My flight to Portugal didn’t start out so well. I must say that TAP Airlines did not make a good impression. First off, it was raining. We don’t get a lot of rain in Bologna, but exactly when you don’t want it to rain, it does. And in this rain, they made us walk on the tarmac. I’m really sick of these European airports not boarding directly from the gate to the plane. This was a small-ish one aisle plane which we boarded from both ends. And there was no distinction. So people had to climb over each other in the plane while holding their carry-on luggage. And to top it all off, I sat next to a baby.
I had a few hours to spare waiting for Megan at the airport. I made my way to the airport food court to look for something to eat and an outlet to charge my phone. The outlets were surprisingly hard to come by for an international airport. But I very quickly settled on KFC. It’s good to have some fried chicken. I wish we had KFC in Italy.
The metro system is very clean. And the stations are quite modern looking. Every metro basically puts New York’s subway to shame. Plus it goes all the way to the airport, making it easy and cheap for travelers. As conference attendees we were able to get special weeklong transportation cards at a discounted price. To get to our Airbnb, we had to walk up this ridiculous big hill, all cobblestoned. I brought these impractical boat shoes that were so uncomfortable on the cobblestones all over Lisbon. My feet were in so much pain every day. The Airbnb was very small but clean. It hardly even qualifies as a studio. It was like a little guestroom that is its own separate structure, as if it used to be the shack out back. I slept in the top bunk. The bed was pretty comfortable, but the pillow was lumpy and had this weird texture. Our host was a nice guy. His girlfriend is coincidentally from Bologna.
It was great to see Megan. After being away from so long it was nice to see someone from home. We had a bunch of catching up to do. I’m very thankful that Megan was able to get me a ticket to the Web Summit conference. She bought 2-for-1 with the grant money she won. We had an early dinner (especially early for Iberia) near our Airbnb. We went to the more expensive restaurant that the host recommended, but it wasn’t that expensive. I think Lisbon in general is just a cheaper city. We got fish and encarchada for dessert. I don’t quite remember what that is, but that’s what I wrote down.
On our first full day, we went on a daytrip to Sintra, which was recommended by Megan’s friend and by Miguel. Miguel is from Cascais, which is a neighboring town of Sintra. Sintra is this magical place straight from a storybook up on a hill with castles and palaces and tuk tuks for transportation. To get there, we took a train. It was included in our special transport pass, and when we got to the other end, we had to find a worker to let us out. We got special treatment when he saw our badges.
Once in Sintra, we took a tourist bus to go see the national palace. If Megan had her way, we would’ve been suckered into getting a go-kart. But it just wasn’t practical if we wanted to actually go inside the attractions. So we took the bus. The bus system wasn’t really prepared for the influx of tourists in town for the conference. But when we got to the Palace, we realized it wasn’t worth going inside for that price and the amount of time we actually had to spend. Instead, we ate lunch while we were still in the town. Most places weren’t open yet. But we found a place with a terrace overlooking the town.
The first side was castelo dos mouros, the Moorish Castle. The cobblestones here were really killing me. The whole thing is made of stone. And the switchbacks were painful. The old castle atop the hill is pretty cool. It kind of looks like the Great Wall. And stupid us, we made the mistake of just buying individual tickets instead of buying a combo ticket. Which meant when we got to the next attraction, we had to pay more and we had to wait in a line. We weren’t thinking clearly.
The highlight for me was Pena Palace. It was really one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been. It sits atop a hill overlooking the city. It is something straight out of Alice in Wonderland. The outside looks like they broke off piece of other palaces and then stuck them together. It’s frenetic. The colors are pastel and random and kind of clashing but it works in this Wonderland kind of way. The design is Moorish in places but in others it looks like a classic storybook castle. It is gaudy in a perfect way. The interior design is so over the top and lavish. The ceilings are all painted and textured differently. And the interior doesn’t look as regal as some of the palaces I’ve seen in Italy, but what it lacks in regality it makes up for in creativity.
To get out of the palace grounds, we ended up taking a long way thinking we were taking a short cut. There were lots of hills and we were both in pain from the cobblestones. The one thing we got to see on this long trek was a black swan. So I guess it was worth it.
We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant across from the train station before heading back to Lisbon. It’s always nice to have Chinese food. It was cheap. You find in some of these Chinese restaurants they always have the kids of the owners/chefs/staff hanging around. There were a bunch of them playing and studying and watching cartoons. Chinese people are everywhere.
