€200 that I almost had, but didn’t 🙁

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A gorgeous sunrise view departing from Lisbon.

5am! It was a horrible time to wake up a few days ago, and it’s even worse this time because I’m doing it to fly home. After a quick shower and packing up the few things I couldn’t last night, it was time to say goodbye to Yes! Hostel. I couldn’t have found a better place to spend my few days in Lisbon.

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This was the only time during my whole trip that it was quiet and empty.

Since it was so early in the morning, public transport wasn’t really an option. I requested an Uber and made it to the airport in 15 minutes travelling along the deserted streets and paying €7 for the privilege. I did wonder whether this would have been better getting to the hostel at the start of my trip but, knowing my luck, the traffic would have been horrendous and it would have taken longer than the metro.

I walked up to the check-in desk to pick up my boarding pass, and was asked if I had any bags to check in. When I said no, the agent told me that the flight today was incredibly busy and that they were looking for volunteers to be bumped to the next flight. She then said that they were offering €200 for any passengers doing so, and I immediately volunteered. So she put a note on my booking and said they’d sort things out at the gate should they need me to be bumped.

As it turns out, €200 would cover almost all of my expenditure in Lisbon, so I was starting to get pretty excited about it. A three hour wait for the extra money seemed pretty reasonable. I made my way through security, brought the obligatory bottle of aged tawny port at duty free and made my way to the gate.

What caught me off guard a little was the hoarde of Japanese tourists at the gate. I did wonder whether I was at the wrong gate or if they’d changed it at the last minute, but the screen definitely had my flight on it. I guess Japan to Lisbon via Heathrow is more popular than I expected. I joined the queue and waited what seemed like forever, but I eventually got to the front. I presented my passport and boarding card, and just got waved through.

I was gutted.

I never thought I’d catch myself being disappointed about making a flight, but I was. I guess they had a few no shows and didn’t need the seat, but part of me thinks I should have asked them if they still needed me to be bumped in case they didn’t see the note.

Suffice it to say, the flight was extremely busy. My seat was all the way at the back of the plane in the penultimate row of seats with no overhead luggage space to be found nearby. I had to walk back about halfway before I found any space to stow my bag, but I did find some space. Others weren’t so lucky, and I’m sure the crew spent the last ten minutes of boarding having to explain to passengers that there was no space and apologise profusely that their bags would have to be put in the hold.

Anyway, my flight left on time and I got to enjoy one last look at Lisbon before whizzing through the air back to the UK.

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I think my British Airways plane might have been the odd one out in this lineup!

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One final look at their “fake Golden Gate Bridge” before going home!

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I don’t care how meager their offering is; I’m still going to miss the free food and drink. Can you tell I’m looking forward to paying £5 for a sandwich?

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Flying over Windsor Castle on final approach to Heathrow.

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The flight was really full and my bag was about halfway down the plane from my seat… but I was lucky enough to get my bag on the plane at least!

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Terminal 3 done… Terminal 4 is now the only one I haven’t travelled from.

About three hours later, we arrived in Heathrow. Our arrival caught me a little off guard because I was expecting to arrive at Terminal 5, but we taxied away from it and towards Terminal 3. It turns out that not all BA flights use T5 yet. This does mean though, that I only have Terminal 4 left to conquer. Although I’m not sure I’d quite stoop to the level of booking a holiday solely because I can fly there from Terminal 4!

The weather in Lisbon was pretty mild, and a bit warmer than the UK, but the weather seemed to have taken a turn in the few days I was away. While walking off the plane and into the terminal, I was met with an extremely chilly draught from the gap between the plane and the jetbridge. I’d have to face that cold later when I eventually emerge from the Underground at Victoria, but at least I had a bit of a reprieve until then.

My journey back to Cardiff was nowhere near as exciting as the journey to London. Just a boring coach. It was a more straightforward journey though because there’s a National Express stop about 30 seconds walk from my house, so there’s that at least!

4 months to go until my next trip! 😂

Heavenly pastries

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The Jerónimos Monastery in Belém.

I will be completely honest – I didn’t even realise until about halfway through writing the post that the title worked on multiple levels! Don’t worry, all will become clear in a bit.

 When I went to Lisbon, I didn’t really make any plans. I decided I’d just get there and then go with the flow, so to speak. There’s lots stuff to do in Lisbon, so this is a fairly easy way of doing things. And there have been trips in the past where I have loads of things I want to do but never get the chance to do, which means I leave ever so slightly disappointed.

Not this time.

I got back to the hostel and spoke to the staff there about going to Belém. I only had one thing in mind going there, but I ended up with a list of things to see there. I also ended up with company, because three of us were separately, but simultaneously, planning to go to Belém.

So I set off with Erica and Amjad to the Praça do Comércio to catch a tram. As you head out east, some weird thoughts start popping into your head… I’m on a tram and I can see the Golden Gate Bridge… am I sure that I’m in Lisbon?

It turns out they have a bridge that looks very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m not sure how much confusion it causes, but it looked nice anyway. It was also right next to a small replica of “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio.

