Arriving at yet another bus station I had to find yet another metro (where I stood like a dork at the turn style while I looked for ages for the bit where it sucked your ticket in and spat it back out, turns out this was just one that scanned your ticket to open the gate - thanks to the help of some guy beside me who must have thought I was retarded)and decipher yet another set of metro maps, but without too much fuss I made it into town and wandered a short distance to the hostel.
This hostel was the flashest I have ever seen. It appears Lisbon sets a very high standard for hostels and there are many just as good as this one. Clean, well decorated, and even a chef that cooks dinner each night! Which luckily for me was just what I arrived in time for. For 8 euro we got a three course dinner with as much red wine as we can drink which was so damn good, and definitely worth the money.
The next day after brekkie (where there were fresh rolls and 8 different spreads and cheese and coffee and juice and either pancakes or scrambled eggs!) I set out to have a wander around the city with the help of the girl on reception and a couple of maps with go to areas circled on it. Off I set to the city square and up and down several hills and got to see some good views over the city and far side of the river. I also spent some time in the botanic garden and hung out in a butterfly house for a bit which was cool and somehow managed to just use up the whole day wandering the streets well wearing myself out.
The next day the hostel had organised a walking tour that all the staff raved about so I decided to partake. However it was the slowest most non eventful walking tour that I have ever done! It went from 11-4 and we covered very little ground and were told few facts about the city. Some parts were cool like looking through the flea market where all bits of crap were being sold from Portuguese house tiles (but only usually around 6 tiles which looked like they had been ripped off an old building) tools, old shoes, videos of bad old horror films and some old Portuguese porn mag! We also went out to lunch together which was nice, I ordered a traditional meal of pork marinated with clams on top with fries on top of that, it was nice yet also kind of odd with soggy fries! But all in all an ok use of the day, I think the tour guide was so hung over all he wanted to do was smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, which he did an every opportunity!
Since I heard that several of the must see places were out of town I decided to book a tour for the following day and see them all in one go. I met a girl Sarah the day before and she was keen for it too so we were out the door bright and early as it was a day long tour for only 30 euro which is a complete bargain. Unfortunately the day was not bright for us and off we trudged into the only day of rain we had had in a long while. I guess on the upside, if I hadn't booked it I would have been tempted to stay in the hostel hibernating and waste the day so it was good we got out.
First stop was Sintra, a beautiful village about half an hour away from Lisbon, in a UNESCO area surrounded by lush trees cascading over the hills. Up we went to the top of the tallest one, the van struggling at times, even stalled once as we wound our way higher and higher. At the top we walked around very beautiful romantic style castle and its grounds surrounded in swirling mist. The views from there we are told are exquisite but there were only a couple of brief moments when the wind blew in the right direction that we got a parting in the mist and glimpse of the landscape beyond.
Next stop was Cascais and its claim to fame is the fact it is the western most point of Europe. There really isn't much there but a windswept cliff but it was still pretty neat cause we put the seats down in the van and huddled in and had a simple but incredibly tasty picnic of Portuguese cheese, bread, prosciutto and salami and washed it down with some nice red wine.
On the way to our next destination we stopped by an ice cream shop called Santini that is said to have the best ice cream in Portugal, and damn me they couldn't be far wrong. This stuff was so good, you can have two to four scoops swirled together into the single cone and I was adventurous (or stupid) and got coffee ice cream and lemon sorbet in the same cone.... somehow it worked!
Our final port of call was Belem and the famous Belem tower on the side of the river made to look a bit like a boat. Then we went inside a 500 year old church on the other side of the road which was incredible just for the fact you are walking over stones that are just so old, and the place has survived for so long, it boggles your mind really. And the last stop of the tour was the famous custard tart shop - Pastéis de Belém. In peak season people actually queue down the road to get in! It started with one little shop near the church with probably about 15 seats, today we walked through about four rooms that would sit at least 50 people each before we found a spare table. With their ever growing popularity they have bought up more and more ground level shops and they now own most of the area on that block on the lower level and make around 14,000 custard tarts per day! And they were bloody good! You get them warm and then you sprinkle cinnamon and icing sugar on top and then go for it - delicious! And that ended our tour at around 5pm - the day whizzed by but it was damn good fun.
That night Sarah and I decided to go out for tea, so we wandered the streets and all the eateries have ushers outside trying to get you to eat there. We decided on a very enthusiastic guy that was waving at us from down the street as they were all pretty much offering the same stuff. Once inside we were given a menu which we couldn't really understand, so I asked for the picture menu which the guy had outside, but that one had no words telling me what they all where, so I kept calling the waiter over and asking what's this and what's that and then I said this is a dumb question but how do the sardines come and can you eat the bones and can you fillet them, and the questions went on and basically had each other in hysterics. We then ordered some bottled water but it stank to high heaven of fish, so had another laughing fit thinking of them bottling their water out of the fish tank. I think you had to be there but my god it was funny. So then the waiter asked if we would like to try the sardines and we said yes cause we thought he meant we could try a single fish, but he meant a plate so we said no and he said he would fillet it for us and we were in hysterics again thinking of this guy filleting a tiny sardine.... oh it just went on and on but oh so funny, and in the end I got a very nice fish dish and Sarah had the mussels which we both really enjoyed.
The following day was Portugal's national day where many places shut, so it was a great excuse for everyone to get out and party. The great thing in Lisbon is that it is legal to drink outside so all the streets are awash with partiers and it all has such a great vibe and the drinks just like Spain are cheap which makes it even better, so into the night we drank and listened to the music blaring out onto the streets, but no drunken nonsense that night, just a tad better behaved than Lagos!
The final day was just a combination of being hung over and packing and hoping that my bus would run on time as it was a holiday, as the last thing I wanted was to be in another station waiting for hours and hours. So back on the metro I hopped and navigated the turn style much more smoothly than the first time. Off at the right stop and up the stairs into....what? a freaking parking lot and pouring rain??! What the hell happened? I knew this was the right stop because it was the station I came into when I arrived into Lisbon. So it turns out that this stop has two exits, one to the bus station and one about 100m down the road and over a four lane road and into a carpark. f***! And I would have to swipe back into the metro to get to the other side and therefore pay another fee. So a nice man huddling under an umbrella by a coffee stand was good enough to come and tell me this while I was getting soaked looking like a little lost child, so I thanked him very much and set off over the car park and over the road and around the corner in finally found the god damn bus station. Phew. Ticket bought. Bus on time. Off I go again.....