€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! 😂

Macho Tour

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Rossio Square, and another Christmas tree.

It’s my last full day in Lisbon today, and I’m starting it in the same way I started the day yesterday – with another one of Rui’s walking tours (his second ever tour!)

It started late again, and we wandered over to Rossio Square for the usual introductions. Today, it turns out everyone on the tour is male – which is quite rare. Rui took the opportunity to call this the “macho tour”.

On yesterday’s tour, we headed east from the hostel and ventured out in the Alfama direction. Naturally, we’d be heading west today to Bairro Alto.

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Some more Lisbon streets

As we wandered through Rossio station, up the stairs, and continued upwards, I was once again reminded that Lisbon is not a very flat city! While we were wandering through the upper districts, the weather did also take a turn…

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To be honest, I am curious about what they were filming, but it’ll probably only be on Portuguese TV and I’ll never quite know what was going on!

We stood for a little while watching them film a number of people walking through the snow, and listened to a brief history of the area we were in. Once they’d finished filming, they were really quick to clean up after themselves, and it must have only taken about five minutes until there were only subtle hints of snow left.

We walked past the film set, and continued walking in a distinctly upward direction!

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Looking back down the street we just walked up. This is pretty standard for Lisbon.

We did eventually reach the highest planned point on the tour, and I don’t think Rui could resist a good vantage point… and neither could I!

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The view towards Alfama and the castle.

Soon we wandered back down towards the banks of the river. Obviously we stopped in a few places on the way back for brief history lessons. We did also walk past “pink street”, which I believe is where we ended up on my first night, and it’s where Music Box is located.

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My recollection of this street from my first night is a little darker and blurrier!

As we continued down, we made it to the banks of the river, and walked back in the direction of the Praça do Comércio, past a distinctly Portuguese statue…

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Despite what the cloud is saying, today was another beautiful day.

As we continued walking along the river, there was another sculpture, albeit a less permanent one. It looked really cool, and I feel like the artists took their time to make it perfect. As far as I can tell, it was to welcome Pope Francis to Lisbon, although I had no idea if/when he was visiting. Either way, it definitely deserved a photo.

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Pretty cool sculpture.

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Time for a group photo of the “macho tour”.

As we arrived at the square, it was suggested that this tour ends in a special way which nobody objected to – ginjinha… again!

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Well… who am I to say no!

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!

Taking a walk

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One of the many tranquil gardens in the old town – all of which had spectacular views.

Surprisingly, I managed to wake up fairly early this morning. Maybe it was the hostel’s offering of free breakfast subconsciously working its magic, but I was up. What didn’t surprise me was that the people I saw at breakfast were not the same people I saw out last night! Well, they weren’t at least until one of them stumbled in clutching his forehead and looking a little worse for wear. Turns out he was suffering from a Jack Daniel’s-induced hangover!

Every morning, there’s a walking tour from YES! Hostel. It’s scheduled to start at 10:30, but it’s almost 11 by the time we’re ready to go. Apparently, this is the norm. Today, it was Rui’s turn to do the walking tour, and it turns out it was his first time doing it… no pressure then!

We walked over to the Praça do Comércio and had some brief introductions (our names, where we were from, and why we wanted to visit Lisbon). Rui also explained a few things about Lisbon for us and, in his own words; “I’m not telling you where to buy drugs, but don’t buy from these guys on the street. They’re selling you oregano and crushed sugar.”

Vantage points seemed to be a theme of this tour, and we headed uphill from the hostel (with some help from a couple of lifts). Pretty soon, we arrived at the first proper photo opportunity.

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The weather today was definitely better than yesterday! 🙂

As well as vantage points, another theme of this tour seemed to be hills. Rui explained that a few of his friends lost weight when they moved to Lisbon from the walking alone!

As we continued walking up, we encountered São Jorge Castle. If you visit Lisbon and don’t hear anything about the earthquake of 1755, then you’ve learned absolutely nothing! The earthquake was about 9 on the Richter scale and caused widespread damage all across the city. On its own, this would have been substantial but, out in the Atlantic, the plate shift displaced huge amount of water and a tidal wave headed straight for Lisbon. As if that wasn’t enough, this was followed by fires all across the city.

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One of the entrances to São Jorge Castle. Notice the post-earthquake date.

So because of this, buildings still standing since before 1755 are noteworthy in themselves. São Jorge Castle has been extensively renovated since the earthquake… which is more than can be said about some castles in the UK that haven’t suffered earthquake damage!

We didn’t spend any time in the castle and just admired it for a moment from the outside before we continued onwards. It was at this point that I noticed I was the only one wearing just a shirt (I was carrying my jacket). I felt a bit warm, but I guess this was cold by Lisbon standards! As we continued, we came to a patch of green in the middle of the old town (the one in the featured photo).

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Hashtag “Tree for a better world”

With this vantage point came another photo opportunity. I was impressed with the last one, but this one did also have its charms. It certainly felt very continental, and the weather today was just so beautiful (I’m from Wales, so I’m easily impressed!) Whenever you look back at photos, it’s so easy to forget that the body of water is, in fact, a river. The sea is a few miles to the west.

It’s okay. I did see the sea when I was in Sintra yesterday. We even stopped for a minute at a beach in Cascais… not that the weather was conducive to any beachgoing!

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Another beautiful vantage point.

As we continued, I noticed we were walking in amongst some narrow streets with houses on them. It’s sometimes so easy to forget, as a tourist, that there are people actually living here. They’re not decorating their houses and making them pretty for us to see – they’re decorating them and making them pretty because that’s where they live and they’re taking pride in their own home.

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Some classic Portuguese house decoration.

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It wouldn’t be a trip to Lisbon without seeing a tram.

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I love the contrast of the building against the clear blue sky here.

The tour actually went on for quite a bit. I know it’s difficult to get a sense of scale from a blog post, but this took us well over two hours. We eventually finished the tour at the Igreja de Santo António. It was at this point that some of us parted ways, but I headed back to the hostel, along with a few others, because I was planning to head over to Belém with one specific thing in mind!