First week in Portugal: Mixed feelings and unpleasant experience

Cabo da Roca, Portugal

I landed at the Lisbon airport. We departed 30 minutes later due to a de-icing of the airplane, but the pilot stepped on the gas and caught up so we arrived almost on time. I’m rewinding the watch one hour back to the Greenwich time. When I was leaving Katowice, it snowed, here we have a nice summer evening temperature of 15°C.

I was supposed to stay at a Couchsurfer’s place who offered me a couch for one night, but I didn’t get any response from her since, so now I have to look for a hostel. Fortunately, it’s not such big trouble for me since it’s off season and there are many hostels which are half-empty and cheap, so I just go to the center and choose one. I’ve used Couchsurfing many times already and always had only good experience, this is the first time I’m going to give a negative reference. Hopefully the last one ever.

For the first two nights I stayed in a hostel in Lisbon, however, I didn’t see that much of the city since I spent lots of time looking for special shops and buying food I could bring with me to the place of my volunteering. Yeah, because of my special diet I always have to think and buy some stuff in advance, it’s sometimes very challenging when traveling, I must admit that; plus I had some online work to finish as well. But I believe that this wasn’t my last time in Lisbon and that I will be back here soon.

The first impressions of the city are kind of mixed, but I guess that this happens quite often, and very often it also changes as you get to know it better. First of all, the Portugal’s economy has been in recent years in a recession, and you can really see it (not only) on the streets. There are many, many beggars and homeless on the streets, the city is very dirty, lots of roads and streets are damaged and you can also see around many neglected, half-destroyed buildings. From the design point of view, Lisbon is a very nice city, indeed. There are lots of places to see and visit, you can find there tens of museums, churches, it also has its castle and the river Tagus (Tejo) with the its bay which basically makes you feel like you’re by the sea! Lisbon is the most hilly city I’ve so far visited, thus walking around will seriously make you feel your legs. There are no flat parts, you keep walking up and down the hill all the time. I mean, all the time. And sooo many stairs! But thanks to that, you can also find there a lot of view points with panoramic views over the city. Over the last years, Lisbon has become a very popular place for tourist and expats, so you can hear English everywhere, especially when you go experience the Lisbon’s nightlife. And the weather is just so great here. The first days it was still 22°C!

The Tegus (Tejo) River in Lisbon
The Tegus (Tejo) River in Lisbon
Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon
Lisbon

On Wednesday evening, I was picked up by the host from Cartaxo, and we went to her winery, some 60 km north of Lisbon. I was accommodated in a small wooden bungalow and during the day, usually the mornings, I was helping at the vineyard. The type of work I was doing most of the days was picking up and collecting stones from the earth, cutting branches and wood. The place was quite nice, and what I fancied most was the citrus trees in the garden from which I could still pluck a fresh orange or lemon, even now in December. I don’t eat citruses at home at all, because they are fully chemical and taste like eating a detergent, but here I just couldn’t get enough. I finally know what a real orange tastes like 😊

Vineyard near Cartaxo, Portugal
Plucking fresh, real oranges

Vineyard near Cartaxo, Portugal

Vineyard near Cartaxo, Portugal

In general, staying in the vineyard was quite fine, there was a little problem, though. And here comes the story. The first few nights were just fine because it was still warm here, but then colder days came. Or I should say colder nights. The bungalow I was staying in was also quite cozy, but without heating, and the electricity was supplied there only by the “central” cable through the window, which then had to be always opened. I would say that these bungalows are not built for winter, especially not here in Portugal, and they have no isolation. And what may not be so obvious at first sign is that they kind of take over the outdoor temperature. When the sun is shining during the day, they are being heated up like a sauna and you have to open the door. At night, nevertheless, when the temperature drops up to 5°C, they don’t really stay much warmer. And so, when the temperature at night started to decrease to 5-7 °C, the temperature inside the bungalow decreased to some 10-12 °C. It was possible to stay till around 7 pm, after that, when I tried to sit on my bed and do something, my hands began to freeze. After 8 pm I could see a steam coming out of my mouth. I don’t know…people say perhaps when you want to sleep, it’s okay, but if you want to sit there and do something, it’s cold. It’s was damn cold! Maybe I’m too sensitive to cold, but I couldn’t even read a book because after a few minutes my hands were frozen. I slept under two duvets in a jacket, hoodie, winter socks, yet I still kept being waken up during the night feeling cold. And the mornings with my nose like reindeer Rudolph’s, or when I needed to go to the toilet, man.