Back in Lisbon, we accidentally saw Paddy Cosgrave, the founder of Web Summit and the Mayor of Lisbon. We didn’t even know. We saw them walking around the city center live streaming on Facebook and just talking to random people there for the conference. We didn’t recognize them. But we watched the feed back later when we got home. This conference is a big deal for Lisbon. It is bringing in tens of thousands of people to a city that is apparently very dead most of the time. But while we were there, it was very much alive. And as a result, I have a very positive impression of Lisbon. I loved it. The food was cheap and good and the city is picturesque. It’ll take some getting used to the language though. I had trouble figuring out how they pronounce things. Which letters are silent? It seems like they just drop the letters after the last consonant. The letter “s” makes a “sh” sound. The letter “o” sounds like “u.” That’s all I’ve got so far.
Another thing I thought was really funny was that the restaurants sell cut fruit for dessert. I suppose it’s not unusual to have fruit after dinner, but isn’t it weird to sell fruit? Much more to sell cut fruit? Even more to sell something like cut bananas? I thought it was hilarious. And we walked into a store that specializes in sardines. They just sells cans of sardines and it looks like a toy store.
We started our second day late. Or at least I thought it was late. I think I was stressing Megan out. I’m a very uptight traveler and I like to have a set itinerary and most people don’t like planning. We’re different kinds of travelers.
We had lunch at the Time Out Market, which is kind of like Smorgasburg. But it’s indoors. And the portions are bigger. And there is more seating. It’s a better Smorgasburg. And for some reason, it’s run by Time Out magazine. It is right next to an actual market where they sell wholesale to restaurants. We arrived before lunch service started. But we both had an excellent lunch.
We spent most of the day in Belem. The monastery in Belem was closed for the day, which we were OK with. We’d take our picture outside and move on. But what we didn’t realize was that the Tower of Belem was closed too because they close on Mondays. You’d think for the big conference, they’d open for all the visitors they have to the city. To top it off, the Padrao do Descobrementos is under construction. So all the monuments in the area were a disappointment.
I’m the stressful traveler, Megan is the fun traveler. I’m glad she was there. She rented us two Sitways along the water. They are segways, except you sit on them. You control them the same way by leaning forward and backward, and then turning to rotate. It takes some getting used to, but it isn’t that difficult. Though I did almost fall into the water a couple times.
For a snack (and breakfast on most days) we had pastel de nata. It is like dan tat egg custard. It is, in fact, dan tat. This was a shocking revelation to me as if I was lied to all my life! It originated in Portugal, and made its way to China via the Portuguese colony of Macau. Apparently, in Macau they still call them Portuguese egg custards. And then in China, they took away the cinnamon and sugar dusting, and stopped brulee-ing them. The Portuguese version tastes so much better torched. They’re nice and crispy. They are so good. In Belem, they sell Pasteis de Belem, which is basically the name brand pastel de nata. They originated as a creation of the monks of the monastery, and then they commercialized it by opening a café in an old sugar factory. There is usually a very long line there, but when we were there we walked straight in. If you sit in the café, there is also apparently no wait. That’s a secret a local told me. They’re a good, cheap, authentic dessert.
We attended the opening ceremony of the conference at MEO Arena. We’re lucky we got there early because they didn’t let everybody in. They had more room in the arena, but they didn’t start letting people in early enough. We waited for a very long time in line. They weren’t really prepared for so many people. At the opening, I saw the president of the UN, the former president of the EC, the director of the WTO, and JGL (Joseph Gordon Levitt). All of them only had a few minutes to speak, so they didn’t really say too much of substance, but I saw JGL! The arena has a huge backdrop on the stage full of lit up crates. And the lights change color. The CEO of Web Summit took a chance during his presentation trying to go live, but the wi-fi wasn’t working well enough. It made Vodafone look really bad. They had wi-fi problems (notoriously) while the conference was in Dublin. This was the first year they’d moved to Lisbon.
We had dinner at the food court at the mall across the way. We were trying to figure out the logistics to go on the pub crawl. Or rather, I was trying to figure out logistics because I stress over logistics, but I couldn’t make it work. We got on the pub crawl, but we had to split up and my phone was dead and we didn’t know how to get there and we only had one key for the apartment. I was probably stressing over something that wasn’t that big of a deal. And then I stressed out Megan to the point that we just didn’t go. At this point, I was a little reluctant to split up, but I think Megan was ready to be rid of me. We are close friends, but we’ve never spent this much time together before.
Here’s my full album: https://goo.gl/photos/HaUr8m6uKtufnQbY8