Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 6 in Lisbon, Visit to a small castle & Belem

Today began early, my Russian hostel mate kept her promise, she woke me up.  At around 8:15 am, I heard, Lynnae, let's get up and have breakfast.  I wear earplugs in hostels to mute the background noise, but I heard her talking, I told her I would meet her at breakfast, I needed a few minutes to brush my teeth, etc.  I got up, and about ten minutes later met my hostel mate at  breakfast, surprisingly, I was not tired.

I showered and got dressed after breakfast and we left the hostel for the Palace just after 9 am.  I still have not located the name of the palace we went to on the internet, and I threw away the brochures we were given during our visit.  We took the metro to the stop closest to the Palace, got out and asked for directions. The workers at the metro station had no idea where the Palace was, they pointed us in what they thought was the direction, we started walking.  We asked a woman along the way, she pointed us in the opposite direction.  Then the woman we asked for directions saw two bus drivers, she directed us to speak to them, they will know, she said.  The bus drivers did know, we resumed our walk and arrived at the palace about 15 minutes later.

Lynnae on Pedestrian Bridge on way to Palace
We first saw the Palace as we approached the pedestrian bridge, the Russian told me, this is a small Palace, I could see that from where we were standing.  About 5 minutes after crossing the bridge, we were the Palace, it was small, I would not describe as a palace, a mansion maybe.  Perhaps, the use of the word palace has to do with the history of the building, when it was built, I do not know. What I saw was a two story house, it did have some ornate decorations, but compared to what I have seen in Europe, it was no palatial.

Lynnae in front of the Palace
There was only one option to see the inside of the palace, a guided tour.  The tour was conducted in French and English, I think the majority of our group were French speakers.  The guide asked me if I spoke French, this happens to me often in Europe, I said no, so the tour was conducted in both languages.  The tour was comprehensive, by the end I was waiting for it to be over, the guide was good, an expert on everything in the house, I think the tour being conducted in two languages also made it longer. She explained the royals who had lived there, the different battles portrayed on the tiles on the walls, it was interesting, but I was happy when we finally reached the outside area.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside the palace. 

Outside the Palace, Chapel area 

For me, the gardens were the best part of this palace, they were beautiful.  There was no guided tour of the gardens, which was nice, we got to walk around on our own.  My Russian hostel mate took pictures of all the signs of the Zodiac displayed on the outer walls, they were all decorated.  There were ducks swimming in the pond, one attacked the Russian while I was taking a picture, we laughed.  We did not spend a lot of time in the garden, it was hot today. 

Palace Gardens 

Lynnae by the Palace Lake 
When we finished touring the Palace and its grounds, we started to head back to the metro, our next destination was Belem, a city just outside Lisbon.  When we got halfway to the Pedestrian bridge, my  Russian hostel mate realized she forgot to by a book about the palace, she is a book collector and likes to buy guides to the places she visits, she says so she won't forget them.  I waited for her outside, when she came back, she said the man in the bookstore said Belem was a long way, he suggested we take a taxi, would cost around 8 euros.  She asked what I thought, I said it sounded like a good idea.  The palace called a taxi, and we took it to the Jeronimos Monastery, we ended up paying 5 euros each for the taxi.

Lynnae outside Jeronimos Monastery 

The monastery was interesting, not all the rooms were open, but we walked around both floors.  My Russian hostel mate bought a small guide for the monastery and after we walked through it, she checked to see if we had missed anything.  We had, there was a statue and a room we had not visited, she told me there was a Russian proverb about overlooking an elephant, and we had overlooked the elephant by missing some of the monastery's important sites.  We also went to the chapel, a free part of the monastery, and saw the tomb of the explorer Vasco de Gama.

Lynnae in Monastery Courtyard

Lynnae with Vasco de Gama's Tomb
We walked to the tower of Belem after touring the monastery.  The tower was further away than it looked on the map, but we had a nice walk along the Tagus river.  We stopped and looked at Belem's Monument to the Discoveries, the monument celebrates Portugal's age of discovery.  After stopping at the monument, we continued our walk along the Tagus River, until we reached a dead end.  We had to change our route a little to get to the Tower of Belem, but we did not waste too much time. 

Lynnae at the Monument to the Discoveries 
We stopped for ice cream on our way to the Belem Tower, we deserved it after all the walking in the hot sun we had done.  Our first reaction seeing the tower up close, it was smaller than we expected.  We started our tour in the bottom part of the tower, where the defensive canons were located, and then climbed to the top.  The tower seemed a lot taller as we walked up the narrow stairways to the top. The tower had an interesting red light green light system to control traffic in the narrow stairways.  We had to wait until the light was green to either ascend or descend the stairs, the system worked and the foot traffic moved efficiently.  From the top of the tower we could see great views of Lisbon, especially the Golden Gate Bridge and the Jesus statue.

