Moving from New Zealand which is essentially one of the most isolated places on Earth to London has been a huge change, but one of the best things about it is being able to have quick hops around Europe. Being a recent graduate who has yet to prove their worth, I of course do not get paid a lot. I do not let this get in the way of my travel though and a couple of weeks ago I went for a long weekend with one of my girlfriends to Lisbon, Portugal!
Flights and Accommodation:
I fly easyjet a lot – I usually have a good experience with them being on time and if it is just a quick flight then you may as well get cheap fares! I can put up with no food/drinks/entertainment if it only costs me £70 return! I bought our flights in the January sale – they have these every month or so, I usually just look at the map, have a google at hotel prices in various places then pick the cheapest one.
The accommodation is Lisbon is excellent – we stayed at the 4 star Hotel Alif Avenidas which was slightly outside the main city (15 minutes on the underground) but it was only £60 a night – we shared a twin room for two nights which is a decent bargain. The room was clean and bright, the only downside being no free wifi with which to feed my internet addiction! A lot of other hotels had similar prices at this time of year and I didn’t think they got much higher.
I think one of the best things to do when you get to a new country is find a nice bar to sit at surrounded by locals and have a drink. It really lets you get the culture of the area (and who doesn’t like $12 for 2L of Sangria!). Lisbon is set on a river mouth and has amazing weather essentially all year round and there are bars/cafes set outside all along it. We chose one near the main square and set up shop for the afternoon – having just survived my first London winter of the many shades of grey, sitting in the sun by the river was heaven!
I also recommend trying the traditional Lisbon liquor – Ginja. It is a sour cherry liquor usually sold in half shots in mini chocolate cups (for ~ €1.50 for two of these!). I thought it was delicious – sticky, slightly sweet and sour at the same time. I even bought a bottle and took it home. Port is also huge in Portugal.
We also had a wander around the main shopping district – the centre of town is surrounded by 7 hills and each has it’s own feel – I recommend grabbing a map and trying to find all the different squares – they are all full of interesting statues and fountains.
I love doing tours when I get to new places – I’m a fact hoarder so I usually want to find out every little thing about an area. We did an excellent jeep tour done by the Lisbon Riders. This took us all the way through town to all the major sites. We stopped off and went to Pateis De Belem, the traditional pastry of Lisbon is the custard tart and this is where they originated:
This cafe is huge and they make thousands of tarts a day and they were delicious! I definitely recommend a trip as the building is built in traditional Arabic/Portuguese style and the tarts only cost a couple of Euros. There are different white and blue tiles the whole way through which are beautiful.
We also got taken to a lot of really excellent view points to learn about the history of the city – Lisbon had a huge earthquake in the 1700s and a lot of the city had to be rebuilt. In the middle of the city is a ruined church – which Lisbon decided not to rebuild so it could claim it had ‘ruins’ like other cities in Europe!
We then headed to the aquarium on our last day – this had been built recently for the worlds fair and is huge! It is a reasonable price for an aquarium – only €13 and has sea otters and penguins along with a huge sunfish and many sharks. If fish are your thing then I recommend a visit!
Lisbon has had a hugely varied history of peaks of wealth and famine. They are currently going through a recession but this couldn’t really be felt in the city compared to some other places I’ve been. The people are warm and welcoming and are genuinely happy to chat to you about the city and its surrounds. It isn’t a busy town (or maybe I’ve just been ruined by London rush hour) but our guide did tell me that it really gets going if you head out around 11pm.
I really recommend going for a visit – I think I spent around £300 for flights, accommodation and all expenses for 2 nights in Lisbon!