Portugal – An Unexpected Love

I began this leg of my journey with the sole intention of spending two full days in Lisboa and checking Portugal off of my bucket list; to be honest, at the time I had no true desire to experience it otherwise. Nothing could have surprised me more than feeling the instantaneous love I felt for this country. With no set destination in mind, I explored the city streets day after day, hoping to find the source of the magic that was enchanting me. What did I find instead? Cities that juxtapose the modern with the antiquated, with run down, dilapidated buildings placed side-by-side with buildings that define 20th century architecture; a musical, rhythmic language that seemed to be transforming from a Romance language to something of the Eastern European flavor every time I listened to it; people who weren’t afraid to smile and be friendly to strangers; and, of course, being able to taste the refreshingly crisp ocean air no matter where in the city I was standing. Though I can’t truly pinpoint the source of the magic for you, I know that all of these things played a huge part in sparking that “first love” kind of feeling.

Portugal also marked my first time taking advantage of Couchsurfing as a way of having a roof over my head and meeting new people in the meantime. I was a little skeptical at first, as I am a naturally wary person when it comes to the kindness of strangers (nothing in life is free, after all). Nonetheless, I made contact with a host by the name of Joao who had nothing but positive references (a fact which I add solely for the comfort of family and friends who are feeling concerned about me sleeping on a stranger’s couch for a night) who was living just outside of Lisboa. Luckily for me, Joao graciously invited me to stay in his home for the night of my visit, and I was eager to see what our first meeting would be like.

Upon meeting at the train station nearest to his home, I felt an instant connection with Joao that was likened to a friendship of many years instead of just a couple days – a very rare but wonderful quality for any new friendship. We spent a few hours getting to know one another, discussing our lives, our perspectives on different issues, our interests, and our aspirations in life. I was surprised to find at how comfortable I felt around him, and to find the sentiments reciprocated before we finally parted ways – him to work on his new business’s website, and me to explore the surrounding area.

I first visited a town at the end of the train line called Cascais, a lovely little beach town that reminded me quite a bit of the old town of San Clemente (but with a Portuguese flair, of course). After wandering around for a few hours and having a bite to eat at a small restaurant, I made my way back to Lisboa, where I spent the remainder of the afternoon wandering the streets taking photos and people watching. To my surprise, Portuguese is actually quite a bit like Spanish when I took the time to listen closely, and I spent a good amount of time eaves-dropping on conversations for the sole purpose of observing the differences between the languages.

When evening rolled around, I met up with Joao again to grab a bite to eat near the ocean with he and a South Korean girl who would be couchsurfing at his home for the evening as well. As we walked together I recalled just how much I love being near the ocean. The intermingled scents of salt and sand, the sound of the crashing waves, the sensation of the ocean breeze…I had been craving it every day since I left California, and it was finally mine. Bliss!! After a simple meal we headed back to the house to enjoy drinks and light-hearted conversation late into the night.

I spent the following day exploring a nearby town by the name of Belém with my fellow couchsurfer, taking photos and chatting while we wandered the city streets. Despite having known a handful of people from South Korea, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation about the cultural differences between the USA and South Korea with anyone quite as in depth as I did with her; plus, we shared a mutual love of Portugal, so it was nice to be able to mutually gush about how wonderful the country was with someone. Together, we enjoyed a traditional Portuguese pastry (the name of which I’ve forgotten) from a famous bakery in the area that has been in service for well over 100 years. I have to admit, it was perhaps the best pastry I’ve ever tasted despite its simplicity. Afterward, we wandered back to the city center and explored a bit until we finally parted ways.

Throughout the day, I had been debating on whether or not I would stay another night; I already had a seat reserved for the night train, but I was compelled to stay in the area longer. When I expressed this to Joao, he let me know that he would be happy to host me an extra night if I decided to stay in town, so after some deliberation, I made the decision to stay yet another night in Portugal. Shortly thereafter, we left his place to pick up the two Americans that he would be hosting for the evening and did a little shopping before heading back to his place to relax and have some drinks. Yet again, Joao and I stayed up late into the night chatting until it was finally time to call it a night.

I spent the majority of my last day in trains and buses to and from Sintra, a lovely area that was home to a castle. Unfortunately, I was on a rather tight schedule so I didn’t make it to the castle proper, so instead I took a walk around before making my way back to Joao’s to put together a plan of action for my trip back to Spain. Since Joao was to head out at the same time as me, he accompanied me on the train and metro until we went our separate ways. The familiarity I experienced with Joao was bittersweet as it reminded me of just how much I miss everyone from home, so my goodbye to him was a little more difficult than I expected it to be. But as they say, all good things must come to an end.

I was surprised to find that all of the 2nd class tickets to Madrid were fully booked, and to get to Madrid that evening I would have to dish out over 100 euros – needless to say, that was not even close to an option for me. At that moment, I became completely overwhelmed and had absolutely no idea what to do – I couldn’t stay any longer in Lisboa, and I couldn’t go to Madrid – and it probably didn’t help matters that I had been in an odd mood for the majority of the day. Thankfully, after a good ten minutes or so of such feelings, I was able to get it together and make a decision: I would go to Porto for the night, explore a little, then catch the train back to Madrid from Lisboa the following day. Success!! And so, after a few hours by train, I made it to my cozy little hotel in Porto and spent the night decompressing from my earlier stresses.

I was surprised to find that Porto captivated me just as much as Lisboa, and though I didn’t see as much of it as I did of the latter (my explorations were limited to walking in the neighborhoods nearby the train station and my hotel), I still felt that same touch of magic for all of the same reasons. With a heaviness in my heart, I said first my goodbyes to Porto, and then some hours later to Lisboa as my train made its way out of the city and into the darkness. Something tells me that I will be back sometime in the future for further exploration and to better acquaint myself with the country that enchanted me so entirely!

Sorry about not having visuals this time around, but as per usual, all of the photos from the trip are on my Facebook page: facebook.com/unwrittenwanderlust …unfortunately, my camera was dying and/or dead for the majority of the trip, so there aren’t half as many photos up as I would have preferred, but there are still photos up nonetheless. My next major destination will be Nice, France, so prepare for another update soon!

xo –

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