Vineyard near Cartaxo, Portugal
Bungalow in the vineyard

So I asked for a heating or any other solution, because after 3 nights of sleeping in 10°C with 3 layers of clothes, and under three layers of duvets and blankets, I could still feel my back and really was afraid of next nights. She obliged me, and got a cheap ventilator with hot air. Well, indeed not the best solution, but surely acceptable and anything better than freezing in there again. But, since there was no power socket inside the bungalow, I still had to plug it through the window, right? A bit tricky, isn’t it? Trying to heat up the room with the window opened and letting the cold from outside in, at the same time. I figured out and found a way to get the cable in without having to leave the window opened. And I managed to raise the temperature to a bit bearable level of approx. 16 °C. But then I had to switch off for the night again so after a few hours it got pretty cold again anyway. 

Well, to finish the fruitful story. Next evening I switch on the heater and go to take a shower, which is in another bungalow outside (also with no power sockets built-in). When coming back out of the bathroom I smell a strange smell. Something like a smell of something burnt. I bow down and the smell gets worse. Crap, it seems like the main cable is burning. I have to go to turn it off and check. I go back to my bungalow to put back my stuff and dress up and suddenly the heater goes off. Damn, the power is off, that’s not good. We turn off the main cable. Of course, the socket of the main cable extension which was plugged in the main building, and was supplying us with electricity, is melted. 

I was told to come to sleep for now to the main building, which was, by the way, also very cold and without a heating, but at least there was electricity. I just wondered what the hosting girls wanted to do about it. So that night I slept in their wooden house, and in the morning the hosting girl just wrote me that I complained too much and that I was too sensitive. When I said go and stay there for a few hours by yourself if you think I’m too sensitive, she said you should find another host, please pack your stuff. Out of nothing. Next day she just let her friend bring me to a train station in the middle of nowhere, making me feel leaving like I was pain in the ass. She didn’t even come to discuss in person, nor to say thank you or goodbye….Well, you know, shit happens sometimes, as well as it sometimes happens that you run into dishonest people. But perhaps it’s good for both of us that we didn’t see anymore, because to be honest, I haven’t been this mad at anyone in years…

Cartaxo train station, Portugal
Cartaxo train station in the middle of nowhere

So just a few hours later, I ended up sitting with my two backpacks at a train station in some shithole. Furious, insulted, and without an alternative plan. I had to wait for one hour for a train to Lisbon. I really don’t remember last time I got so angry at someone.

Back in the beginning – a few days in Lisbon looking for a solution

So, I’m back in Lisbon, pissed off as f*, incredibly mad at these girls, staying at hostels and looking for another solution. Coming back to Czechia earlier than planned with such experience would most likely kill me….I would feel so embarrassed and depressed, gosh. But what can I do…I need to stay at a hostel for a few days and keep sending other volunteering requests in the meantime. 

I was so upset and off that I wasn’t in the mood to think about anything. I went to a shop and bought a (gluten-free) beer, and sat down in a nearby park to “enjoy” this state of mind and hopeless feeling. Yes, I felt so pissed off that I didn’t know how else to calm down at least a bit. Then I went to the closest and cheapest hostel, which turned out the be a disaster, of course. I slept on a bunk bed with 11 other people in the room, it was so noisy, and as an icing on the cake I slept with my head by the window facing one of the busiest streets leading to the center so even my ear plugs were basically useless. It was cheap, but definitely not worth it. I don’t know how many days I will have to stay at a hostel, but better pay 1-2 € more for more quiet. So I changed another hostel, which was significantly better than the first one, but there was a different problem instead. No kitchen to cook my food! I know it may sound like a minor thing for most travelers, for me it’s a real complication. First of all because if I stay here more days and have to eat out everyday, it becomes very expensive. Secondly, because of my special diet and limited selection of food I can eat, it’s impossible as the price for eating out would be at least doubled. 

So I changed the place again. And the budget is expanding. Thanks God, the third hostel is pretty good, quiet, with a good internet connection, and a kitchen! And nice staff as well. And as a matter of fact, also with a few volunteers. So perhaps I can tell them my story and try to ask here, whether I can give a helping too. But guess what, they don’t want me. They say they have enough volunteers.

