Not three days into my year-long adventure and I already have a reputation in the hostel as the girl who is down to hang. My promises to “chill out and call it any early night” have been quickly shattered by a simple “eehhhh…… come oooooonnnn…,” by one of my fellow travelers. Before you know it I’m rallying the troops, ordering rounds of drinks and dancing until 2:30am – which I’m told is early, but I have to draw the line somewhere. However, that same “up for anything” attitude has made it very easy to make great friends and quickly. My German friend, Ben, affectionately refers to me as “his prom queen.”
“Why prom queen?!”
“I don’t know. The whole magic of a prom queen. You’re always smiling and happy, nice to everyone.”
Yeah, I can be real friendly when the drinks are flowing. But so long as the impression is positive I suppose that’s good.
Mainly this incredible sense of community in my hostel can be attributed to the very friendly staff and the wonderful common areas. The reception area doubles as the bar and main dining area where many gather for evening meals at a large wooden table. “Mama” – the mother of the twin owners – cooks delicious, Portuguese meals each night for 10 Euro and DRINKS ARE INCLUDED. Dinner is at 8:30 and before that is Happy Hour where beer is BOGO for two or three Euros (depending upon the size you order). It’s the perfect opportunity to meet other travelers and is usually the jumping off point for an evening out.
The first evening (Friday, Sept. 18) I was drunk with happiness (and beer), surrounded at the dinner table by people from Mexico, Brazil, Ireland, Canada, England and a few other Americans. To see all of these people from different places and walks of life eating, talking, laughing and toasting – well, it just makes everything seem right in the world.
As luck would have it I made a Portuguese friend that first night. Tiago lives in the same building as my hostel on the fifth floor with his housemates (three beauties from Portugal, Germany and Italy). Tiago had popped in for dinner (he seems to be a staple around here) and was heading out afterwards. I jumped at the chance to go out with a local and recruited some of my new friends to join. We tried to discretely ditch the organized “bar crawl” and then took off into the night. I was very happy to have Tiago and a few other guys with us because we were definitely off the beaten path and well out of the touristy areas of Lisbon. We grabbed some beers at a small shop on a side street and continued on to our destination, which was an enormous old house. The doors on the second floor were wide open with people hanging out and loud music pumping into the street.
“Tiago, I think this is a house party,” I said
knowingly like an idiot.
“No, no. Is old home turned into club. I show you.”
And that’s exactly what it was. A beautiful – albeit dilapidated – grand house that was now what Americans would call a “hipster bar.” The bar was in the back, and it opened onto a patio, packed shoulder to shoulder with a very international crowd. Upstairs was a dance floor with a DJ who looked more like fat, bearded bum who (Tigao and I agreed) surely spends his time sitting around in his underwear and socks eating greasy food. But when he’s spinning… he’s a God.
The following morning (Saturday, Sept. 19) I drug myself out of bed and downstairs for a quick breakfast before joining the free walking tour, organized through my hostel. Marco led us through the city, showing us the sights and peppering in history and tidbits about Portuguese culture. The idea was for me to get a “lay of the land” and familiarize myself with my new city. Here’s what actually happened: I chatted the entire time, didn’t pay a lick of attention to where we were or how we got there, and by the end I was just as turned around as I was when I first stepped out of the metro station the day before. Classic Marge.
After the tour I had to hurry back to meet up with a friend of a friend. Samar is a Palestinian woman who, after living in Indy for many years, moved to Lisbon seven years ago with her Portuguese husband. My friend and mentor Jane (who had worked at the Symphony when I was at their creative agency, three-sixty group), put me in touch with Samar when she saw I was heading to Lisbon. And thank goodness. It was so nice to talk with a local! She met me just outside my hostel and promptly took me for food and beer (my kinda lady). After that we wandered around the city a bit, eventually making our way up to her car, which was parked at the Palestinian embassy where she works. From there we drove to a different area of the city for Pasteis de Belem (THE place to get pastel de nata, this incredible custard in a sort of phyllo dough tart shell), iced coffee and friendly political conversation. There’s something I never thought I’d say: “Today I dined alfresco in Portugal and enjoy a lovely discussion on world politics with a Palestinian woman.” But “never” is not a word that exists when you’re traveling. Everything is possible.