Europe 2017, Days 5 & 6: Last days in Lisbon; How I nearly broke my tailbone
Note: This entry is part of a 6 week (44 day) journey through Portugal, Spain, and France. Click "Destinations" from the main menu or home page to read more entires on this great adventure!
This day was our very first "early start" of the trip, and our first planned excursion. For the past few days, we'd been sleeping late and waking up late. Our nightly battle with insomnia seemed to be a combination of jet lag, excitement of being in a new place, and the cultural lifestyle of keeping late hours pretty much every night. I slept around 3am and struggled with my 6am alarm, slamming the snooze button a handful of times until I finally dragged myself out of bed like the living dead. Shaun scheduled a 6:45am Uber ride to the Oriente train station, which is about 20 minutes away (the local train station didn't run to where we were headed). Once at the Oriente, we'd catch an 8am train to Faro in the Algarve region, famed for its beautiful beaches.
Well, my friends, the day did not start out on a great note for me. And although I was quite embarrassed about it for a while, I'm sharing this story in the hopes that you'll get as good a laugh out of it as I eventually did...and maybe as a cautionary tale to be careful going up and down the stairs of old buildings.
Our apartment in Lisbon was on the highest level of a several hundred year old building with no elevator. Every day we climbed up and down 4 sets of very narrow wooden stairs made worn and slippery from use. The edges were rounded and polished smooth from decades of wear, and each step held about half of my US size 7.5 foot.
This particular morning, I was rushing down the steps to get to our Uber driver, afraid he might drive away because we were running a few minutes behind. It all happened very fast, but looking back I can safely assume that I put my full weight on the very edge of a step (wearing brand new sandals, soles still slick and with no "grab"). Suddenly my legs went out from under me and I was crashing onto my bum down at least 5 steps, my purse and its contents flying around me. Shaun heard the "thump thump thump" and scattering of my belongings from the top of the stairs and shouted for me. Have you ever hit your head so hard, you felt it in your nose? That's sort of what it felt like. The impact of each step shot up my spine, richocheted in my teeth and nasal cavity, and sent a lightning bolt of pain down my left leg.
I am not one for big dramatic scenes. My mom gave me the scary Asian "tiger mom" eyes whenever I tried to make a scene as a kid, and so I learned quickly not to bring attention to myself. Shaun came running down the stairs and fussed a bit over me, but I just shook him off (I also don't like being fussed over, especially when I'm in pain) and made sure I could move all my extremities. Jolted, but not gravely injured from what I could tell, I followed Shaun outside to meet our Uber driver, determined to not let this mishap ruin my day. And then I sat down in the car. Holy hell. It felt like I sat on a shard of broken glass stuck straight into my tailbone. It hurt so much I refused to scoot down to make space for Shaun -- at that moment I just couldn't move an inch more. Confused, Shaun sat up front next to the driver while I quietly held in colorful expletives every time we hit a bump in the road (which was...a lot).
We arrived at Oriente train station and Shaun asked if I was mad at him (it's not like me to be so quiet for so long), to which I sullenly replied, "No...It just hurts and I feel like a big idiot." By this point, the shock of the fall wore off and I was limping pathetically after Shaun, up the stairs and around the station. At first we thought we might find a little shop that sold ibuprofen or something, but no such luck. Defeated, I limped my way to our waiting area, gazing in dismay at the hard metal seats. The board showed a 1 hour wait, and I was weighing the benefits of standing for an hour versus sitting on my sore bum in the metal chairs...when we saw the preferred waiting lounge around the corner. Looking through the glass walls, I saw cushioned couches and my heart jumped. I remembered that it was less than 10 euros more to book the "VIP" tickets, and was pretty sure those were the ones we had purchased. But I wasn't sure if "VIP" included the lounge. So I limped in, and the nice lady at the desk confirmed that we indeed had access to this lounge with our VIP train tickets.
Nevermind the air conditioning and free wifi. I had never been so grateful for a soft cushioned seat in my entire life. Shaun mentioned to the receptionist that I had fallen prior to arriving and inquired if there was somewhere in the station that sold medicine. She shook her head and apologized as she looked at me, watching me lower myself gingerly onto a couch, trying not to wince too much. This kind woman picked up the phone, and with my broken understanding of Portuguese, began asking what I would assume were her colleagues, one after another, for pain medicine. About 15 minutes later, a man came in and handed her something. She approached me, dropped a sealed bubble pack of two 500mg paracetamol pills (a type of generic Tylenol) into my hand, and told me it was the best she could manage. I thanked her profusely, and my opinion of Portugal rose even higher than it already was.
Leave it to me to fall and badly bruise my tailbone the day we have a 4 hour train ride to sit through. Thankfully, the VIP train tickets also gave us more comfortable seats, and some delicious free coffee. I survived the ride, watching the countryside and random towns go by until I fell asleep. Shaun studied more of his AP Environmental Science book while I caught up on sleep (if you know me, you know 3 hours is not nearly enough), and I awoke to our arrival in Faro on a blustery overcast day.
