Around this time last year a friend and I were preparing to go to Portugal. We had travelled together once before, seven years earlier, and had been bringing up the idea from time to time ever since. The stars finally aligned, and we compared our travel wish lists. She was interested in some northern European countries. I was interested in South America. We both wanted to go somewhere new to us. We settled on Portugal and agreed to travel for one and a half weeks.
Leading up to our trip, my friend read Rick Steves, and I asked a work acquaintance of Portuguese descent what he recommended.
I flew from New York to Boston to meet my friend, and we took the next leg to Lisbon. I remember little of the plane ride. Was it then or another trip that I watched the “2 Dope Queens” HBO specials?
At the Lisbon airport, we first headed to a phone boutique to buy Portuguese sim cards. There was a panicked moment when we thought the sim card had caused her phone to malfunction, but fortunately that was not the case. We hadn’t even gotten out of the airport yet, and already the adventure was beginning.
On the way to the subway, which is connected to the airport, my friend started snapping photos. The subway art was fun and funky.
As we stepped out of the metro and into the neighborhood where we would be staying, our enchantment with Portugal started. The sloping street with colorful buildings told us that we were truly on a trip.
We navigated to the hotel where my friend had scored us a good deal. We couldn’t check in yet, so we sat in the lobby and transferred some of our items into our purses and took turns changing in the bathroom. I accidentally used the men’s room, not realizing that one door led to common sinks and then there were two separate individual bathrooms, one for men and one for women. This usually wouldn’t have mattered, but if I remember correctly, the men’s room had a toilet in a small room with a door and then a urinal right outside it. That meant that when a man came in and used the urinal, I would have had to walk right past him to get to the sinks. By the time I realize this, it was too late. I waited until he was finished to exit. When traveling, I find that bathrooms are always a source of cultural surprises.
We went back out and found an eating place with outdoor seating on a pedestrian street. I ordered a bit randomly, not knowing what the various pastries were. I had studied coffee drinks in Portuguese and knew to order a galão, which is a café crème, which is a latte (I mention the French name first because I knew what a café crème long before I knew what a latte was). With more time to kill, we walked around the area and came upon a plaza and a tuna store with a carnival theme. It was hot outside.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to check out a nearby church, the first of many we would visit. It was not representative of the gilded churches we would see.
Upon going up to our room, which was a few floors up and had a nice view of the street, we lay down to take a nap after the fiddling with the thermostat’s Celsius reading, another sign that we were far from home.