Lynnae & Defense Canon in Tower of Belem

Lynnae in Belem Tower's Political Prison 

Lynnae at the top of Belem Tower
We took the electric train back to Lisbon after touring Belem tower. It took us awhile to find the train stop, we thought our metro cards would not work but they did.  My Russian hostel mate speaks Spanish and some Portuguese, she asked a man on the train which station we should get off at for Lisbon's center, he told us we would get off at the same stop as him.  Good thing she asked him, I was ready to get off the train a few stops before, at the plaza near the Tagus River.

The rest of the day I relaxed at the hostel,  spent most of my time in the TV room, chatted with some other people from the hostel too.  

Day 6 in Lisbon Photo Album

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 5 in Lisbon, Castelo de Sao Jorge

I started of my day, as I have every other day in Lisbon, with my hostel's breakfast at around 10 am.  My plan for today, visit Castelo de sao Jorge, Lisbon's castle sits upon a hill overlooking the city.  I have not rushed my visit in Lisbon, I am staying here a week, so I have taken my time seeing the city's sights.  I only had one destination today, and that was enough.  I considered also going to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian today, but decided against it when I learned it was in the opposite direction of the castle.

I left for the castle around 1 pm, again no rush to get moving when you have a week to spend in Lisbon. I suppose I could have gotten an earlier start to beat the midday heat, but I did not, I am no longer rushing on this trip, it is almost over, the goal now is to relax and enjoy my last few days touring Europe.

I knew how to get to Castel de sao Jorge, I had gone past it on my hostel's walking tour a few days earlier.  My first stop was lunch, I considered getting two pork sandwiches, a delicious Lisbon fast food, the pork is simmered in a spicy sauce, served on a roll.  I decided to try a restaurant next to the shop that served the pork sandwiches, one of my main reasons, I saw a lot of women at the bar eating.

I went into the shop and ordered the menu of the day, it was Frango, Portuguese roasted chicken, served with rice and peas. Everyone in the restaurant was ordering this dish, after looking at the English menu, I decided I would try it, even though I hate green peas. The dish I ordered was big, and I got it all for 6 euros.  The meal was delicious, Portugal has some great food, and this did not disappoint, I even ate and enjoyed the peas.

I continued my walk to the castle after lunch, it was hot, I walked slowly.  I took a break in a courtyard with a fountain and ate some of my Haribo Spaghetti, and drank some water. I continued up the hill, past many of the places I had seen on the walking tour.  I finally got to the street near the castle, I was not sure I was on the right route, then I saw the couple in front of me scaling the steep hill, I looked up, there was the wall of the castle.   I did not want to climb the hill in the Lisbon heat, but once I started it was not too bad, I was up to the castle's entrance in no time.

Lynnae at Entrance to Castel de sao Jorge 
There was a long line to buy tickets for the castle. There was a group from the Rotary Club, Rotary International is having a conference in Lisbon this week, they all got into the castle for 1 euro, the admission price for everyone else was 7.50 euros.  I got my ticket and headed up to the entrance of the castle, it reminded me of  the Moor's castle I visited in Sintra.  Once I went into the Castelo de sao Jorge, I could see the differences between it and the Moor's castle in Sintra.

I began by walking around the ramparts of the castle and enjoying the views of Lisbon.  I did not spend too much time on the ramparts looking at the view, I took a few pictures and moved on.  I finally found the entrance to the main part of the Castle and went inside to look around. 

Lynnae at Castelo de sao Jorge 
Reading about Castelo de Sao Jorge in the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, "it contains the remains of the Moorish palace that once stood there..." This explains why the castle looked similar to the Moor's Castle I saw in Sintra.  I spent time inside the castle, walking around, climbing up its towers, which also offer great views of the city.  I probably spent around 2 hours exploring the castle area, then it was time to get out of the heat.

Lynnae in front of Castelo de Sao Jorge 

Lynnae inside Castle de Sao Jorge
After the castle, I walked across the street and bought a cold bottle of water.  Lisbon is hot, I needed to cool off, and the bottles of water inside the castle area were tiny, I knew I could get a better deal once I was outside castle.  After I bought my water, I began my slow descent down the Lisbon hills towards my hostel. 

