One of my blogging struggles of late has been trying to focus on what I actually want this blog to be. Whether you’re a full-time blogger or doing this just as a bit of fun, I think it’s easy to question yourself and let the doubts creep in. Are people still reading this? Are they enjoying it? Is the content good enough? What can I do better? What are other bloggers doing?
It took me giving advice to someone else recently to remember why I started this – I enjoy it! I want to read back about MY experiences and whether it’s 1 person or 1,000 that read along it shouldn’t matter.
So the questions switched from the above to am I still enjoying this? Does this blog truly reflect me? What can make it more personal?
There are several styles to approach blogging with and different things work for different bloggers. However the aim of the (blogging) game for me is going to be keeping a personal touch to this.
In spite of that I do still want to do the places I visit justice and offer people some inspiration to visit; with that in mind this has possibly been my toughest blogpost yet.
Spending three days in a city should be plenty of time to talk about everything the city has to offer and yet I’m struggling. I barely scratched the surface in Lisbon. To say I spent three days in Lisbon would be a lie, three nights would probably be more appropriate. I checked in to my hostel on Wednesday morning and was greeted to a “welcome to Lisbon” shot. In more ways than one that should have been a sign of things to come.
I say more ways than one because whilst it was certainly a sign of how much alcohol I would end up consuming on this trip, it was also a reflection of Lisbon’s hospitality. I had never been to Portugal before but I already felt right at home.
Of all the places I’ve visited, I’m not sure there’s anywhere I’ve felt as welcomed as I did in Lisbon throughout my stay. I’ve yet to visit anywhere that can match Portugal’s hospitality and a lot of accommodation awards and reviews back that up!
Lisbon made me fall in love with Portugal very quickly and the people were a big reason for that. Three days (nights) in Lisbon gave me a wonderful impression of the country and it’s definitely somewhere I want to explore more of – Porto in particular is now high on the list of places to visit!
However back to Lisbon, it’s a beautiful city and like many capital cities has a lot to offer. I didn’t get to experience as much as I’d intended before going as the evening antics did result in some necessary recovery time the following day. Nevertheless here’s what I got up to in Lisbon and why my 2014 trip proved to be so memorable.
I’d convinced my friend Daniel that we should go out to Portugal to watch the football. A football-orientated European away trip had been a childhood dream of mine and by 2014 I was itching to do my first overseas trip watching Tottenham.
The schedule sent us to play Lisbon based Benfica and it was too good an opportunity to miss. Lisbon was a “must-do trip” .
Me and Daniel booked our flights and accommodation separately as I was a little less cautious in worrying about getting a ticket for the football – worst case scenario I’d find a pub in Lisbon to watch it if it proved to be problematic.
We both took morning flights from London but I arrived in to Lisbon an hour earlier which gave me a small opportunity to have a little wander before lunch.
I first found my hostel on the off-chance I could check in early – my room wasn’t ready but the guy on reception kindly gave me a shot (as mentioned above) and showed me around the hostel. I left my bag in some storage and got back to having a little wander of the city.
First impressions of Lisbon were good, admittedly the sunshine probably helped but the city had character in abundance. I quickly arrived at one of Lisbon’s most famous squares – the Praca do Comercio. It’s a huge area overlooking the Tagus river with a range of restaurants closeby. A great place for people-watching!
My next impressions weren’t so flattering – I was soon approached by a couple of guys enquiring if I’d like to purchase some drugs from them. This seemed a regular occurrence in Lisbon over the next couple of days in what appeared to be a bizarre combined sunglasses and drugs enterprise. “Sunglasses? Hash?” – seemingly unable to sell one without the other.
They were everywhere Wednesday and Thursday but had seemingly disappeared come Friday with grey skies. I politely declined which was a better response than they received from most of my fellow Brits on Thursday. Admittedly they didn’t have the strongest business model – attempting to sell cheap sunglasses to people wearing sunglasses wasn’t ever likely to be too successful!
I arranged to meet Daniel around lunchtime in Rossio Square – having never been to Lisbon I had no idea how big the square was or how easy it’d be to find each-other so I reverted to Google for a suitable meeting spot.. “Outside the big yellow M?”
A lack of Wi-Fi meant I knew I wouldn’t be able to contact Daniel in Lisbon so I figured meeting outside of something so easily recognisable would be the best option before moving on elsewhere.
It sounds like a good idea in theory but did this famous M jump out at me? No. “Where the fuck is this McDonalds?”
My first impression in Bonn (Germany) exiting its train station was the sight of that big yellow M which was a damning first impression but, on this occasion, when I was actively looking for it I was having no luck whatsoever. I reckon I walked past it at least once, plus figured maybe I’d confused it with a neighbouring square so circled that at least once too. Eventually I found Daniel who found it a little quicker than I had.
Even if we’d wanted to go inside I think I’d have boycotted it on this occasion in my frustration at finding it!
