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Monday, July 18, 2011

Ola from Portugal!

July 17, 2011

Today we left Madrid and flew to Oporto, our first stop in Portugal. You can get a free map of the city from the Information booth in the airport and can even buy your two Euro metro card from them as well. We are staying at the Porto Downtown hostel so we took the metro to the Trinidad station and then switched to the yellow line to the Aliados stop.

The hostel was nice looking and clean but strangely absent of activity. We were in a four person mixed dorm and I sadly realized that they did not provide a towel... There also wasn't any shampoo so I had to borrow some from another girl. Maybe that should be my new hostel pick-up line - "Can I use your shampoo even though you are traveling for months and can't spare any? Thanks!" I used up using my bedsheet as my towel which was unorthodox but definitely worked.

We were all about making some friends but there was no one to be seen. It was getting pretty late so we started wandering down the street looking for dinner and found what looked to be a very cute restaurant. It was a little on the romantic side which made us feel kind of ridiculous (my friend's a guy if you haven't figured that out). Everyone else seemed to be couples but we figured it would feel less awkward if we just got wasted. Two bottles later we were nice and jolly. We had steak with butter and eleven different plates of tapas that ranged from biscuits with tuna to sausage to mini empanadas. It was really good and when the bill came we were shocked - it was only 45 Euros! That's a crazy good deal for the food alone not to mention the alcohol.

We ended up drunkenly wandering around the city until we were tired enough to fall asleep.

July 18, 2011

Up and at 'em at 9:30am! We made friends with a kid named Aaron who showed us a walking tour of the city in his guide book so we figured why not? Along the way I told my friend to hurry and stand in front of a church so I could get a picture of him but he was too slow. He mentioned that he needed more time to prepare for a picture and I told him that instead of "Cheese" I say "Scramble" because that's what you have to do if you want to be in my picture. For the rest of the day I would randomly yell this out before taking a photo. We also developed an assortment of other words such as "Ground hog (when you need to go #2)," "Spamsterdam (because Porto kind of looks like Amsterdam)" and "Sweetza (some sweet looking pizza we saw)."

We ended up along the waterfront and had a ton of beers at one of the restaurants on the water. The main source of entertainment was this old Portuguese guy trying to hit on this young girl sitting on the beach in front of us. It was pretty hilarious to watch. My friend would try and interpret what "method" the guy was using to snag the girl and I would then retort with what her reactions meant. Unfortunately for the old guy he just wasn't gonna win.

Once our source of entertainment had moved on we decided to as well. When I say "waterfront" I'm referring to the area along the river that the main part of Porto is built around. This river leads into the ocean about 20 minutes down the way. Across the river there is an old iron bridge that sits way up above the city so we went up there to check out the view.

It would've been a spectacular view if it weren't for the mucky weather. It's pretty cold here and extremely overcast which was a bummer since we were hoping to get our beach on! It also meant that the boat ride down the river that I was hoping for had lost all of its appeal. Instead we found a little deli and ordered an assortment of random baked goods that we took to the park overlooking the city.

I explained to my friend that we had to rank the baked goods before tasting them and then re-rank them after to see if the order was the same. Only a few things surprised us but in general almost everything was good. Keep in mind we had NO idea what any of these were. My top three were an almond cookie that looked crunchy but turned out to have the consistency of oatmeal inside, a flaky croissant-esk pastry with powdered sugar that when you bit into it tasted like coconut, and another flaky pastry with a lemony jelly center. There was also one that looked like a mini pretzel, one that looked like a plastic muffin, and one that looked like, well, lady parts.

We then took a cat nap on the grass before heading back towards the hostel. On the way back over the bridge we happened to look over the railing down into the backyard of a deserted house. On a quick side note - there are tons of abandoned buildings here. I've honestly never seen such a sad desolate city. The house whose backyard was full of cats had an amazing view and yet was completely empty. Apparently I need to buy up some property here, open a B&B and rack in some easy cash!

But back to the cats. A quick count showed eight cats in various stages of sleeping, eating and wandering. One grey and white cat hadn't moved the entire time we'd been watching so we dropped a rock into the bush near it to see if it was dead. When the rock hit the bush it made a rustling sound that had four of the cats immediately on their feet ready to investigate in case the sound was made by a yummy bush bird. This became a game between us and the cats. As soon as they would investigate one bush, we would drop a rock in a bush a little ways behind them. They would spring into action and run towards the other bush. Eventually they wised up though and went back to sleep but it was well worth the 30 minutes of entertainment.

At this point you can probably tell that there isn't a TON of stuff to do in Porto. It's a pretty lazy town. I don't particularly mind simply because Madrid was so epic and crazy that I could use a few days of downtime. We headed back to the hostel to chill and research the best place to go out tonight. Turns out that the beach area has a little scene with a few good clubs that sounded promising.

Instead we decide to head to Coimbra tomorrow which is a university town halfway to Lisbon. Then the next day we would hit up Nazare (popular beach town) and Obidos (medieval town) on our way down to Lisbon where our next hostel was booked. It was at this point that another traveler told us that there is a massive festival in Obidos right now and if you pay like seven Euro you can go to the festival and rumor has it they GIVE you a costume to wear. That sounds incredible! This same traveler, Brendan, in general began talking with us and we were soon making plans to meet up with him and his friend down at the waterfront (Ribeira) for half-price drinks.

