Within five minutes of looking at pictures of a newly built surf lodge - more like a villa - in Ericeira, a coastal village in Portugal — I was booking a one way ticket to Lisbon. Only two hours flight from Barcelona, where I was for a glorious and gluttonous 9 days of mainlining sangria and coming home with the sunrise, I was craving a different type of beach activity that involved a wet suit and board.
From what I had heard about Portugal, which wasn't much except it’s fairly cheap for Europe and has nice beaches — I sort of categorized it like the side dish you order alongside the main entree of Italy, France, and Spain if you still had room. Always keen to check out affordable and beautiful destinations with surf, it was inching near the top of my travel hit list but wasn’t sure when I’d check it off.
As with most things that align, the timing was perfect. I had one week before a 6 week apartment swap with a friend in NYC, and unfortunately it also entailed cat sitting so I had to be there and responsible for keeping something else alive. Having somewhat low to no expectations - a week seemed just fine to see Lisbon for a night and the rest of the time going to bed early, eating healthy, and trying to catch some waves.
Booked a one way ticket from BCN to LIS using my favorite and highly addictive app skyscanner.com and opted for a super early morning flight. Because not only was it the cheapest option, I’d been conditioning my body for over a week to stay up all night so I’ll just do that, obviously.
Sure, I had no problem the night before finding things to do to keep me awake but when I found myself running from the dance club through the streets of Barcelona to my flat to pack up with very little time to spare - I was a bit panicked. Why do I always do this? It’s as if I subconsciously enjoy being on the edge of missing a flight - and trust me I’ve ridden that edge several times and actually missed the flights. Lessons sometimes need to be learned, many many times. But I did make it, even after being kicked out of the cab on the way to catch the bus because apparently I mislead him by saying “airport.” Cabbies in that city can be such jerks, note to self.
Arriving into Lisbon mid-July was like stepping into a furnace on full blast. The humidity harsh and unrelenting, I stepped off the bus in the middle of the city feeling like a lost puppy. Okay, more like a zombie who hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, and tried to decipher where the hell I was. I’m terrible with maps and directions, even if Siri is telling me exactly where to go alongside a big blue arrow I’ll still instinctively go the wrong way. The only way I’ve survived and navigated through so many places is by constantly asking for directions, everywhere.
Exhausted and with no one around to ask, I re-read the directions again from the hostel website on how to get there. “Oh no,” I looked up and thought, “not up that hill.” As I walked closer and saw a cable car perched in the middle of a ridiculously steep hill I was like, “Woah, this looks just like San Francisco!” And then I realized I had done no research on Lisbon, not even a google image search.
Snapped a quick photo of the cable car and immediately uploaded it to Instagram once I found beloved wifi, so friends could see the crazy resemblance to our beloved hometown of San Francisco. And even more hauntingly similar is the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge right outside of Lisbon, which eerily resembles the Golden Gate Bridge’s younger sibling. Needless to say I felt right at home as we crossed it the next day, and I couldn’t help but show comparison pics to my car companions. “If you think Lisbon is beautiful, you will love SF!” I said, proudly.
After begging hostel front desk guy to please let me check in early, I collapsed into a delicious yet sweaty mid-morning nap only to be awaken by a heavy breathing and cursing Irish woman in the bunk next to mine. She appeared to still be drunk from the night before, and kept tossing and turning and muttering “I lost everything, my purse, my passport, all my money. Does anyone have a cigarette??!” Being the only one in the room I sat up and looked over, “So sorry to hear that, are you ok, what happened?” She didn’t bother to look in my direction,“Cigarette, do you have one?!” “Nope, sorry” I said and laid back down. She proceeded to ask everyone that came in after that, and my compassion for her unfortunate predicament dwindled quickly.
Unable to fall back asleep and driven by hunger, I decided to explore my surroundings and find some food. Because it was a Sunday front desk guy warned, most things will be closed. And no, I didn’t want all you can eat sushi which seemed to be the only place he knew was open. Frustrated, I walked to the top of the hill and took in the view and was blown away by how absolutely gorgeous it was.
Thinking there was no way I could possibly spend just one night here, I vowed to myself to come back for at least another night on the tail end of my week here. Wanting to make the most of it, I wandered along the beautiful off-white cobble stone streets careful with each step, as they’re really slippery and pristine after centuries of wear. Took a turn down a tiny street as a Nepalese man stepped out of a small doorway and welcomed me to try his restaurant. Quickly scouring the menu for something recognizable, he convinced me it was local fare and curious to what that entailed exactly, sat down at one of two empty tables. This was my introduction to the cheap quality food and drinks in Portugal. A few courses involving different kinds of fish and 1 euro beers later, I was shocked at the damage to my wallet or lack thereof.
In defense of my non-planning nature, one of the main benefits of not doing much trip research beforehand is the amount of surprises that can await you once you get there. As I meandered around Lisbon into the warm night, I was in awe of it’s beauty, charm, and the next day on a walking tour - immersed in its rich history. With a population of 500K and one of the oldest cities in Europe, Lisbon is a true gem - easily the main course on the menu. And the warmth of the Portuguese people is palpable in the way they proudly call it their home.
Stay tuned for Part 2…”Ericeira and the Surf Tribe”