30 October 2008

Bem-vindo a Lisboa

So. Last weekend we had an optional excursion to Lisbon, Portugal, and I went.
And it was awesome.
The adventure began Friday morning when we hopped on the Metro and took it up to Barajas. My roommates like to tease me for trying to be punctual; I can't help it if I don't want to incur the wrath of Ángel and María Jose. Somehow they left before me and I still got to the airport 15 minutes before they did.
We were flying TAP, and they treated us pretty well. I got a window seat, which was great, because I love window seats. Even better was the fact that I had three Portuguese boys in the seats to my right. Miguel, João, and Guy with Eyebrows kept me entertained the whole hour-long flight, and they even taught me a little Portuguese (it's similar to Spanish, but closer to Galician- basically it sounds like Spanish hidden under a Russian accent). Any time you see that tilde over a letter, like over the a in João, your voice goes all nasally. Try pinching your nose. Also, there are a lot of j and z sounds- that's the part that reminds me of Russian. So any time you see a j, just say it like you would in English.
In Spanish, the tilde is only used on the letter ñ, like in cumpleaños. In Portuguese, on the other hand, the tilde goes over vowels, but they still have an enye sound, indicated by the letters nh, as in the name of Brazilian soccer great Ronaldinho (pronounced ro-nal-DI-nyo).
But enough about the language; let's get back to me.
So we arrived in Lisboa and got on a bus and went to our hotel, the Hotel Marques de Pombal (I know there are some random accents in there somewhere but I am too lazy to try and figure out what they are). It was a really nice hotel in a really nice area, with a metro stop maybe 20 yards from the front door. We got up to our rooms, my roommates and I proceeded to have an epic fight, and then it was off to explore the city.
For some silly reason, our guides thought it was necessary that we take the metro for two stops before walking a half hour up a big hill. This was silly because a) the distance that we travelled by metro takes approximately 6 or 7 minutes to walk, and b) it took probably about a half hour for everyone to buy these single-use metro tickets and figure out how to scan them. Anyway, we ended up seeing some really cool squares, then some sweet alley ways, then a few drug dealers, then an ancient Roman amphitheatre mid-excavation, and finally we got up to São Jorge Castle.
This place was also amazing. It was built way up on a hill, so we had a great view of the city, and you could go up on all the ramparts and, needless to say, we took a bunch of pictures (well, I took a bunch of pictures).
There were a lot of cats around Lisboa. Maybe they have a rat problem or something. It just seemed like everywhere I looked, there were fat cats sleeping or lazing about. They were pretty much oblivious to us- some of the cats were just sleeping out in the open, which I thought was a little unusual.
Then it was back to the hotel to do our own thing. I went out with some friends in the direction of Bairro Alto, which had been highly recommended to me by the boys on the plane. I think we had a destination in mind, but after an hour or so of searching we just gave up and went into the cheapest restaurant on the street we were on.
In Spain, they like to give you bread with your food. It's a nice gesture, like, "Here. Have some bread." Not so in Portugal. If there's bread on the plate in front of you, and you want a taste, you better be willing to shell out some coinage.
We learned this when our ticket came. Every piece of bread, every accompanying single-serve container of butter, or cheese, or sardine paste, was marked along with our entrees, salads, and sangria. It was still pretty reasonable, you know, just not what we'd expected. So moral of the story: don't touch the bread in Portugal. Unless you are planning on paying for it.
Then we wandered a bit. Bairro Alto is famous for its nightlife, but it doesn't have a big city club scene feel- it was more like a neighborhood. People were socializing in the streets. We did have some dealers trying to sell us some stuff, but for the most part it felt pretty safe. Highlight of the night: running into some Australians, one of whom did a mean pterodactyl impression (or so he seemed to think). He tried to trade me shirts but I think he might have been just a little too broad in the shoulders to fit mine. We went with the Aussies (who were probably about 30, btw) to a club just down the street, where we danced until a few of the girls got super tired, then we retired to the hotel.

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