A little late on the report for this one, but I recently got back from Portugal. Portugal! The warm, sunny Iberian peninsula.
For some reason it had never occurred to me to go to Portugal before. On my list of things to do in Europe, this wasn’t on it. No offense, Portugal: neither were a lot of other typical tourist things. But when my masters classmates and I were planning out our “winter school”, we had one primary criterium: cheapness. After that we were divided between whether we should go somewhere typically wintery and play in the snow, or go south. South won, and after a heated debate between Greece and Portugal, we ended up in Lisbon.
It was great!
My friend Lore and I built in an extra two days to be able to explore and do touristy things. We hit all the famous monuments, the gardens, big churches, and wandered the twisty, hilly streets of the old city. It was awesome. The first day, we arrived to our beautiful hostel right near Barrio Alto (Lisbon Calling; the rooms are beautifully designed, the beds comfortable, and the price cheap: an amazing community which will forever make other hostels seem depressingly inadequate), and wandered up the hill.
We got a “refresco” at a kiosk in the square; we sat at the foot of a huge statue. We ate petiscos, the Portuguese version of tapas, at Taberna da Rua das Flores. Holy cow, were they good. Lore doesn’t really like fish that much, but she was brave and ate them anyway – even more remarkable because it was mostly raw. But the flavors! Sort of fusion, but a little bit of tradition. The first dish we had was some kind of small herring-like thing, raw with a sauce and sesame seeds and seaweed. I’ve never liked pickled herring but I was floored at how good it was (and the seaweed too, yum!). I’m on a student budget and basically never eat out these days, so maybe the food seemed even more remarkable to me. It had just been a few hours in Lisbon, but we were already pretty sure we loved this city.
We slept well in our beds, woke up to a lovely Portuguese breakfast included in the hostel’s room fee, and set off toward Belém, west of the city of Lisbon proper. There, first we tried the famous pastéis de Belém, some pastries which I can’t even describe other than scrumptious. They were warm out of the oven; the line out of the pastryshop extended around the corner. Not even in Paris have I seen such a queue for a pastry. And, dusted with cinnamon, we soon found out why.
We spent several hours exploring a large Hieronymite mosastery, then wandering through some gardens, past a large monument to Portugal’s explorers, and up to the Tower of Belém. I’m fascinated by old things: we don’t have many of them where I come from. The Abenakis lived in our part of New Hampshire, and they don’t leave behind big monuments (which, of course, is actually better in a number of ways….). The first European settlers arrived in my little town of Lyme in 1764. We have a few very old houses, but nothing like this. While my town was a little collection of settlers and farmers trying to scrape by, Portugal was the richest empire in the world. (okay, well, it was a little past its prime in the late 1700s, but still)
I got to see that. It was cool.
Everything was beautiful. Everything was sunny. It was a perfect day.
I had been working quite hard before I left for winter school, and was really still working there: while I waited for Lore to arrive that first day, I had been busily typing away. In Sweden alone, we have one paper which has come back from review (and to which we must, of course, make huge changes), one which we are finalizing with co-authors, and one for which I’ve done about half the analysis and none of the writing. I’m also finally turning my Switzerland thesis into a manuscript. Plus, money is getting tight and I’m trying to apply for more grants (do you know of any small grants for graduate students? please!? I’m getting desperate!!).
So to walk along in the sun with Lore leaving all of our cares behind us – I can’t even explain how good that felt.
It felt good.
After our Belém sightseeing it was 2 p.m. and we were starving, so we were forced to stop and grab lunch at a touristy cafeteria and while not exactly disappointing, it was overpriced and nothing compared to our meal the night before. We headed into Lisbon proper and explored a bit in Baixa/Chaido, and bought gelato and sat looking at the river. Nice.
Then: we met up with my friends Marta and Gonçalo! They started the masters with us in Uppsala so many months ago, and Marta was one reason I was really excited to move back to Uppsala. I actually lived with her in January. They took us to a miradouro, basically a nice park up on a hill overlooking the city. Classmates Min Ya and Berenice soon arrived from the airport and joined us. We sipped beer and relaxed and were so happy to be together.
I’m all for sightseeing, but I found out what people really do in Lisbon: they relax and sit in miradouros with their friends. There are no laws against public drinking. It’s a lovely, lovely way to spend an afternoon. At some point a few days later, I stopped being so set on running all over the city to see this cool thing or that, and realized that hey, maybe we should take this message to heart, and stop and sit and relax and enjoy ourselves somewhere with a nice view and a glass of wine.
Man, this is getting long. The next day, winter school itself started. We moved to Quinta Sao Pedro, a lovely estate across the river, and it was more like a retreat. It was a very productive session: we all workshopped the introductions of our theses, which was super helpful. The next day we worked on figures, each presenting three from our papers and getting feedback on what we did well, what we didn’t do well, and how our visual representation of our data could be improved. In another session we worked on our CV’s, comparing notes and how to organize things. It was, in all honestly, a much more useful and helpful experience than I thought winter school would be.
We did other things. We went to the beach, and to the aquarium. We ate a lot of good food. We drank a lot of beer and wine, and I fell further in love with Portugal’s vinho verde. We went to a fado house and listened to great music as we ate dinner.
In the end, almost everyone left. Min Ya, Lore and I stayed a little longer, and went to a beautiful botanical garden in Principe Real. We could have stayed there forever exploring.
And then, after another night in the hostel and a morning sitting by the river soaking up the sun, Lore and I left too.
Getting home was a nightmare. Fuck Air France.
I’m left with nothing but happy memories of Lisbon, and I can’t wait to go back again. I can’t believe that I had never known how obvious a place this was to go visit. Go! visit it!
I’m back to work, back typing away at all those papers, but I feel quite a bit better after a week in a totally different place.