Faro was another learning experience for us. Tip: when planning little day trips, make sure you do enough research! Our research consisted of asking the ticket seller at the train station in Lisbon how to get to the Algarve beaches. He told us to take the train to Faro, and from there we'd find "many beaches." Well, that wasn't exactly the case. We thought the train was going to drop us off at some beach town where we could walk along boardwalks and see the "many beaches." Nope! Faro is a port town. You must take the ferry to reach the islands and peninsulas that hold their beautiful beaches, and in some instances even a taxi. We figured all this out while eating lunch at a local cafe, and sadly realized that it would have been better to reserve a hotel here for a night so we could have enough time to enjoy several beaches. As it was, we had arrived in Faro at noon and the last train for Lisbon would leave at 6pm. Six hours isn't enough, folks! Give yourself at least two days if you plan a visit.
We headed to the port, thinking we could find the ferries there. You would think the port to be a solid guess, right? Wrong! After much confusion and walking in circles, we figured out that the ferries were about a 10 minute walk away from the port. Despite the time we wasted trying to find the ferries, we managed to arrive on schedule for a 1:15pm ferry to Ilha Deserta (also known as Barreta Island). There was a ferry tour to 3 islands/beaches, but it would have ended well past 6pm and we'd miss our train back to Lisbon. So we chose one beach to visit, and it was a beautiful choice! The ferry ride was about 40 mins long, landing us at Ilha Deserta around 2pm.
As its name suggests, Deserta is a small island with but one building (a pricey restaurant) in the middle that you can access from one of many wooden plank pathways. The only other structures we saw were a couple of little fisherman's hut by the dock. The middle of the island is an arid landscape, dotted by small shrubby plants similar to those found in Southern California. We followed a wooden plank path to the edge of the island, diverging off the path once we found a secluded strip of beach. Shaun took a dip while I laid out, enjoying the feeling that we were on our very own deserted island. My bum was feeling much better by now, so I was able to relax as the day warmed up. Two hours and a short nap later, we trudged back to the dock to catch the last ferry back to mainland Faro.
We wandered through the city for a bit, enjoying the stone architecture and port views. We grabbed a coffee and a crepe from a port-side sweets stand, people watched for a bit, then made our way back to the train station.
Another learning experience, at least for me: make sure your shoes are comfortable before you wear them on a trip with lots of walking involved *insert sheepish grin here. * Or at least bring back-ups on the first day you wear them. So, I bought these cute sporty sandals for beach and pool going. They were made of waterproof rubbery plastic, and when I tried them on briefly they did seem a little stiff but I just assumed they would break in like any other shoe. I was very, very wrong. So not only did I spend the day with a sore bum from falling down the stairs, I also tortured my poor feet by walking all around Faro in unforgiving hard plastic sandals. Rest assured, those horrid things paid for the many blisters they gave me by going straight into the trash as soon as we got back to our apartment.
The ride back to Lisbon was uneventful, and after freshening up we headed back out to enjoy Lisbon's nightlife again. Tomorrow would be our last full day to enjoy this lovely city, and despite the fact that I had little sleep, I wanted to enjoy as much as I could. We wandered aimlessly up and down the hilly streets, following twists and turns, small delights awaiting around every secret corner. I reveled in the sights, sounds, smells, and ambiance as much as I could. We came upon the Time Out Market and decided to grab dinner since there were so many options inside and we had only tried it once.
I had an octopus "hotdog," which was basically an octopus tentacle sandwiched in a hotdog bun, covered in cabbage and some kind of sweet mayonnaise sauce. If you enjoy the texture of octopus (which I do), then you would like it. But I could have done without the sauce, it was a little too rich and took away from the octopus flavor (kind of like when you get sushi drenched in that sauce and it just tastes...like sauce). Shaun had a yummy beef dish with broth-soaked mashed potatoes and cabbage. Pretty delicious. After dinner we wandered along the food stalls to find dessert. I sadly had my last scoops of Santini ice cream, which continues to be the most delicious sweet cream and hazelnut flavored ice cream I've ever had in my life. We also got a couple of little pastries to share: a berry mousse tart and layered chocolate cake, which were both excellent. Not too sweet or rich, but delicate and flavorful.
We ended the night with more wandering, and went to bed at a decent hour for once so we could make the most of the following day. No Focus T25 today (due to our booked schedule and my sore bum), so we'd have to work out on one of the weekend rest days this week.
We woke up around noon, later than we wanted to on our last day in Lisbon, and grabbed a simple lunch at a little eatery/bakery down the block from our apartment. I had cod fritters with rice and a small salad. These cod fritters (called "bolinhos de bacalhau" or "pastéis de bacalhau") are a common and traditional dish in Portugal. It's basically a breaded and fried ball of smashed up cod, potatoes, and herbs. Sort of like a fish stick but SO so much better. When made right, it's crunchy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. It's often a bit salty, and if you like strong fish flavor then this is the snack for you.