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In Belém looking back towards the “fake Golden Gate bridge” and a dark and moody sky.

The first thing we needed to do here was get some food. Nothing too extravagant, just something small for lunch. This is where Pão Pão Queijo Queijo (literally “bread bread cheese cheese”) came in. Obviously I only had a small sample size but, as far as I’m aware, they make the best sandwiches in Lisbon. Please pay no attention to my opinions though, because I was only here for a few days!

Once we sorted food, we walked over to the nearby monastery. I’m not really sure how it compares to others because I haven’t really got a benchmark for it, but it was pretty big. We did go inside, and stared in awe at the grand medieval looking interiors… with Bose speakers attached!

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One of the few photos I took from inside the monastery.

After this, we headed over to the riverside and took some more photos of the bridge.  I feel at this point I should mention that the bridge is actually called “Ponte 25 de Abril”, although it was named “Ponte Salazar” until 1974 after the dictator of the same name – the last dictatorship in Western Europe.

Obviously a trip to Europe isn’t complete without some form of culture. Near the monastery was the Centro Cultural de Belém, so we thought we’d pay a visit. It turned out to be an art gallery… a modern art gallery! We spent about an hour wandering around alternating between appreciating the work, pretending to understand it, and childishly sniggering at the “art”.

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One of the many rooms in the gallery.

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Ah… I see what you did there!

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Aww! 🙁

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Okay, I think we’ve been here long enough!

After spending some time here, we left before the sun was due to set. It’s just as well really because we weren’t sure if one of us had just walked over an inconsequential piece of slate, or one of the exhibits!

We wandered over to the tower to get some sunset photos. It turned out to be quite busy and full of tourists!

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There’s about ten times as many tourists stood behind me!

We headed back towards the centre, but it wasn’t possible for us to pass the stall on the side of the path selling Ginjinha. It’s a cherry liqueur famous in Lisbon, and it’s probably best served in a chocolate cup.

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We continued to head back, past the Jerónimos Monastery which, by this point, was looking even prettier now that the sun had set.

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But we didn’t stop anywhere else on the way back. We had some important business to attend to…

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I’m perfectly happy to say that this shop sells hands down the best pastry-based thing in the world – pastéis de Belém. They were originally made in the Jerónimos Monastery nearby until they sold the recipe to a sugar refining company. They opened this shop in 1837 and have been making them to their secret recipe ever since.

I don’t think words can really do them justice – you’ll have to try them yourself and see. I made a point of not having any pastéis de nata until I made it here, and it was well worth the wait. I brought way too many of them but, in a more accurate way, nowehere near enough!

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

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 And with that, it was time for us to head back. We wandered out of Pastéis de Belém and to the tram stop across the road, and waited what felt like significantly longer than we waited to get there. Eventually, a tram did arrive though, and it was one of the old style trams, which was even more reminiscent of San Fransisco.

Since the tram stop for our hostel was on the Praça do Comércio, we walked out and saw how pretty it looked with the Christmas decorations up. I haven’t even had dinner yet, but it already feels like it was the perfect day. I guess we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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This is what Lisbon’s Christmas trees looked like all across the city – they’re waaay better than the abomination that Cardiff City Council are calling a tree!

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You can even go inside the tree!

The most pointless flight ever

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Flying somewhere over Essex, looking towards central London.

My upcoming flight to Lisbon will be departing from Heathrow tomorrow. I seem to have this weird fondness for it at the moment, and I’m not sure if it’s anything to do with being a bit of a plane geek and liking big airports, or if I just prefer to avoid budget airlines like Ryanair and easyJet if I can. Either way, I need to find a way of travelling from Cardiff to London.

Normally, I’d look at catching the train or a bus, but I opted for a different mode this time. When the Severn Tunnel closed for 6 weeks in October, travelling to London by train took longer than usual and Flybe stepped in and said they’d offer direct flights between Cardiff and London City, and then continued to offer the flights even after the tunnel reopened because of demand.

Now that a train to London takes just over two hours again, it’s kind of pointless. I just thought it would be a cool way to arrive in London, and an opportunity to see it from the air.

Also, it was cheaper than the train!

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I got an entire row to myself on the flight!

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Flying somewhere over England.

When I got to London, I met up with my friend Jonathan (one of my fellow medal and flower bearers at the London 2012 Olympics). It was his birthday a couple of days before, so I latched onto his birthday meal! We were eating at Gaucho in Central London.

The thing is, I live in the most expensive city in Wales (Cardiff), but the cost of everything pales into insignificance when you compare it to London. This place is almost certainly considered cheap for London, but I was looking through the menu for the cheap options. In the end, I decided to splurge a bit (I was on holiday after all) and didn’t regret it. Argentinian grass-fed steak with chimichurri is a culinary experience I’d gladly go through again!

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The view out of the windows was pretty cool…

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…but the view down towards the table was even better!

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Mmmmmmm… *drools*

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I may have been in the mood to splurge, but I wasn’t sure if that stretched to an £80 glass of cognac!