great day and headed out to see the Cathedral. After getting thoroughly lost several times I found myself in this very beautiful garden, not really caring where I was anymore, just taking in the sights. Until it started to rain. I´m not just talking a light rain here, it was pouring. I tried my best to huddle under some of the trees in the garden with some other tourists, but eventually I was soaked from head to toe. And lost. I didn´t even have a rough idea of where I could possibly run to. When it started to let up (I´m not talking spitting here, it was just a bit less than a downpour) I started running and eventually found a doorway where about 15 other people were huddled in.

After staying there for about 15 minutes the rain immediately ceased and the sun came out. Ugghhhh. So I walked around in the sun for a little bit more trying to dry off but being quite unsuccessful. Eventually I gave up and just went into the cathedral, and it was really beautiful. It´s the 3rd largest church in the world after St. Peter´s in Rome and St. Paul´s in London and it´s hard to wrap your head around just how long it must have taken to build.

The second I stepped out of the cathedral it started raining again. Shit. Mind you it was incredibly sunny the whole time I was inside the Cathedral. This time I ducked under an awning of a store and waited it out.

Since I was right next to it, I then went into the Alcazar (the big castle in Seville) and took about three hours looking around and doing the audio tours. Again, just incredible.

So now I´m back at the hostel, liking Seville a little bit better after seeing those amazing sights and trying to find someone else who wants to go to the bullfight!

The real bad influence begins….

September 23, 2006

The rain actually cleared after a couple hours on Thursday, during which I went back to bed and slept. Almost immediately the sun started coming out again and I ventured back down to the beach. There still weren´t a lot of people there and the sun kept going in and out from behind clouds so after about a couple of hours I gave up and decided to wander around town and then down to some of the other beaches. The beaches in Lagos are so beautiful, again, I wish I could upload pictures here because their the kind of stuff you only see on postcards.

After the sightseeing that afternoon I headed back to the hostel where mamma was cooking soup for everyone. I met up with a bunch of aussie girls (big surprise…aussies) and a few other people and we went out to dinner. I had some amazing squid and great wine, and after that we decided just to go out to a few bars instead of going back to the hostel. We ended up going to 4 different bars over the course of 6 hours. The night ended at 4am in the popular bar in Lagos called Inside Out, where one of the guys that was with us ordered a fishbowl, which basically is an enormous fishbowl filled with an entire bottle of vodka, half a bottle of triple sec and an assortment of other mixes, topped off with 8 straws. I could barely drink it, they made it so strong!

After the previous two nights being a bust, it was great to go out and have a really good time.

The next morning I got up for breakfast, packed my stuff and jumped on the 7 hour bus to Seville. I only had my hostel booked for the first night that I was staying in Seville, figuring that I could just rock up and they´d have space for walk-ins for the next two nights. Nope. I spent about three hours stressing over where I was going to stay after last night in seville and I randomly met this girl who was from California who had a reservation for the next two nights and she was going to cancel it! I nearly kissed her. So we went down to reception, switched the names, and instead of her losing the 22€ she had already paid and me paying it again, the guy just suggested that I give her the money, so she said that 10€ would be enough and she would be totally happy. Man, I love when stuff randomly works out like this.

I was planning on heading to Malaga after a few nights in Seville and few nights in Granada, but it looks like that´s not going to work out, so I may go back to Lisbon a little early and do a day trip to Sintra, I missed seeing Belem (and the pastry shop there, about 15 minutes from the centre of town) so I´m going to need some extra time to do that.

Phew. Well I´m off to do some sightseeing in Seville today!

Lagos

September 21, 2006

Tuesday I took the bus from Lisbon in the morning to Lagos. Before I left Toronto, someone made a snarky comment about how sketchy the portuguese buses probably were and they couldn’t have been more wrong. These buses are like being on an airplane. The seats are all leather, there’s a “stewardess” that serves drinks and snacks along the way and they play movies. It’s ridiculously comfortable. I couldn’t believe how nice it was.

Right after getting into my hostel, called the, *ahem* Rising Cock, I headed down to the beach and just laid there for the rest of the afternoon. It was blissful. That night I hung around the hostel for a while, had a few drinks and despite the reputation that preceded it, discovered that there wasn’t much of a party going on there, so I headed to bed at about 2am. Turns out that people actually started going out to the bars at that time, but I was waaaaaaaaay too tired.

So yesterday I went down to the beach again and throughout the day met so many people, that the group I was sitting with grew from just myself to 20 people, all sitting around on towels, playing music, swimming, playing paddle ball and sunbathing. It was awesome. Most of the people that I met were staying at a different hostel, so I made plans to go over and meet them later that night.

After going back to my hostel, I hooked up with a few people that were getting some takeout chicken which we ate back at the hostel with some wine and then went out for more drinks. After sitting at the bar, having a few sips of my beer and realizing that I was starting to not feel very well, I went back to the hostel with one guy who worked there and who was supposed to start his shift at 10pm. I walked out of the bar and started to feel dizzy so I sat down and then promptly threw up. Yeah, I know, in public, nice. Anyway, I was definitely really sick so I spent the rest of the night in my dorm feeling awful.

I’m feeling much better this morning except for the fact that it’s RAINING. Yes, that’s right RAIN. Boourns. It’s a good thing that this hostel has a huge collection of illegally downloaded movies that they like to play on the big plasma tv in the living room. I’m gonna go grab my pillow and settle down for a long day of Anchorman, National Lampoon and 8 Mile.

I’m going to try to upload my photos at some time, but the equipment here doesn’t seem to work.