I hung out at my hostel until dinner time.  I considered eating at the hostel until I learned tonight was the Vegetarian menu.  I have eaten several meals at the hostel, was time for me to venture out into the city and try something different.  On our way back from Sintra our tour guide pointed out a restaurant called Hamburgology, specializing in Portuguese style burgers.  I set out to find it at dinner time.

 I had to climb another hill to get dinner, but it was worth it.  I got the cheese burger the woman at the counter recommended, she said that and the Portuguese style burger with a sunny side up egg were the most popular. I did not have a taste for an egg with my burger, I opted for the cheese burger. These are not American style burgers, no bread, they had one on the menu with bread, but I resisted my American temptation to select this burger.  The burger was delicious, the chips that came with it were OK, they were somewhere in the middle of a potato chip and french fries.  If I go back before I leave, I will get rice as the side for my burger instead of the chips. 

After dinner I went back to my hostel, walking to my room I ran into a new hostel mate, a middle-aged Russian woman.  She was looking for her door key, I had mine out and unlocked the door, that is how we began talking.  She immediately asked me if I would like to go for a walk, I said sure.  This was her first day in Lisbon and she wanted to see some of the city, I told her I would show her.  We walked to the Waterfront, the Russian seemed unimpressed.  She asked me, what else is there to see, she was interested in Alfama, an area with many Fado bars. We walked around this area, stopped at Le Se, Lisbon's Cathedral, and walked all the way up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge. 

Lisbon's Cathedral 

Lynnae at Tagus River on evening stroll
We got back from our walk around 10 pm, I gave my Russian hostel mate the walking tour I had gone on with our hostel earlier this week.  I spent the rest of the evening talking to my hostel mates, did some blogging and then it was time to go to sleep.  My Russian hostel mate says she is going to wake me up in the morning to do some sightseeing. I will see if I get up or roll over and get some more sleep.

Day 5 in Lisbon Photo Album

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Day 4 in Lisbon, A non-Sightseeing Day, Buying Train Ticket to Madrid

Today was an uneventful day, I got up for a late breakfast around 10 am, and had no sightseeing plans.  I had a full day in Sintra yesterday, and I needed to book my ticket back to Madrid.  After breakfast, I asked at reception where the closest train station was where I could buy a ticket to Madrid.  The staff directed me to Lisbons's Santa Apolonia station, the station I believe I was supposed to go to when I arrived in Madrid.

The woman at the reception told me I could walk to Santa Apolonia, it would take about 30 minutes.  I got ready to head out, I knew it was a hot day, I figured it could not be too bad.  The walk to the train station took me past Lisbon's Tagus river, the heat was already wearing on me, I stopped at bought a bottle of cold water.  I am from Arizona but I have never spent a lot of time walking around in the Arizona heat.  I cannot imagine walking half an hour anywhere in Arizona in the summer, but that was what I was doing in Lisbon today.

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The heat was not too bad, I did not break out in a sweat on the walk, it was just uncomfortable.  I took a break to drink water every now and then. I walked on the side of the street with the river, thinking that would cool things off, and I think seeing the water did have a positive psychological effect.  I took a few pictures along the way, but not many, and enjoyed seeing a non-tourist part of Lisbon on my walk.  There was a cruise ship, but my walk was not along a tourist route.

Lynnae on walk to train station 
When I got to the station, the man I spoke to told me all trains to Madrid were booked for June 26th, the day I thought I wanted to leave.  He said I could leave on the 27th, but I would have to come back to buy the ticket because the computers were down.  The train station staffer did not know when the computers would be working again, he suggested I come back around 7pm to buy my ticket.  When I returned to my hostel, I realized I had booked there through June 24th, I went ahead and booked another 2 nights.  It was possible the train on June 25th was not full, but doubtful.

I spent the day hanging out at the hostel waiting for time to go back to the train station.  If it were cooler, I probably would have walked around Lisbon, but after walking for an hour in the middle of the day I was tired, did not want to go anywhere.  I passed the time in the hostel's movie room, talked to a few people who were around and bought a ticket for the hostel's dinner at 8pm.

I went back to the train station around 6pm, this time the computers were working.  After a little confusion, for some reason I asked for a September 27th train ticket when I wanted June 27th, I got my ticket to Madrid.  I will be in Turista class again, and I am sure the train will be full like it was on my way to Lisbon.

