April adventuring pt. 2: Lisbon and Madrid

The last time I wrote, I was in a hostel in Portugal. Now, I’ve just flown back to London from Prague. I feel like I missed something, or you missed something. Somebody missed something.

This post will fill in half of the gaps. My next post will fill in the latter half of said gaps, and then you can go on your merry way. Finish your spring cleaning. Feel sexy and free.

Lisbon, Portugal: April 16-18

If there’s one lesson I learned in Lisbon, it’s to never not take the tram.

My old roommate and travel buddy Cindy and I were sharing one massive suitcase for 12 days. Naturally, it weighed exactly the airline limit for checked baggage—20 kg or about 44 lbs. We split the dragging of this beast, meaning when we realized we had to climb this hill to get to our hostel in Lisbon, it happened to be my turn.

The Rua Gloria tram in Lisbon

Notice how you cannot see the bottom of the hill. Now imagine looking up at the top from the bottom. Any normal person would have looked at the uneven cobblestones that “pave” the road all the way to the top, maybe noticed the classic yellow tram, and said, “I’m going to not break my back today.”

I am not one of those people.

Thankfully, Cindy was kind enough to trade places with me halfway up the hill, so when we promptly got lost looking for our hostel, at least I wasn’t the only one pouring sweat. When we found Equity Point Lisboa hostel at last (we had to go halfway back down, seeing as it was tucked away in a tiny street off the main road because, you know, that’s the best way to attract lost American tourists), the guy at the front desk looked at us like we were crazy and offered us water. We drank most of the pitcher.

But Lisbon itself was beautiful, and I do wish I’d had more time there. I’ve never seen anyone use painted/colored ceramic tiles to decorate the outer walls of buildings as well as the furniture and the streets outside, but the Portuguese are workin’ it.

Lisboa Lisbon Beach Lisbon streets Me in Lisbon Lisbon streets hill

We took a 4-hour walking tour, and since I’d been living under grey skies at that point for 3.5 months, I didn’t think to wear sunscreen or sunglasses. However, I did wear flip-flops, even after knowing that Lisbon is both hilly and entirely cobblestoned. Basically, I did everything wrong, but I still have never been so happy to get sunburned in my life.

After the walking tour, we went to a small district in Lisbon called Belém west of where we were staying (we had enough common sense by then to take a tram instead of walk in the blazing sun), and found the famous old pastry shop, Pastéis de Belém, founded in 1837. There, we stuffed our faces with these egg custard tarts:

You eat them with cinnamon and sugar and they’re warm and crispy with custard in the center and now I’m salivating.

I ate like 20.

Possibly one of the strangest things about Lisbon was their street vendors. In LA, the thing to sell on the streets is bacon-wrapped hot dogs on gamedays. In London, it’s these warm, candied pecans.

In Lisbon, it’s strawberries.

I’m not talking about strawberries that you can buy in a grocery store. These strawberries are ripe, sweet, and dirt cheap—I handed a street vendor €2 and he gave me an entire bagful of strawberries. Cindy and I actually ate nothing but strawberries for dinner one night. I don’t think you understand how much I love strawberries.

Madrid, Spain: April 18-21

At this point in the trip, I had to dig deep for my remaining conversational Spanish skills from 2 years ago—the last time I took a Spanish class. It was not good, guys. Not. Good. Unlike in Lisbon, very few people actually speak fluent English in Madrid. Besides that, because I apparently look like a Spaniard at first glance, people seemed to expect me to speak their language.

SURPRISE. I got exhausted just from trying to remember the present tense conjugations of the verb “estar” (meaning “to be”). I was making people laugh with my accent. But then, if you don’t make a fool of yourself, it’s not an adventure.

Thankfully, I know a couple of girls studying abroad in Madrid from USC, so we met up with one of them, Jessyka, and she showed us around her city. It was really fun, actually. I felt like a freshman all over again, experiencing a new place with a fellow Trojan, speaking remedial Spanish. The only difference was that we were eating nothing but churros for breakfast every day. It was wonderful.

Plaza Mayor San Mercado Street Madrid Parque de Retiro

Cindy and I in Parque de Retiro

Cindy and I in Parque de Retiro

FUN FUN FUN. And then we got pickpocketed.

Actually, Cindy got pickpocketed. On the Metro. At 9:30pm. One minute, we were getting off the train car, and the next minute, I hear, “Is that… MY wallet?” I turn around, and Cindy is grabbing her wallet from the juncture between the Metro cars.

Then we’re approached by two Spanish guys who identify themselves as undercover police officers, and they happen to have in tow none other than the man who had been standing right next to me on the Metro—Cindy’s pickpocket. Apparently, the officers saw the guy take her wallet out of her ZIPPED purse and followed her off the Metro, and when the guy realized he was screwed, he chucked Cindy’s wallet, hoping it’d fall under the train. But it didn’t.

So not only was nothing missing from Cindy’s wallet, but the guy also got caught, and Jessyka happened to be there to translate everything for us since the cops didn’t speak English. If we were going to get pickpocketed, this was the best possible way for it to happen.

Anyway, besides that, Madrid was just dandy. Cindy and I museum-ed it UP at the Prado, the massive art gallery containing works by Rafael, El Greco, Rembrandt, Velazquez, and Goya, and then the Reina Sofia, the modern art gallery with tons of Picasso and surrealism and other ARTS ABOUT DEATH.

We also had the best chocolate and churros in history of mankind at La Chocolatería Sans Ginés.

They’re magical things, dude. Magical. Things.

And that’s the end of Lisbon and Madrid. Barcelona and Prague will come next.

Okay. I’m going to go enjoy my last two weeks in London now.

Samantha Chaffin


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