A bit tired of all the hassles of independent traveling, and also to save a bit of money, we decided to stay in one place for a full three weeks over Christmas and New Years'. We decided on Lisbon, Portugal for a few reasons. One; it is relatively cheap for a capital city in Europe; Two; we wanted to practice some Capoeira and learn a bit of portuguese for if we ever make it to Brazil; Three; we wanted somewhere homely to do some self catering and enjoy the festive season!
We found a fully equipped apartment on-line which was located in a quiet, leafy suburb, near the beach just south of Lisbon. It was nice to be away from all the hustle and bustle of the city, although we spent a lot of time traveling to and from on buses and ferries...
To get here from Morocco we flew into Porto, in the north. We stayed the night in this beautifully medieval city, and took a scenic train down to Lisbon the next morning. From the city centre, we took the metro, another train across the River Tejo and a bus to Botequin, and began to realise just how deep into the far outer suburbs of Lisbon we were actually staying. A ten minute walk from the bus station and we were finally able to unpack our bags and spread out in our new apartment, with a sigh of relief!
It didn't take long before Aidan had found a friendly Capoeira School in the city. The group was called Nova Alianca, and welcomed us with open arms. To our disappointment almost everybody spoke fluent English, so it was harder to pick up Portuguese than we'd imagined. It was more convenient and a lot more social though.. They seemed to enjoy having us as much as we enjoyed training with them, and they wouldn't even let us pay any fees!
One of the Capoeiristas, Manuel, was particularly enthusiastic and instantly adopted the three of us into his circle of friends. We joined them all for dinner, drinks, dancing, hungover fast-food and pastry binge-ing more than a couple of times. He even lent Aidan his bodyboard and toasty 5mm wetsuit to use at our local beach, Praia da Mata.
While Manuel and his friends were working (like normal people do), we got to know the city of Lisbon pretty well. From the classy acoustic sounds of Fado and expensive Sangria in the Alfama district, to the quirky, retro bars of the Bairro Alto, the gigantic gothic Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and the hugely popular and addictive Pasteis de Nata (original Portuguese custard tart) of Belem. There was never really a dull moment in the city, and we could have spent even longer exploring the various colorful districts and amazing museums.
We made a special effort to visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge, a spectacular old Moorish fort overlooking the city. The views of the city and River Tejo were incredible, and we even learnt something about the Moorish, Arab-ruled history of old Lisbon. There were definitely a few subtle similarities between old Lisboa and Morocco.
Most of our new friends were headed out of the city over Christmas, to catch up with family. We focused on making the most of our kitchen and cooking up an absolute feast for the three of us, but not before visiting a Christmas Eve midnight mass at the local church. It was packed to the brim with warm and smiling Catholics, although we couldn't make out much except for 'Jesus Christo' and Hallelujah!'
Our Christmas day creation consisted of a small neatly decorated plastic tree, home-made bonbons, the usual baked bird, veggies, sweets and chocolate. We went to extra effort to cook up a delicious nut roast (for Em - the vegetarian), a big pot of mulled wine (full of citrus, cinnamon and of course red wine) and a huge apple pie for dessert! To top it off we spiced all of these up using the aromatic mixtures that we picked up in the Moroccan souks! Mouths are watering just writing about it! Completely stuffed after a late lunch, and already a little tipsy, we put on our Santa hats and took a few bottles of typically Portuguese liquor down to our favorite beach to watch the sunset. A belated Feliz Natal to everyone!
After Christmas we managed a little road trip north to check out some more of the country. We stopped in Obidos, a cute walled city, still reeling from the festivities of Christmas, and walked a circuit of the entire city wall in about an hour! Next we stopped in the surf-mad seaside town, Peniche. We enjoyed a seafood lunch, although it was a bit too windy for any good surf.. This didn't stop the crowds though, as we realised the growing popularity of surfing in Europe. On the way home we stopped for a look around another little fairytale-like city known as Sintra. Unfortunately we lost in a race against the sun, and missed most of the scenery surrounding Sintra. Nevertheless, through the darkness we could make out the lights of a faraway castle, which seemed to be perched directly above us. Curious, we took our little rental car up and up, and up and up a (way too narrow) winding road to the top of the looming mountain. Although very beautiful, unfortunately we had arrived after visiting hours..
Back in Lisbon, it was just about time to bring in the year 2012. Jess and Em cooked up a spicy Moroccan lasagna and we brought it around to Manuel's house, along with a big pot of home-made Sangria. A bunch of Manuel's friends from his home town joined us, and together we ate lasagne, polished off a few drinks, played 'Kings', sang songs, laughed, sprinted down the road to hug people and watch the fireworks, drank, played some drunken Capoeira, hugged more people, practiced our best Portuguese, stumbled, drank... and so it goes. Good times!
In the early days of the new year we fair-welled our good friends with a few tears. Reluctantly, it was time to pack our bags once again, although with a sense of excitement for the next adventure and the year to come. Em was off to meet up with some friends in London. Another month of backpacking in Europe and she'll be back in Australia. As for us, we are off to Nepal, in search of another worthwhile project to volunteer with for the next couple of months! Bon Ano Nova everyone! Happy New Year!