We landed a wonderful little stopover in Lisbon when booking our flights home. Originally I booked 3 nights, then thought it might be a bit unnecessary to stay so long. Simply put it ain’t. This city is quite the underrated gem. Everyone flocks to Barcelona like its the best thing since sliced bread, and I’m sure it is but with the price of an artisan bloomer from the Harrods food court. Whereas Lisbon is charmingly beautiful, temperate and empty in mid March, all at the price of a cut tiger loaf from Asda. Seriously this place is a refreshing change from bafflingly costly Brazil. We spent the first morning dazed and confused at 6 am in the airport, fresh of a night flight from Brazil, but with the time zone difference we only managed 2 hours sleep. More infuriating was the on board entertainment, the in flight listings boasted a plethora of new releases including amongst others, Dallas Buyers Club, The Counsellor and Twelve Years a Slave, all films we missed on the road and were really excited about, yet the channels were not working and we got stuck with cheesy comdies. Walking like zombies around arrivals we were caught on film whilst the airport security were being filmed training the sniffer dogs. This in combination with our first sunrise in a long time really messed up our confused body clocks.
We bagged a last minute bargain online for a hostel. Normally we Couchsurf in cities but we didn’t get a reply before we left Brasilia so we reserved a hostel for one night, the City Centre Hostel to be precise. Normally I’d never list accommodation in blog posts, but this is necessary as it was superb, quite possibly in fact the best value for money place I have ever stayed in Europe. Really comfy rooms and free breakfast, with a private double room for only €17 a night. We spent the morning sleeping until early afternoon but managed to squeeze in some sights on the first day. Firstly we walked along the Rua Agusta, under the arches onto the main square and grabbed a takeaway pizza to sit on the sea front. Then we walked the winding streets up to Castelo de São Jorge in time for sun set with beautiful views of the city and peacocks strolling around. We discovered Typographica the superb little tshirt store with a window to the graphic design studio producing them, and bought replacements for the hole ridden rags we had thrown away. We met our host for the following couple of nights and tried the Portuguese national drink of Ginjinha, to our surprise alongside on duty police officers. We then went on to a cute cafe to drink tea, my first green tea pot in months.
Our second day was an adventure to Sintra, the UNESCO site strewn with castles of Disney cartoon proportions. We started at the Gothic Quinta da Regaleira castle, a land of labyrinths, grottos and a 27m deep dripping well. I felt like a kid running around the underground tunnels getting lost. If you lived there you would never get bored, there is an aquarium and tennis courts, but best of all fantastic views of all the other castles nearby. We caught the bus up to Pena Palace, and walked around the grounds. It was like it was built for a fairy tale film set, with girly pastel colours and gargoyles. The views of the Moorish castle looked like the Great Wall of China. I slept on the short train journey back to Rossio and woke up in time to head for an Indian before fancy drinks in a 1920s themed cocktail bar, where I tried some Port.
The third day was a leisurely one spent at the hairdressers and shopping. I had a dip dye, wash, cut and blow dry for the princely sum of €17, the same price as a room for the night! We then picked up a dapper suit in Zara after painstakingly trying on different options one after the other. In the evening we wandered down to the main restaurant parade for a prato do dia, my monkfish and seafood risotto was enough for 3 people but seriously good. We walked up to bar top test Portuguese wines and cheeses, my idea of heaven, before heading up to Barrio Norte for a caipi and to see the night time views of the city from the other side of the valley.
The only downside to staying in central Lisbon is the contant drug pushing. It is really quite overwhelming, I’ve been to grotty basement clubs with less dealers, Lisbon is truly something else. Every third person approached us offering us the same fake drugs it grew tiresome, but as soon as we discussed it with a shop owner to learn that the only reason they are such brazen salesmen is because they never sell anything real, we got quite creative with our witty answers.
Getting to the airport seemed like a normal daily travel endeavour, but the realisation that we were actually going back to England only kicked in on landing. The landing was a horrific ordeal of feeling like we were nose diving followed by a slam on the breaks once we hit the runway, pretty sure there was no rubber left on the tyres, but hey ho we were back in Blighty with sunshine to boot. Portugal turned out to be more than just a quick cheap stopover, Lisbon is utterly amazing and with the beautiful weather we had and the quietness of being there so out of season, it was heaven. I would recommend it to anyone to keep an eye on cheap flights and go for a long weekend.