Salamanca Travel Blog

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Last week Kyla, Jodie, Lauren, and I went on our trip to Portugal.  We rented a car here in Salamanca, since it was both cheaper and more convenient than the trains.  We got a tiny little Citroen Saxo, which we managed to squeeze ourselves and our luggage into.  I was stuck with all the driving, as the car was a manual transmission, and none of the others knew how to drive it. 

After a trip to the grocery store in Salamanca to stock up on the road trip essentials, we set off for Lagos, on the southern coast of Portugal.  The drive took us about nine hours, though it would have been faster if we hadn't gotten stuck behind every imaginable type of slow moving vehicle.  There were trucks, tractors, farm animals, and even a circus caravan.  Of course it was all two lane highways, so we were constantly having to pass, which is not my favorite kind of driving.  The scenery, at least, was very pretty.

When we got to Lagos, we called our hostel for directions.  The man who answered the phone seemed to think we were well acquainted with the town, because he kept saying, "We're right in the center!  Near the cinema!  Right in the center!"  Honestly, as if the actual address of the place were top secret.  I'm still not sure how we actually found it, mostly luck I think, since it was not really in the center nor very near the cinema. 

That evening we explored the tiny streets of Lagos, which is a quaint but somewhat dilapidated beach town.  I'm sure the guide books describe it as sun bleached or weather worn.  You get the feeling in Portugal that the whole country is in need of a new coat of paint. 

Lagos is funny because it manages to be charming and completely touristy at the same time.  Our book said it's about as far from "essential Portugal" as you can get.  Half the town is run by foreigners, mostly British, and almost everybody speaks English.  That was fine with us, because we were really there for the beach, not the Portuguese culture.

It started raining, so we found the cinema and decided to go see the new Star Wars movie.  I'm sure some of you have seen it.  What did you think?  I honestly thought it was one of the worst movies I've ever seen.  The acting and dialogue were so stiff and awkward we actually started laughing a few times.  It was like after spending millions of dollars on the special effects, they forgot to hire someone to write the script.  There was an intermission in the middle, and we thought about leaving but decided to stay to see if could possibly get worse.  It was a good thing it was subtitled in Portuguese, because reading the subtitles and figuring out words and phrases at least kept us entertained.

As for the Portuguese language, we were surprised by it.  In writing it looks pretty much like misspelled Spanish, but in speech it's a completely different thing.  When we turned on the radio, Kyla said, "why is the Portuguese radio station being broadcast in German?"  Lauren said that it sounded closer to Czech than Spanish.  Still, we found that although we couldn't understand a word, the Portuguese could decipher quite a bit if we spoke in Spanish.

Before we left Spain, we all checked the weather channel, which was promising us sunny days with highs of 75, but unfortunately when we got there it was a completely different story.  For most of our Lagos time, it was cloudy and cold, and sometimes rainy.  Of course none of us packed for this, so we all ended up wearing the one warm thing we brought day after day.  The weather, however, did not stop us from going to the beaches, which were absolutely gorgeous--incredibly clear blue-green water, red cliffs, small coves.  Every beach picture we took turned out like a postcard.  On Thursday we did have a two or three hour period of sun and relative warmth, so Kyla and I ventured out into the water.  We froze before we could get in past waist level, but at least we got in.

So Friday morning we left our hostel and drove up to Lisbon, which the Portuguese call Lisboa.  It was a pretty drive, but the highway was awful.  I've driven on smoother dirt roads.  It wasn't that far, but the quality of the roads and the traffic once we hit the Lisbon area made it a six or seven hour trip. 

We parked on the street and went to find our hostel.  We were surprised when we arrived at the address, because it appeared to be a condemned building.  Then we noticed the sign for the hostel, which said it was on the fourth floor.  So we carried our luggage up the eight landings to the hostel.  I had made reservations there over the phone with a woman who spoke Spanish, but when we got there, there was no such person, and they said they hadn’t made reservations for anybody.  The woman there, who only spoke Portuguese, showed us around.  I took one look in the bathroom, which contained half a bathtub (seriously, it was a bathtub broken right in half) and said “No way.”  The lady there was very nice and called another hostel close by and made us reservations.  We hauled our luggage back down the stairs and came out coughing from all the dust.  We had gotten the recommendation for the hostel from our Let’s Go guidebook, so this started a running joke among us about writing a guidebook called Stay Home, which would list all of the places in Europe you should avoid.  Instead of the Let’s Go thumbs-up, its logo would be the thumbs-down.  All weekend long, we kept saying “If you don’t like (fill in the blank), you should Stay Home!” 

All that aside, we were impressed by Lisbon.  It’s a pretty city on the water, lots of pastel colors, which make the outlying neighborhoods of apartment complexes less ugly than the ones in Madrid.  Like everything else we saw in the country, though, Lisbon looks nicer from far away.  When you get close up, again, the buildings look like they need some new paint.  Other than that, it’s very attractive.  We saw the major sights, but fortunately Lisbon is more of an atmosphere town than a sights town.  The only thing I would have changed there was the weather.  Lisbon felt even colder than Lagos.  It was so cold (and we were so unprepared to dress for it) that we were actually happy when a city bus would drive by, so that we could stand for a minute in the warm exhaust.

One of our coolest experiences in Lisbon was on Friday night, when we came across a street fair down by the water.  We hung out there for a while, listening to the music, with two of our friends from Salamanca, Angelle and Aaron, who we’d met up with in Lisbon.  Angelle took her long scarf out of her hair, and we started using it as a limbo rope.  Pretty soon we’d involved half of the crowd in the limbo game.  It was totally fun. Later we tried to start a conga line, but had noticeably less success.

We all got on a tram car Saturday to go to the Belem neighborhood to see the monastery.  The way the trams work is after you get on, you go to the ticket machine, put in 90 cents, and get your ticket.  Jodie, Lauren, and I all bought our tickets right away.  The other three, however, decided to take their chances without tickets.  A couple of stations from our stop, the ticket man got on and started checking everyone’s tickets.  When he got to those three, they of course didn’t have any.  I think the only word the man knew in English was “ticket” so he just kept yelling “Ticket! Ticket!” over and over again at them, each time louder and shriller.  Finally he got on his walkie-talkie and called the police, who carted them off at the next stop.  The three of us with tickets stayed on and watched them get into the police cars.  I suppose we might have worried about them if we could have stopped laughing.  Everything turned out fine, anyway, because they somehow convinced the Lisbon police to let them off without paying the fines, promising to write a letter to the Portuguese government explaining the situation.  What they were going to explain, exactly, I don’t know.  Moral of the story: if you’re not going to pay for your tram ticket, you should Stay Home.

Anyhow, Sunday morning the four of us packed up and left Lisbon.  On the way back we stopped in Sintra, where we drove up to the castle on the hill, took pictures and pretended we were princesses for a while before heading back to Salamanca.  I’ll be hanging out here for a few days, getting things in order and planning future trips, before I head off to Barcelona on Friday.  I’m planning to spend only the weekend there, but if I love it, I’ll stay longer.  I’m a little tired of traveling (I know, this is bad, because I’ve hardly begun) but I feel like I should go to Barcelona, if only so that I don’t have to hear “What? You were in Spain for five months and you didn’t go to Barcelona??” a hundred times when I get back to the US.

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photo by: mkrh