View of Lisbon near Santa Apolonia Train Station  
I went to the hostels' Sunday buffet dinner tonight, it was delicious.  I met some interesting people at dinner, 2 women who live in the Netherlands, and a couple from Australia.  We talked for a few hours after dinner, the hostel dinners are nice, if you are traveling independently you do not have to eat dinner (or breakfast) alone. Tomorrow, I will visit Lisbon's Castle, not sure what my plans are for the rest of the week, except I am going to the beach at least one day.

Day 4 in Lisbon Photo Album

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 3 in Lisbon, Day Trip to Sintra

I got up around 9:30 am today, wanted to eat breakfast and be ready for the hostel's Sintra tour that was scheduled to begin at 10:30 am.  I had heard the tour was great from a couple of hostel mates I had from California, I was looking forward to seeing something different from Lisbon today.

After breakfast, I got my things  and was ready to go to Sintra.  I went to the hostel's lobby and did not see the tour guide or anyone gathered for the tour, I asked the person at reception if the Sintra tour had left.  She told me the tour was delayed until noon, she said I must have missed the morning announcement. I did not mind the delay, I used the time to write a blog post and catch up on other things.

Our tour guide showed up around noon, there were three people from my hostel going on the tour. I had gone on the walking tour with them yesterday, a woman from Holland and a man from Canada.  The guide apologized for the late start, he said the hostel needed the van in the morning. I saw the woman from Holland had a hoodie and I decided I should go back and get mine. The weather has been hot in Lisbon but we were going to Sintra, I did not know how the weather would be there, later I was very happy I had brought my hoodie.

Sintra is a short drive from Lisbon, it took us a little over half an hour to get there.  Our driver went the wrong way at first, he drove towards the Alfalma district, he thought he had to pick up people at the hostel there, but the other people on our tour were at the hostel near the beach.  We went back for them, 2 people scheduled to go on the tour did not show up, so there were five of us total.  I had 2 hostel mates, one from Taiawan and one from China who wanted to go on the tour, too bad they did not get those spaces.

We drove through what appeared to be Lisbon's business district before crossing the bridge on the highway to Sintra.  Our guide pointed out landmarks as we approached Sintra, we could see the Moor's Castle on the hill as we drove closer.  Our first stop on the tour was a garden area, we spent about an hour walking around this area, there were many sculptures, and local artists working in the area too.

Sintra Garden

Lynnae in Sintra Garden
We went to Sintra's National Palace after walking through the garden area.  We did not go into Sintra's National Palace, from the outside it looked like an aging building, our guide said inside it was very nice.  We did some more walking in Sintra, most of the walk was getting to know the city and seeing various views, like Lisbon, Sintra is hilly, and there are great views the higher you climb.  After seeing the picturesque views, we went for a wine tasting.  I sampled the one beverage the shop charged for, Portugal's famous Cherry Wine, Ginga.  The cherry wine was a tiny amount served in a chocolate cup, it was good, I did not sample anything else.  I only paid 1 euro for the sample and it was worth it.  We got cheese samples with the tour too, the others in the group spent several minutes sampling various wines.

Lynnae at Ginja Sample in Sintra 
After the wine tasting, it was decision time, did we want to visit the Moor's Castle, the Palace Pena or a Quinta de Regaleira. Our guide described Quinta de Regaleira as a farm, it was his recommendation, I was not sure I wanted to spend my afternoon in Sintra on a farm, although the tunnels sounded interesting.  Our guide drove us to all three locations, I decided to break with the rest of the group and go to either the Palace or the Castle.  I checked out my guide books and both seemed interesting, we had two hours on our own to explore whatever we chose.  The guide asked all of us what our choice was when we got to Palace Pena, I told him I was not sure either the palace of the castle.  He suggested I visit both and said he would meet me at the Moor's Castle.  I agreed and I told him if I did not go to the Moor's castle I would meet him there in 2 hours anyways.

I said goodbye to my hostel mates and got off at the Palace Pena, bought a dual ticket for the Palace and the Moor's Castle and began my independent tour.  I bought a ticket to take the bus to the foot of the castle, I asked the woman how long it takes to walk up, she said 10 minutes, but it is very rough.  I sat for at least 10 minutes waiting for my 2 euro bus to depart, and I saw a lot of people take the rough walk.  Two euros does not seem like a lot but when you factor in the weak dollar, it starts adding up. I will walk next time. 

Lynnae on Bus/Trolley for Pena Palace
Sintra's Palace Pena is huge, walking up it is impressive to see.  We visited on a clear day, so there were outstanding views of Sintra's landscape from the castle.  I gave myself an hour to look around Pena, I wanted to explore the Moor's Castle and surrounding areas too.  The palace was beautiful, like all the palaces I have seen during my travels, extravagantly decorated too.  This palace was unique, Sintra's palaces and castles in general are different from what I have seen in the rest of Europe.

