Throwback Thursday Travel #4: Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon iphoneLisbon’s population is around 500,000. Yet somehow I was the only passenger on the train that February afternoon…

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The facade of Lisbon

It’s been almost 7 months since my visit to Lisbon, but I still can’t make up my mind about how I feel about it. Trust me, I raise my own eyebrows whenever I have to say that aloud. Not just because of the melodramatic nature of the statement but also because of the fact that I’m sort of the only person I know who doesn’t fall head over heels in love with the city.

I know for certain that I don’t love Lisbon because a lot of my expectations about its old-world charms and affordability weren’t fully met. I can’t say that I hate it either because I was impressed with the relaxing attitude and English proficiency of Lisboêtas. I don’t feel neutral when talking about Lisbon either because all the encounters and conversations I had there were more profound than anything I experienced in my favorite cities like Paris, Rome or Barcelona. So if love, hate and neutral are not how you feel about a place, what do you actually feel then?

While I haven’t been able to verbalize my relationship with Lisbon, I can tell you guys how it looks in 4 adjectives. Colorful and edgy at its best, derelict and shady at its worst…

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Sintra, It’s About Both You and Me…

Spectacular panoramic view of the town of Sintra. Most likely the highest vantage point I have ever hiked to. 

I feel utterly awful saying this, but I do not recall most of the economic knowledge I learned in college. And I was an Economics major. (Shhhh! Do NOT tell my parents that. They would have a heart attack if they knew the money they had spent on me has gone down the toilet.) However, there is this one economic principle called the law of diminishing marginal productivity that I vaguely remember. In economic terms, it has something to do with increased production and decreased profitability. Or something along the line. ECON 101 Professor, if you ever read this, I am truly sorry!

In layman’s terms, though, it means going more places does not always guarantee more satisfaction.

A common pitfall among most travelers is trying to see as much as humanely possible with a limited amount of time. It is understandable, right? Because our time and money are limited while the world is not. But when I really think about it, I wonder what the point is if I fail to truly appreciate a place because I am too pooped to do that while I’m there? Or what the point is if I visit a place just because it is a supposedly must-see only to find it not all it is cracked up to be? Yeah sure, it will count toward the number of places I have been to and thus give me some bragging right, but really when all is said and done, what do I do with some random blurred memories?

Not bad, I have to admit.

I learned the lesson on my day trip to Sintra, which is approximately 40 minutes by train from Lisbon. I should have known that my body and mind deserved a good rest after 7 hours sitting up straight on the Seville-Lisbon overnight bus, 2 hours napping on a very uncomfortable bench at Lisbon Oriente Station, 30 minutes holding very tightly to the pole next to the bus’s main door to avoid being thrown off balance and to the belief that the non-English speaking driver fully understood what I had told him about where I needed to get off, and another 30 minutes literally climbing the crazy hilly streets of Lisbon with a suitcase and 25 pounds on my shoulders. In reality, I overestimated myself and marched on to Sintra without even having a proper breakfast. The next 12 hours in a nutshell revolved around climbing and climbing some more in a state of starvation and thirst. Oh and with two feet full of blisters!

Apparently, I was still alert enough to notice and capture this beautiful mid-morning light in Sintra.

Yeah I was super awake when taking this photo. I mean, at this height I had to be whether I wanted to or not. Here is one of the inner walls of Castle of the Moors, perched on top of the Sintra Mountains. I could have captured something more magnificent, but naturally scared of height, I climbed down rather than climbed up. Far on the horizon is the Atlantic Ocean, I think. 

In close proximity to Lisbon, Sintra is the ideal day-trip destination. If you are into history and ruins, Royal Palace, Castle of the Moors, Pena Palace and some other sites will surely quench your thirst for knowledge. If nature is your thing, then you will get physical thanks to the mountains, hills and forests. It is a UNESCO heritage site for a reason, after all. That is why it took me a while to shake off the feeling that there was something inherently wrong with me when I described the whole experience as relatively underwhelming to the Lisbon residents at my hotel. In their words, I was the very first one in history who was not bowled over by Sintra. Lucky for me, I felt no trace of contempt in the way they said it.

So if, for whatever reason, I had to single out the highlight of my time in Sintra, it would be the two lovely couples from Italy and England respectively I met. I came to Sintra with the expectation that I would explore the place by myself. But interestingly enough, I was accompanied by fellow travelers from the moment I arrived til the moment I left.

An impossibly nice and lovely Italian couple who gave me a ride to Pena Palace and so helped me save 4 euros. English couple not pictured. 

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