07.04.15 – 18.04.15
I had zero expectations when it came to Lisbon. If I’m completely honest, it’s not somewhere I’ve ever felt compelled to visit, so I’m not even too familiar with its history or attractions. So in a way, it was kind of liberating to arrive to Lisbon after sitting on a bus for over four hours and not really know what’s in store for you. I am completely open to whatever this place has to offer.
Straight away, being back in a big city smacks you square in the face. Getting off the bus and catching two different metros and then walking 10 minutes to your hostel is a sure fire way to realise you’re not in little Lagos anymore. Crazy traffic, infinite apartment blocks, and people approaching you every few minutes selling you anything from sunglasses to drugs.
After the uniquely wonderful experience of staying at JJ’s, every other hostel/Air BnB/
hotel (yeah, right) we stay at has a pretty high bar set. Almost immediately, Urban Garden Hostel definitely reached and exceeded our expectations. It’s very discrete from the outside; you’d almost walk straight past it if it weren’t for the astro-turfed door. A friendly worker called Kate let us in, leading us down a narrow passageway, across a bridge and through to the entrance. Inside is a large, open, oasis of a hostel. The front desk is at the back of a very welcoming common area full of long benches for ‘family dinners’ and also a lounge area endearingly full of mismatched furniture and cushions. There’s also a nice internal courtyard and kitchen –where free pancakes are served for breakfast every morning!
One of the first things we experienced in Lisbon was the walking tour guided by Kate, who was the first person to greet us at the hostel. At hostel dinner the night before, we’d heard rave reviews about Kate’s tours so we knew they had to be good. It definitely wasn’t an average walking tour, which sometimes is basically a Guide pointing at a monument, telling you what is, and telling you to take a photo of it. Kate asked us our interests, e.g. local food, street art, and catered the tour as such. We visited places that we’d never have found otherwise without her help, like a car park with every floor covered in graffiti of a local artist, great lookout points, and also tips on where to get the best ‘Bifana’ in Lisbon.
A day trip to Sintra is definitely worth doing. I had heard of it before, but didn’t know too much of what to expect on the train ride there. It’s a small town, but made much larger by the many castles, churches and monuments, which are staggered on the hillsides, all from different periods of history. We only had time to visit two, the Quinta del Regaleira, and the Moorish Castle. The Quinta is sprawling, with a palace, a few churches and some beautiful gardens, so meant we spent hours just wandering aimlessly, letting time escape us. The Moorish Castle, dating back to the 8th century. Because it is much older than the Quinta by several centuries, it is largely only ruins that remain, but you are still able to climb right to the top of the highest walls, with stunning panoramic views across Sintra and beyond. It makes the steep 8euro entry fee worth it.
Lisbon has so much to offer that even after nine days (which we extended from seven), I’m still not sure that it was enough time. I know that we saw a lot of sites, even spent a whole day at the beach (Sao Pedro Estoril, awesome), did a lot of walking around and even visited the city of Bellem –but I think the thing I’ll take away from Lisbon the most is the people we met and who became friends that we were able to experience the city with. The Urban Garden Hostel was almost too good, because we never wanted to leave it! We bonded with other travellers over dinner every night, got to know all of the staff members as well as the owner Will, and even made plans to meet up again whether in Europe, Canada or back home. So when on our last day I was had an opportunity to get a tattoo with a group of friends, I thought why not? It’s something I had been thinking about for a while, and now the timing was so perfect. So myself, Dan, Mika, Garrett, Will and Kate headed to a studio recommended by Kate, and then myself, Garrett and Will got ourselves inked with our own special tattoos. For Will, the initials of the amazing hostel he has set up over a year ago, for Garrett, the words ‘Portugal, caralho’ to add to the list of countries tattooed on his ribs, all the places he has visited. For me, a compass designed by my sister back home, to ensure guidance and safe travels always.