Lynnae inside Palace Pena 

Lynnae outside Palace Pena

Lynnae outside Palace Pena 
I walked downhill to the Moor's Castle after touring Palace Pena.  I was surprised to see our tour guide sitting outside the castle when I arrived, he said he had never gone into the Moor's Castle and there was a lot he could see without purchasing a ticket to tour the grounds.  He decided to join me, we walked to the entrance of the Moor's Castle together and he told me more about the area.  There are many trails surrounding the Moor's Castle, one could stay busy for a few days in the area exploring everything.  We were on a schedule, and I only had about half an hour to explore the paid Castle area before departure time.

Lynnae walking to Moor's Castle 

Lynnae at Moor's Castle
Our final destination today was Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Europe.  As we drove closer to Cabo da Roca, the clouds began to roll in, our guide commented on the change in weather.  He said the weather in Sintra can suddenly change, it can be raining and cold in Sintra and sunny and hot in Lisbon.  He said he thought we would have a nice sunset, but he was not sure. Our guide did not seem optimistic about us seeing much of the Atlantic ocean either.  As we drove closer, I told him I could see the ocean and pointed, he said, yes that is it.  Cabo da Roca was about 30 minutes from Sintra, it was still cloudy and foggy when we arrived.

The wind was blowing hard when we got out the hostel's van to walk towards the Westernmost point in Europe. This was serious wind, the type that you have to fight to walk forward, and it was cold.  The temperature must have dropped 30 degrees on our short drive from Sintra to Cabo da Roca. The Dutch couple with us was not prepared for the weather, they took a couple of pics and got back in the van.  I had my hoodie with me, I was happy I went back to get it this morning, I could have used a scarf and a hat, it was that cold. 

Lynnae in Cabo da Roca 
I was cold walking around Cabo da Roca but it was worth it, I was as far west as one can get on continental Europe.  Even with the fog and cloud cover, the view of the Atlantic coast from Cabo da Roca was amazing.    I walked as far as I could, bracing myself as the wind whipped around me.  I asked a Canadian in our group to take my picture, he asked if I was going to stand on the ledge or was it too much of a risk of being blown over.  I told him the risk was too high, so I stood in another spot.  By that point I was freezing, I could not believe there was a couple relaxing on a ledge next to us.   My ears were aching from the cold and the wind blowing through them.  After the Canadian took my picture, I pulled on my hoodie and walked quickly back to the van.

Cabo da Roca Coast 
Our guide drove us along Portugal's coastline to Lisbon city, it was a nice drive and at a point along the ride, the clouds broke, the sun reappeared, it was warm again.  Our driver told us again, Sintra's weather changes quickly, once we left Sintra, the weather was back to normal.  I was starving when we finally arrived at the hostel.  I went to a Portuguese buffet with a Canadian and Dutch hostel mate who were on the Sintra trip with me.  This was my second time at the buffet, the food was good, but not as good as the first day I went.  I liked the buffet because I got a variety of Portuguese food for 6.90 euros, a good deal.

The rest of the evening was quiet, I spent a couple of hours talking to my Dutch hostel mate about her life growing up in Africa and other things.  I went to sleep sometime after midnight.  

Day 3 in Lisbon Photo Album

Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 2 in Lisbon, Walking Tour, Getting to Know the City

I got up around 9:30 am for breakfast this morning, the last minute breakfast rush begins around 10:15 am at this hostel.  Breakfast is officially over at 10:30 am, the late risers get in right before it is over.  My only plan for today was my hostel's free walking tour.  I will be in Lisbon a week, so there is no need for me to rush to fit everything into one day.

After breakfast, I got all my things and was ready for the walking tour.  The tour began late, around 11 am, was no big deal, the 10:30 am is an earlier start than most of the walking tours I have been on.  This was also my first hostel sponsored walking tour, I had a good impression of the hostel based on my first night here, so I expected the walking tour would be good too.

Our guide met us, apologized for being late, I went back to get my hoodie, it was a little chilly outside, and we began the tour.  The guide introduced himself, I had already met him at our hostel's dinner last night.  He gave us a brief rundown of Lisbon's history and then we started our walk.

The first part of the tour was  the main square, I had visited this square yesterday, when I walked to the river before the hostel's dinner.  Our guide gave us some history of the square, which I no longer remember, then we walked to the African district. The African district is just off the main square, there were many men wearing traditional and Muslim garb.