As it was we found a little bakery / pastry shop nearby and picked up some good local cuisine – pastries and fish are particularly popular in Lisbon.
After a quick lunch we went and grabbed a beer, soaked up the sunshine and did a little people-watching. It killed a bit of time before allowing us to head to our hostels and get checked in.
We made the most of a little downtime and arranged to meet up again later in the evening, find some food and go and find a bar to watch the Wednesday night football. We found an Irish pub and apparently weren’t alone in our thinking as we came to find there were a number of other Spurs fans already here creating a bit of an atmosphere.
A few beers and an early start had taken its toll on me, I definitely dozed off at one point during the football which says it all for how exciting the game was. We got talking to a couple of other guys who’d traveled over from England but left soon after the football finished in aim of an early night. Tomorrow was going to be all about the football and soaking up the atmosphere in Rossio Square with thousands of Spurs fans expected to be in Lisbon for Thursday evening’s game. We didn’t want to start drinking too early so agreed to meet up around lunchtime – allowing us the morning to explore independently.
On the walk back to my hostel I’d been craving food and before heading up to sleep I thought that I’d pop my head in to the bar area to see if food was a possibility – success! I ordered some pizza and was told to “take a seat” and someone would bring it over. A party of four to my right invited me over to join them. I was feeling pretty drowsy and planned to get a good night’s sleep after eating but the opportunity to make some friends quickly perked me up.
Minutes later a party of three had sat down to my left and were engaging me in conversation and looking on in pizza-envy! There wasn’t enough pizza to go around, mind you I’m not sure I would have shared it anyway.
The party to my right had dispersed shortly after but I shared conversation and drinks with the other three for the remainder of the night. At 2 euros a beer I was even content buying the odd round because four beers for less than ten euros seemed a bargain.
It got to around 1am and we called it a night – “see you at breakfast” someone said rather optimistically. I don’t know if the other three made it but my attempt was much less successful!
I’m not going to go in to Thursday’s daytime antics too much as I plan to do a separate post on life in Lisbon from a football perspective. Plus there isn’t much to tell.
Daniel spent his morning exploring for miles and I’d spent mine in bed still feeling a little rough from the night before. We met around lunchtime for a few hours of drinking and singing in Rossio Square and then dispersed towards Benfica’s Estadio De Luz (Stadium of Light).
After the football we arrived back in to Rossio Square to find a scattering of Spurs fans still around and occupying the restaurants. We grabbed a late dinner and finished off the evening with a couple of drinks before calling it a night.
I’d already had a taster of night-time fun in my hostel so couldn’t resist the temptation of popping in to the bar for “a quick drink” in the hope maybe I’d cling to some more new friends or bump in to the ones from the night before.
The bar was a bit busier at this point as the hostel run their famous “Mamas Dinners” and I think this had just ended followed by an imminent pub crawl.
Two Spanish guys saw me sat by myself and invited me over. We got chatting and they asked if I’d like to join them to go and watch some local Fado music as there was a particular artist they wanted to see playing. It sounded perfect to me!
Off we went in to the streets of Lisbon to find this bar. In hindsight I should have messaged Daniel, told him to leave his hostel and join us. I got swept up in the excitement of heading out with new friends and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Sorry Daniel!
Soon enough we arrived at this cosy little bar with lots of locals dancing away. We grabbed a couple of beers and joined in, enjoying the atmosphere of the place. It didn’t go on too late (I think) but it was such a fun evening and a real highlight. We parted ways once back at the hostel but I was so thankful they’d invited me to tag along. It wasn’t something I would ever have done otherwise.
De ja vu! I’d had a fun night but it led to another morning not wanting to get out of bed. I hadn’t seen much of Lisbon on Wednesday and seen even less on Thursday – with another morning passing me by I had to make the most of my Friday afternoon.
If I saw nothing else on this trip I had to go and see the Sao Jorge castle.
I can’t recommend anything else in Lisbon so fortunately I can at the very list recommend visiting here. The grounds are great to look around and the views are stunning and make the entry fee worthwhile. For better photographers than myself it is a dream location and we even had a peacock for company wandering the castle grounds! Crazy!
After getting plenty of photos we made our way back in to town for an early dinner. The city felt much emptier than previous days with the majority of Brits already homeward bound by this point.
Following dinner we returned to our hostels to freshen up and enjoy one last night in Lisbon. I’d missed out on the hostel pub crawl on the previous two nights so there was part of me tempted to do it this evening. However given I had a Saturday morning flight I took the more sensible approach and avoided it.
After a little time to relax I waited outside my hostel for Daniel to come and meet me – the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was apparent rain was imminent.
I rushed back upstairs to pick up my coat and found two young women had checked in to my shared room. They were also Brits but studying in Spain and just wanted a little weekend break in Lisbon.
I was conscious I was now late meeting Daniel so I said my goodbyes and left them to relax. Again in hindsight I should have invited them to join us for a few drinks in Lisbon. Another missed opportunity that, looking back on, I wished I’d done differently. Oops!