After lunch, we got some work done and jumped back into our Focus T25 workouts. It was a bit of a relief that we took a break from the intensity of these workouts yesterday, but it was a hard to get back into it. Today's workout was Ab Intervals. Ouch. If 3 months of this doesn't give me a 6-pack, I don't know what will.
I don't have much to say about the rest of our day that I haven't already said in previous entries. We cleaned up after our super sweaty workout, then headed back out to take in the joys of Lisbon for the last time. What I love about wandering the nighttime streets in Lisbon is that you never know what you're going to find. For several minutes you might be picking your way along a dark and quiet alley, when suddenly you hear faint music and voices in the distance. The path opens up to a brightly lit area between buildings, laughter and chatter greeting you as freshly grilled meats and seafood entice you to linger for a while.
We wandered into a restaurant bar called Dona Saudade, taking a table facing the wide window from which to people-watch while eating and drinking. This restaurant was actually very close to our apartment, located on what I've been referring to as the "party hill." As I mentioned in previous entries, our apartment was on the corner of a main road and a steep hilly alleyway with a cable car at the top. People seem to congregate here every night to drink, smoke, and enjoy good company. I can confidently say that this restaurant gave us both the best meal of our entire Lisbon trip, and at a great price. The food we ordered doesn't photograph well, but it was absolutely fantastic. I had ordered a traditional soup called "alentejana," but they were out of ingredients for it. So I got the shepherd's pie on the owner's suggestion (the owner was also our server and 1 of 2 cooks, the second being his wife), and Shaun got a giant mushroom stuffed with meat, cheese, and veggies. The owner apologized for the long wait, informing us that his father normally did the cooking, but he was on holiday. The wait was worth it. Portions were small, but they were just enough to leave space for one of the most delicious desserts I've had in quite a while: a baked apple soaked in Portuguese sweet "jeropiga" liquor (with generous servings of the liquor itself to sip on).
A word on waiting: there is generally no sense of urgency in Lisbon. The pace of life is slower. When you sit, it may take a while for a server to give you a menu. It may take another long while before they take your order, followed by yet another wait for your drinks to arrive, and then your food. Servers don't bother you every 5 minutes to ask if your food is okay, or if you need anything. You often have to try and catch your server's attention to ask for things like more drinks or the bill. As an American accustomed to being seated and served right away, it was a change that I surprisingly adjusted to quite well. It's nice to have a conversation at dinner without being interrupted several times. It's nice to feel welcomed, and not like they're trying to push you out so they can turn the table around and make more money on the next customers.
A word on food and drink: In my experience, food and drink are more than just fuel to Europeans. Food and drinks are something to be savored slowly, shared with people you love for hours on end, the time you're spending together as important as the flavors you're tasting. Even just a coffee and pastry are time-worthy meals, to be enjoyed mindfully, seated at a table. Food and drinks are not something to scarf while walking out the door, or during your morning commute, so fast and so mindless that you don't even remember eating it and now you're hungry again just an hour later. Portions are smaller, and yet we've never felt unsatisfied. Yes, even my 6'2" fiancé who normally eats 5 meals a day is perfectly fine eating one small breakfast, a few small snacks during the day, and one big meal later in the afternoon or evening. There's something to be said about the power of the brain when it comes to enjoying food. When you put yourself in the moment, and actively enjoy each bite, you eat less. Each bite, each sip, is a wonder. The smaller portions give you room for another drink, a small yet flavorful dessert, and even an espresso or a short coffee. And before you know it, you walk away not feeling sick, overstuffed, or sluggish...but energized and satisfied.
We ended our last night in Lisbon with a final wandering of the hilly streets we've grown to love, and visited Manteigaria for one last pastéis de nata fix before returning to our apartment to prepare for our departure. Packing is always a chore, but even more painfully so when you're leaving a place you wish you could stay in much longer. I didn't get to bed until nearly 3am, cringing as I set an early alarm. We'd be taking another Uber to the airport at 6 in the morning...hopefully this time without the ungraceful fall down the stairs.
I apologize for how long it's been since my last entry on this trip. As I write this I am currently in Barcelona, and have been here on and off for the past few weeks. While beautiful and unique in its own way, this city just doesn't speak to me the way others in Europe have. I've been struggling to find inspiration here, which has affected my creativity and motivation to write and take photos.
I've been determined to make the best of it, and will share my ups and downs with you, dear friends, as best I can. Thank you for sharing in my journey so far! Don't worry, I have tons of photos and journal notes on Nice, Pamplona, and Paris (little satellite trips we took to break up our mostly Barcelona stay). Until next time, lots of love...
Disclaimer: As of the posting of this entry, I am not affiliated with or profiting from any of the products or places mentioned. All opinions are my own, stated for the sole purpose of sharing experiences and being helpful to other travelers.