First we suited up for the rain that was falling heavily outside and went down the street to a churrascaria where we had frango (chicken), bife (duh), and vegetable soup. The chicken and steak was grilled to perfection and served a la carte on a platter. The waiter and the manager were adorable old toothless men and the food really was simple but delicious. And CHEAP yes!

From there we started walking toward the waterfront and by the time we got there I was soaked. So glad I sent my raincoat home! I was soaked to the bone and mildly miserable by the time we got to the bar where we met Brendan, his Brazilian friend, and Bjorn and Jacob, two Sweds that are on a walking pilgrimage. Apparently, you can go to a church and get a pilgrimage passport in order to stay for free in all church-owned hostels and hotels along the route for free. Ridiculous! We explained about Birthright in the U.S. and how hundreds of Jewish kids take advantage of that every year for an international party trip. We then continued on to how a major political discussion with the Sweds that was both idiotic and strangely deep.

Soon that bar was closing so we wandered down the street where we met Paulo. Pretty sure Paulo was a Portuguese drug dealer because he kept buying all of us drinks using a massive wad of cash. Hmm... He had also taken an interest in me so I eventually went outside to avoid him. Our group ended up outside as well where my friend was trying to convince Paulo to do a back-flip. My friend promised that he would help Paulo do the back-flip. I finally had to lure Paulo away to keep my friend and Bjorn from splitting Paulo head open. Bjorn managed to get so drunk that he kept falling off the wall backwards. I'm amazed no one died.

So late, we finally made it back to the hostel where I had to help my friend brush his teeth and get to bed because he'd had far too fun of a night. I was laughing to myself the whole time. He kept trying to escape from his bed so finally I had to stand over him to keep him from drunken wandering the hostel until I was triple sure he was asleep. Phew - another night down!

July 19, 2011

We woke up this morning to the maid hustling us from our beds because it was past check out time. Oops! We got our shit together and walked to the train station where we took the hour long train to Coimbra (11.50 Euro per person).

We arrived at our hostel, Sofia Chill House, which was a really really cool hostel. They don't have small rooms, usually you are in a room with 6-8 people but it felt very safe, the people that worked there and who were staying there were extremely friendly, and upon arrival you receive a pillow case, sheet, laundry bag and towel. Towel! The bathroom also had a hairdryer, shampoo, soap, etc. The only issues were that there is one shower (two bathrooms) and the lockers they give you aren't in great condition and someone with a mind to get into it probably could've.

My friend was still reeling from his massive hangover so he took a nap. We only had one night here so I decided to take full advantage of this time to wander the city. In standard fashion I began my ascent to the highest section of the city I could find (at the time I didn't know anything about Coimbra). Accidentally, I found myself standing in front of the Universidade de Coimbra which used to be a palace.

The university is housed in a building that was once the Alcacova Palace. The tour provides extremely little information about the history which was a shame. For about 8 Euro (student price) you got access to the tower, the chapel, a few of the original rooms, and the library. The view from the tower was pretty cool but not the best I've seen.

The chapel was standard and the rooms were a hoax because you couldn't even walk into them to really study the furniture, paintings, etc. The only thing that made the ticket price worth it was the library which was beautiful. The ceilings soar above you held up by wooden walls covered in painted gold motifs. Even the air feels rich. There are over 200,000 books lining the walls that are from the 16th, 17th and 18th century. The external walls of the library are over two meters thick and apparently at night the keeper covers all the tables and releases bats into the library to eat any insects that threaten these valuable treasures. I thought that was extremely interesting. Thankfully they also clean up after the bats before letting the tourists back in! The shelves are also made of oak to help in the fight against insects as well as it is a very hard wood to eat through and gives off an insect repellent smell. Regardless I could've spent hours in this library.

It was getting relatively late to I went back to the hostel to wake my friend before he slept through the entire experience. We decided that for dinner we would cook at the hostel so we went down the street to the market and purchased all the makings for beef stir fry. The hostel kitchen was bustling upon our return so we sat and chatted with all our new friends while we shared or waited for knifes, pans and free space the stove. The other inhabitants besides ourselves were Laura and Dom from Australia, Craig from New Zealand, Yuri for Slovakia, Nadine from Ireland and this Australian named Kurt.

I was slicing peppers next to Craig which resulted in a long conversation about the earthquake in Christchurch. He has been traveling ever since the quake since the city is pretty much destroyed and he doesn't have a lot to go back to. It was really sad! After dinner I hung out in the living room with Nadine, Yuri and Kurt. Yet again politics end up becoming the topic of conversation (note to self to start running in the opposite direction as soon as this happens next time).

Nadine, Yuri and I were having a pleasant, polite conversation when Kurt decided he had something to stay. Basically, he spent the next 20 minutes telling me how awful America is and how it should get its nose out of everyone else's business. It was a pretty heated speech that was clearly more emotional then it was factual. He even took it back to the two world wars and said that America never should've gotten involved in World War II. I pointed out that we didn't until we were bombed. He then said that Pearl Harbor isn't really America. Everyone in the room looked at him in disbelief as I calmly reminded him that Hawaii is indeed one of the 50 U.S. states and that hundreds of Americans died that day without any cause. Even then he didn't back down and continued to mention his stance on every single world issue the U.S. has been involved in since. It was funny looking back because its often the small town, ignorant Americans that give us a bad reputation abroad and yet this Australian was acting just like one. Ah, the irony. Regardless, my friend and I made an attempt to get the rest of the crowd out to the bars but none of us made it.

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