I met Daniel downstairs and suggested we grab a beer at the hostel bar and hope the rain would pass. With no signs of improvement we braved the rain and went off in search of a bar in one of Lisbon’s famous neighbourhoods (Bairro Alto) known for having a great nightlife.
Being a Friday evening we were hopeful of finding some fun bars to enjoy ourselves but instead were greeted with a zombie-like city.
I don’t know if we’d gone out too early to enjoy the Portuguese nightlife or whether they’re all fair-weather drinkers afraid of a little rain but we passed several bars which were empty. Eventually we gave in and just found a cosy-looking bar to get out of the rain. After a couple of drinks we moved on hoping for more success and found this tiny bar showing some Portuguese football. The only other people here were a group of Portuguese women who seemed more interested in having a dance than the football. Realising they weren’t going to have much luck here they left and soon after we did the same in search of a livelier bar.
Finally we found a bar with some music playing and looked to have more than a handful of people inside – the first bar that didn’t seem completely dead. Along with a number of other people we’d somehow found the group of women from the bar before who seemed equally amused that we’d crossed paths again.
We enjoyed the music but were soon on our way again but resigned to the fact we weren’t having much luck finding somewhere in Lisbon. On the way back to our hostels we did pass one bar which actually seemed busy and we could certainly squeeze another beer in so figured we’d go in.
It seemed like an after-work hangout for the business folk of the city – a little posher than anywhere else we’d been. I ordered a beer which the barman handed to me. A bottle of beer accompanying a glass, as I reached for just the bottle I was met with a look of disgust from the barman – “Use the glass you peasant”.
Whilst I didn’t argue I did wonder why he’d given me a bottle if I wasn’t supposed to use it. If you’re going to force me in to using a glass then pour the damn beer in to the glass for me – i.e do your bloody job as a barman.
Needless to say it isn’t a bar I’d feel a rush to return to and we only stayed for the one beer.
We’d had a few beers but weren’t too drunk, however it felt like a good time to call it a night and so headed back to our hostels. I’d like to say that’s where the night ended for me but you can probably see where this is going.
I’d purposefully avoided the pub crawl in order to not get too drunk but another quick one before bed at the hostel bar wouldn’t hurt, right?
I’d not even got as far as ordering a beer and I could hear my name. The Spanish guys from the night before were waving me over to come and join them to which I was happy to oblige.
They were sat with some new friends around this large round table and I found some space to join them. The guys had a guitar with them tonight and were playing some Spanish tunes and having a bit of a sing-along. I had no idea what they were singing but most of the tunes were easy to follow and clap along to. The songs kept coming, the beers kept flowing and I was in the best of company – pure bliss!
I forgot to add one of the Spanish guys only spoke broken English (still better than my Spanish), the night before his friend had played a happy interpreter to leave nobody feeling left out. With the night winding down my Spanish friend tried, in his best English, to ask what songs I liked that he could play. I was trying to think of artists or bands that he might be familiar with and posed the question – “Oasis?”
Next thing I know he’s blasting out Wonderwall on the guitar and we’re both singing along in one of those rare instances where you realise how incredible music can be in bringing people together. He couldn’t speak good English, I could speak virtually no Spanish and yet here we were sharing this incredible moment belting out a classic with some beers.
It would have been the perfect time to call it a night but some French guy bought a round of vodka shots. I hate being in debt with people, even strangers, so of course I had to return the favour .
By this point it was clear I needed to get to bed but the damage was probably already done. I’d avoided the pub crawl and probably ended up equally drunk anyway. We said our goodnights and they wished me luck for the morning in my attempt to get home. I was going to need it!
A morning flight? Why!? This is another wonderful case of hindsight and prioritising relationships over convenience. Trying to make long distance work with some girl based in Birmingham was tricky whilst holding a Monday-Friday job. Weekends were the easiest chance for us to catch up so I figured I’d fly home Saturday morning so we could still spend Saturday evening and Sunday together.
2-3 weeks later we’d broken up and I now wish I’d flown home Saturday evening instead or, better yet, Sunday evening and had an extra day in Lisbon.
I woke up feeling SO rough on the Saturday. I also wasn’t helped by waking up late which meant I had a mad rush to get checked out and to the airport in time for my flight. I flagged down a taxi and crossed my fingers that I’d be on that flight home back to England.
Fortunately I was. I felt awful and flying didn’t help that. It’s one of the worst hangovers I’ve had but fortunately I ended up sleeping most of the way which was probably for the best.
Reflecting back on Lisbon could easily be seen as a waste to some people. I would love to have more photos or to have seen more of the city and it’s definitely somewhere I want to return to but there’s not a chance I’d swap those memories for a hangover free morning on any of the days I spent in Lisbon.
Whilst it wasn’t the three days I’d anticipated, the three nights are some of the best I’ve had traveling and the people I met only enforced why I love exploring this beautiful planet.
Thank you for being such wonderful hosts Portugal! I love you!