I really don’t know what’s going on, but I’m seriously beginning to think that Portugal just does not want me here. I’ve sent out like 15 request, but didn’t get even one response. I visited 3 more hostels in person to ask if they need my help. All the answers the same – sorry, we don’t, it’s off season. And I also also got a sort of a negative response from the company at which I applied for a position some time ago. Everything is against me and I really can’t afford paying for hostels. If I don’t find another host in a few days, I will have to get on the plane for my last money and come back home. This will be my end….

Second chance for Portugal – Visit to Sintra and the westernmost point of Euroasia

After few days, when I was basically about to give up, I finally got a positive response. Hopefully, I’ve finally found another host so the disaster is staved off. I just accept it and will try to enjoy Lisbon and the surroundings more. Thus, I decide to make a trip. That’s what almost always helps me to feel better. I buy a one-day Lisbon+ ticket, which I can use both for the Lisbon public transportation and the suburban train to Sintra or Cascais. I want to make a tour with a stop at Cabo da Roca – the cape by the Atlantic Ocean. I take a suburban train to Sintra first. Even at this time of the year, in low season, there are many tourist guides and other people trying to attract tourist for their tours waiting right in front of the train station. I can’t imagine what this place looks like in summer. It feel very touristy to me even now, in high season it must be really terrible.

Pena Castle - Sintra, Portugal
Pena Castle – Sintra

Sintra is definitely a nice place worth a visit, nevertheless, it’s also one of the most touristy places in Portugal, which means, among others, that if you want to see something, you have to pay. And I found out that you have to pay for everything here. There are many places and things to see around, but you always need to buy a ticket. Of course, for each sight separately. And when I see the prices, I decide to just walk around and see where I can get, and leave visiting the castles for some other time. To tell the truth, without paying for a ticket and entering the gardens, you are not enabled to see much. So I just walk between the gardens and castles, trying to take some photos and sneak in closer. In the end I only manage to take a few photos from a distance, and climb up the hill to get a small panoramic view.

Castelo dos Mouros - Sintra, Portugal
Castelo dos Mouros – Sintra
Sintra National Palace - Sintra, Portugal
Sintra National Palace
View over Sintra and surroundings from Santa Eufemia, Portugal
View over Sintra and surroundings from Santa Eufemia

I take a bus to Cabo da Roca. I guess I’m looking forward to this one more than Sintra. I basically didn’t manage to get any good views in Sintra, the whole area is bordered by a fence and you have to pay to enter, whether you want to visit the Pena castle, the Palace, Castelo dos Mouros, or anything else. I can’t wait to see the Atlantic Ocean now! 

Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
At the edge of Europe in Cabo da Roca – the westernmost cape of Euroasia
Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
Cabo da Roca – the westernmost cape of Euroasia
Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
Cabo da Roca – the westernmost cape of Euroasia

The view from the very edge of Europe is absolutely stunning! It’s breath-taking. The cliffs and then just limpid blue water of the endless Atlantic Ocean. I love this place and include it on my personal must-see places list. I enjoy my snack and a sunshine with spring 16°C until the very last moment. Until the sunset. It’s a wonderful experience to see the sun setting behind the horizon. I surely want to experience that again in the future. 

Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
View from Cabo da Roca over the Atlantic Ocean
Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
Cabo da Roca – the westernmost cape of Euroasia
Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
Cabo da Roca – the westernmost cape of Euroasia

The sun is down and I take a bus to Cascais. Well, I won’t see anything of the city anymore as I spent here much more time than planned, but I don’t regret because it was definitely worth it!

Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
Cabo da Roca – the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
Cabo da Roca - the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal
Cabo da Roca – the westernmost cape of Euroasia, Portugal

Exploring more of Lisbon

Before I head north to Coimbra, and then yet a bit more north to the village of my new volunteering hosts, I have one more day to spend in Lisbon, so I can finally also enjoy this city in a more relaxed way.  

Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal

As mentioned previously, I can’t help, but I find Lisbon a bit weird city. But so was Budapest in the beginning and in the end I fell in love with it. I guess when you get used to certain things, such as walking dirty streets with ramshackled buildings, strange people and drug dealers offering you weed, coke, or hashish every 100 m, you will definitely see the bright sides too. Lisbon is pretty big, I spent here a couple of days and I would still find many, many things I would like to see or do here. Perhaps next time. I write more about Lisbon here.

Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon
Ponte 25 de Abril
Ponte 25 de Abril

 

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