Lynnae at Fountain in Main Square
The guide explained that on Friday's the Africans sold food and other things, he said they can live like they do in their home countries.  The square the Africans occupy is known as tolerance square. There is a memorial to Jews who were massacred in Lisbon in 1506.

Memorial to Victims of the Lisbon Massacre 
From the tolerance square, we walked to another square with a lot of construction, our guide said the square was busy during the summer, kids playing in the water and families relaxing, trying to get some relief from the heat.  After our stop in this square we began to climb one of Lisbon's 7 hills. We walked through Lisbon's residential neighborhoods on our way up the hill, towards the castle that sits on a hill above Lisbon.  We saw street art as we walked through the neighborhoods and there were many decorations, our guide explained Lisbon had recently celebrated Saint Anthony's festival.

Lisbon Street Art 

Lynnae in Lisbon Neighborhood
We continued our walk up the hill, visiting Lisbon's castle was not part of the tour, I will do that independently another day.  At the top of the hill we were in the Alfama district, our guide took us to a spot with a great view of the city, this was the second  great hilltop view of the city we saw on the tour today. Lisbon has so many hills, almost like San Francisco, there are great views all over the higher parts of the city.

Lynne in Alfama district
After visiting the Alfama district we made our way back down Lisbon's hills and walked towards the square near the Tagus River. All of the square's monuments are being restored, they are covered, we could not see them but our guide described them to us and their significance.  We walked from the square to the place where we would end our tour.  We took a group picture, our guide gave dining recommendations and we tipped him for the tour.  The free tours are tip-based, you always give a tip, so they are not really free, but often end up costing less than paid tours.

Walking Tour Group 
I went to get Frango piri-piri, Portugal's traditional roasted chicken after the walking tour, others from my group returned to the hostel.  After lunch, I went back to the hostel to relax.  I had an uneventful day, met some new hostel mates from China, Taiwan and Belgium.  I went to the 6.90 euro Portuguese buffet for dinner, our guide recommended it and the food was good.  The rest of my evening was quiet, hanging out at the hostel.

Day 2 in Madrid Photo Album

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Day 1 in Lisbon, Sleep Deprived from Overnight train from Madrid & Evening stroll to the Tagus River

I spent most of the day in the hostel, when I arrived, the woman at reception said the room would not be ready until 3pm but invited me to have breakfast. I am not sure what time I got to the hostel, I am guessing around 9 am, there were only a few people having breakfast.  I went over to check out what this hostel had for breakfast, much better than the 2 slices of toast in Madrid.  I could have bread and jam at this hostel, if that is what I wanted, but they also had pancake/crepes, sliced apples, tomatoes, and an assortment of crusty breads.  I got the pancake/crepe, fresh of the griddle, I put butter and fruit preserves on it, was one of the better hostel breakfasts I have had, even better, it was free.

I met an American from Seattle working at the hostel, she was making the pancake/crepes.  We talked for a little while, I was too tired from the train ride to have much of a conversation with anyone. She recommended I get one of their blankets and crash on the sofa, I finally found the sofa she was talking about, in the TV room.  I briefly considered going on the free walking tour, but I decided if I go, it would be tomorrow.  I have six days in Lisbon, there's no rush to cram everything in and push myself to exhaustion, that is how I got sick the last time.

When 3 pm finally rolled around, I checked into my hostel room.  I was happy, another bottom bunk, this was two hostels in a row.  This hostel makes up the beds, so it would not have been too bad being on a top bunk, however, life is still easier on the bottom bunk.  I took a 2 hour nap after checking in, I think I actually got some sleep in, rare for me with a daytime nap.

Before my nap, I asked at reception about the evening's dinner.  The woman said their chef was awesome, I decided for 8 euros it was a good deal, a three course meal, and it sounded healthy, cod was on the menu. When I got up at 5 pm, I decided I should see a little of Lisbon today, get up and walk somewhere, I asked the man at reception for recommendations.  He said a walk to the Tagus River would be good before dinner started and said it would only take me 10 minutes to get there.

I walked through the square near my hostel on my way to the Tagus River, there are two fountains and a statue to one of  Portugal's Kings.  There were a few people in the square, not as busy as squares in other cities, but a good amount of people, there were some stores and restaurants lining the square too.

Square near Hostel on way to Tagus River
I bought a bottle of water at a shop off the square and began walking in the direction I thought the river was in, the further I got down the street, I was able to confirm, there was water in front of me, I was headed in the right direction.  I walked over a couple of streets to get on the main street, there were more people there, a lot of activity.  It looked like they were setting up for a modeling show outside a museum on this street, people were gathered outside and in the museum's lobby. When I passed by on my way back to the hostel, nothing had changed, the show had not yet started.

