We took the night train from Madrid to Lisbon, Portugal. I had a bed (in a room with two Taiwanisse guys and an L.A. guy getting a masters at UCLA) and slept pretty well. We arrived in the morning and checked into our reserved hotel.
In the afternoon, after a fruitless search for beaches, we went to Belém, a suburb of Lisbon. We asked five different people how to get there and we were told five different things. Nonetheless, the Portuguese are FRIENDLY. The friendliest people I’ve encountered on the trip (slightly ahead of the Irish). On the very first day three different people not only showed us which metro stop / street to go to, but phsyically walked us to the location even though each time it was opposite from where they needed to go.
Belém is worth a half-day trip from Lisbon. It’s home to a famous monastery which houses the tomb of the famous Portuguese explorer who founded the Portugal-India trade route. Across the street from the monastery is a "Discoveries Museum," tall building view, and other artifacts celebrating Portugal’s glory years of dominating the spice routes in the Mediterrian. Doesn’t that red bridge look like a famous bridge in San Francisco?
For dinner we metro’d across town to have dinner at a Fado restaurant. Fado is classic Portugal — a guitarist and singer play romantic / nostalgic music while you eat (the food is unexceptional). All the Fado restaurants employ guys who stand outside trying to lure in tourists. The first place we stopped in was too pricey, so we went across the street where the Mozambique-lobbyist charmed us enough to pick the less expensive and more friendly restaurant. My veal with mushrooms was excellent though the service slow. Sitting next to us at the restaurant was a young Dutch boyfriend/girlfriend. We had a great time talking, comparing travel stories, and discussing Holland and America. (Btw, the Dutch are really great people — everyone from Holland I’ve met is kind and likes Americans!) At the end of the dinner the Fado singer tried to get us to buy her CD. We weren’t interested, and fortunately there was an ample language barrier to feign confusion…until Austin "saved the day" by speaking French to her, forcing us to make an awkward exit while she was in the bathroom (guilt makes us do the craziest things, no?).
We woke up Thursday morning to the pleasant surprise that breakfast was included with our room, so we enjoyed the sufficient buffett (nowhere close to the ones in Germany, though!). I then took off for Microsoft in Lisbon where I met a contact and Austin lay by the pool and went for a run. We met back up in the afternoon to visit the famous castle, a church, and walk along streets we hadn’t yet been on.
Lisbon is a friendly, beautiful place still off the beaten track of "highlight tourists" (it’s not Rome or Paris). Though it doesn’t contain any show stopper tourist attractions, its history is impressive, its climate and location along the sea attractive, its people kind and proud, and language warm on the ears. Well worth a stop for anyone in that part of Western Europe, especially if you’re going to Spain.