Thursday, 26 March 2015

City Break in Lisbon

This month Rik and I had the pleasure of exploring Portugal’s capital city in our “mystery getaway.” I was so captivated by the thought of a European mystery getaway, I knew I had to buy it straight away. There are so many parts of Europe I have left on my list to visit, and this would make it so much easier than picking somewhere! Budapest was high on my list, and I also would have been happy with Prague, Dublin or Barcelona. In the end we were given Lisbon, which I felt rather indifferent about – but after a wonderful, sunny few days I’m glad we got the chance to stay in a city I probably would have never bothered to visit.

We were so lucky with the weather – even though it was early March it was gorgeous and hotter than expected. Rik even got sunburnt! We weren't so lucky with the hotel... as it was a mystery we had no control over the flight times or accommodation, so I did expect the worse. But I have stayed in better hostels than this Lisbon "hotel!" A few weeks too late, I've just found about the Hostel Geeks website which features 5 star hostels around the world. There's one in Lisbon which I really wish we could have stayed in, it looks awesome!

On the first day we did all the touristy stuff – first we climbed the excessive hills of the city’s streets to reach the beautiful Castelo de São Jorge which looks knowingly over Lisbon. The views were incredible on that clear day. Then we took a ride on the tourist tram route through the city, noticing every cobbled street and piece of laundry which was hanging out of the apartment windows. We finished the afternoon relaxing on a park bench, before heading out for dinner and finding a spot with an idyllic view – a view so perfect that I knew I recognised it, and soon matched it up with the front cover of my guide book!

Tram Selfie

Stopping off at a stunning viewpoint on the way to the castle

Which brings me to my next point. On this trip I had a rude awakening, and learnt to never 100% trust a guidebook! I’m one of those travellers who LOVES to grab the guidebook and consult it at every turn. I memorise it on the plane journey and decide exactly what attractions we are visiting and where we are eating for lunch and dinner every day, according to the location and description. But Lisbon and Lonely Planet rumbled me this time. I chose a bar with a ‘stunning rooftop’ view for before dinner cocktails, followed by dinner at a Portuguese restaurant offering local food at local prices. We got lost looking for this rooftop bar, only to arrive and to be told it was shut on Mondays (not what it said in the book). So then, feeling very annoyed we jumped into a taxi to take us to our second stop – the restaurant. After arriving at a “road” which was simply a set of stairs, we walked up and down it twice and couldn’t see a hint of the place we were looking for! Tired and hungry with aching legs, we settled for another nearby restaurant which didn’t disappoint! This is where we ate alfresco and found the best view in Lisbon with the castle lip up at the top of the hill:

So I have learnt my lesson and next time I won’t rely heavily on guidebooks and other travel advice. Sometimes it’s better to be spontaneous, get lost in the backstreets and see what you discover. The following day we headed for the suburbs and the beaches, where I was pleasantly surprised. Just 20-30 minutes out of the city you’ll find Carcevelos, a huge surf beach with crystal blue waves and white sand. I didn’t think our city break could turn into a beach holiday so rapidly, but it did! We also got the chance to meet up with my friend Luke from uni, who is living in Portugal at the moment so that was lovely too.

Before we flew home we did something cheesy and locked our love away in Rossio square. I love all the lover’s padlock stuff, and I’ve always longed to go to Paris to leave our mark on the bridge (even though I’ve heard about the negative effects this is having on the architecture). This was a little different – it was a temporary structure, spelling out the word LOVE and asking for donations for the special padlocks which go towards a Mozambique-based charity. As we were celebrating our anniversary, it was the perfect excuse to join in with the cheesiness! Even though it won’t stay there forever as it was like a temporary art exhibition, we have the memories and photographs to cherish and I don’t have the guilt of knowing I have contributed to ruining the city’s structures.

It might not be as popular as Rome, Venice or Amsterdam, but Lisbon is definitely a city break destination which should be on your radar. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it!