After about ten minutes I got to the Tagus River, there was a nice view of Lisbon's Golden Gate Bridge, designed by the designers of San Francisco's bridge of the same name.  I could also see the Christ statue overlooking the river, a copy of a statue in Brazil.  There were tourists taking pictures and Portuguese, sitting near the river, enjoying the view and the weather. 

Lynnae at the Tagus River
I stayed at the river for only about 15 minutes before heading back to the hostel for dinner.  I got back to the hostel about 5 minutes before dinner, there was nobody seated in the dining area.  I got my computer and tried to get on the internet but the hostel's WIFI was not  working.  About ten minutes after 8 pm, people started sitting at the dining table.  I got my seat, I ate dinner with 4 Malaysians studying in the UK and an American law student beginning a year of studying abroad at Cambridge University. The dinner was great, the cod reminded me of the salt fish dishes prepared in St. Lucia.  The lemon pie desert was also outstanding.  The hostel dinner was 8 euros well spent.

Appetizers at Hostel Dinner

Soup at Hostel Dinner

Cod Fish and Salad at Hostel Dinner

Lynnae preparing to dig into the main dish

Lemon pie desert at Hostel Dinner
All that food for only 8 euros, not sure I could find a better deal if I had gone outside the hostel to eat.  Also, eating at the hostel, I got to meet some new and interesting people, did not eat dinner alone tonight.  I shared some of my CIA and FBI stories with my table mates, as most people are, they were shocked to learn the details of my background and what happened to me.  Other than that, we had everyday conversation about our travels, what our next destinations were, and they asked me what it is like traveling alone.  I told then traveling alone has been great, initially it can be a little scary, but once you get used to it, it is easy, and Europe is a great place for independent travel.  The Malaysians said I am a brave woman to spend all this time traveling alone, they also said, my CIA story explains my bravery.

Day 1 in Lisbon Photo Album

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Day 8 in Madrid, Laundry & Travel Day

Today was check out day, I got up around 9:30 to go downstairs for breakfast. I ate my 2 pieces of toast with Jam, drank my glass of OJ and went back to my room to stuff all my clothes in my luggage.  I had no sightseeing plans for today, I knew I would be back in Madrid soon, plenty of time to really get to know the city.  I took a picture of the swing set hang out area of the hostel, had not seen another one quite like it in all my travels.

Hang out area in hostel 

Hang out area in hostel
I checked out of my room about 5 minutes before the 11 am check out time.  I asked the man at reception where the laundry room was, he told me, explained I needed to buy tokens from him, 2 euros for wash and 2 euros to dry.  He showed me the laundry room, how to operate the machines and gave me the detergent.  I started my laundry and went to the hostel's movie room to hang out and wait for my clothes.  There were two people in the movie area when I got there, they chose the movie The Lookout to watch.  I watched the movie in between using my computer to surf the internet.

When my laundry was finished, I rolled my clothes, a packing technique that allows you to get the most room out of your luggage, and put them back in my bag.  I left my luggage with the hostel staff, I had several hours before my train and did not want to drag my bag everywhere with me.  I went to get lunch after storing my bag, since I enjoyed the Tako Away place yesterday, I went back again today.  Big mistake, the burrito I had ordered was missing from the menu. I ordered a beef burrito, it tasted like dog food.

I went back to the movie room with my lunch, I enjoyed the Kas Lemon soda I bought, ate about half the burrito before I could not take anymore.  I did not realize it tasted like dog food until later, otherwise I don't think I would have eaten any of it.

Later in the day I went to Cafe Commercial, down the street from my hostel. Our hostel said this cafe was the most famous place in Madrid for Churros, I love Churros, so I did not want to miss this place.  I paid 5.50 euros for the Chocolate con Churro, translation hot chocolate and Churros.  Spaniards may think Cafe Commercial has the best Churros, I disagree, I have had much better Churros in Arizona.  Spain does not make the sugary churros I grew up with, what they have are unflavored deep fried batters of dough, even dipped in chocolate, not what I call tasty.

My last trip out was to get dinner for the train. I decided to try something different, Spanish pizza.  I got three slices, they were square shaped, for 5 euros.  I stuffed the pizza into my backpack, filled up my bottle of water and left the hostel around 8:30 pm, my train was scheduled to leave at 9:50 pm.  The lid to my water bottle broke, so I bought a new bottle at the station and some candy for the trip.

I did not get a bed on the overnight train, the seats were big and comfortable, they did not recline much.  The train was packed, the Turistsa section was full, and people boarded at stops along the way.  Sometime around midnight it was lights off in our section of the train.  There were some people still talking, I put in my earplugs, I got a some sleep, but not much.  The chairs do not have enough leg room to allow you to really stretch your legs so they became uncomfortable after awhile and it was just awkward trying to sleep sitting up.  The neck pillow I drug around Europe and did not use, got lost sometime between when I checked out of my hostel and boarded the train.

We arrived in Lisbon on time at 7:30 am, I do not know if I got off at the main train station, there was some confusion when the train stopped.  There was no announcement, the doors did not open automatically. Someone figured out how to open a door, then the train began moving.  I considered jumping out but decided against it when someone said, "it's moving!" I could have gotten out, it was moving, but slowly.  The train stopped a second time, I opened the door and got off along with a few others.

An American or Canadian on the train was panicked, she was separated from her travel partner.  They were scheduled to speak at a conference in Lisbon.  She finally sent him a text via Facebook, he got it and was going to meet her back  at the station.  I went to the metro and found my way to my hostel.  I could not check in, it was by now the morning, I went to the movie room and relaxed on the sofa until check in time at 3 pm.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Day 7 in Madrid, A walk along the Manzanares River

I went through my usual routine this morning, got up around 9:30 am, went downstairs for the hostel's free breakfast, 2 slices of toast, jam, butter and orange juice.  I had seen most of the sights in Madrid and I was making decisions on what I would do after my trip to Lisbon.  I knew I was not returning to the US anytime soon, the language school in Istanbul had not gotten back to me to confirm its offer for me to start teaching there at the end of this month, my other option was studying a language in Europe.  My top two choices were Spanish and French.  After breakfast, I spent the morning researching these options.

I did some research and found a reasonably priced Spanish course at Madrid University, after further research I decided this was the program for me.   I enjoyed studying Japanese in a University environment, and universities tend to have higher standards for the teachers they employ than language schools, Madrid University seemed like the perfect choice.  I sent them an email and began the process of booking my place in the July summer Spanish intensive course.  I considered going to Madrid University in the afternoon to explore the place, in the end, I kept my plans to go for a walk along Madrid's Manzanares River.

I went and got lunch at a place called Tako Away, down the street from my hostel.  I was a little nervous about going to a Tex Mex fast food burrito place in Madrid, I do not like Tex Mex and I am in Madrid not Mexico. I hoped the fast food restaurant could not mess up a burrito or was a Chipotle style Mexican restaurant, not authentic, but good enough. I ordered the fusion burrito, I am not sure exactly what was in it, there were corn chips, and it was good.  After lunch I want to the metro station and headed to the Manzanares River.

The hostel staff gave me easy metro directions to the river and I had no trouble getting to the station closest to the river.  The trouble was I chose the wrong way to exist the station, I ended up on the side of the station furthest away from the river. I sensed I was walking in the wrong direction, changed course and finally found a park which I thought would lead to the river, it did.

View on my way to Madrid's River
I walked down the path to the river, there were people around but not many like in central Madrid or the Retiro Park near the museum.  I saw a few people with cameras taking pictures, but not many tourists.  Today was a cool day, that could explain why there were so few people outside enjoying a walk along the river.  Also, the Manzanares does not run through the center of Madrid, you have to go a bit out of the way to get to it. Looking at the metro map, Madrid University is also located near the river, which will be nice when I begin classes there July 1st.

View on my walk along the Manzanares River

View on my walk along the Manzanares River

View on my walk along the Manzanares River
I took a break on my walk along the river to sit down and read my Kindle, just enjoy the atmosphere and the peace and quiet away from Madrid's hectic tourist areas.  I did not walk the entire path, the staff at my hostel said you can walk as far as Madrid's soccer stadium in one direction.  I spent about 2 hours at the river before heading back to my hostel.

Lynnae at Manzanares River
I headed back to my hostel around 6 pm.  I initially got on the wrong line, the grey line, which would have taken me to Madrid University.  I turned around and headed back to the station I started at and got back to my hostel easily.  I went to a Kebab place for dinner and had a quiet evening relaxing at the hostel. Tomorrow is my last day in Madrid, I take the night train to Lisbon at 9:30pm.  I have no plans for tomorrow except doing laundry and maybe catching up on some sleep.

Day 7 in Madrid Photo Album