I've been exploring Lisbon for two weeks now and I must say my legs are still not used to the hills of this beautiful city. Even though there is a very nice underground metro system that I use often, my closest metro station is about a 10 minute hike up an extremely steep hill. The closest metro station to my host family's home is about a five minute walk but, unfortunately that one is closed indefinitely. Just my luck! It's not the worst thing in the world but that hill to the other station is going to get irritating.
Out of the 15 students currently in the program this semester I am the only student that takes the bus to school. By now I've learned how to use it and it's easy and convenient, except when it is ten minutes late without warning. It still gets me to school on time because school isn't very far. I can also walk to school and it only takes about 25-30 minutes. My first time on the bus, I did not know how to use my transportation card and I was just told what stop to get on and off by my host family. So, Monday morning on my first week of classes I got on the bus and smiled as I held the card. My first instinct was to swipe it as I do with our ID's at Susquehanna to get into buildings and such and that is exactly what I did. I smiled again and just walked to find a seat. The bus driver did not say anything and so I assumed it had worked. After the second day of doing the same thing again, I asked my teachers because I noticed that there was no sound or indication that my pass was working. My teachers informed me that I have to touch the pass to the monitor until it makes a sound and also turns on a green light. Once I actually saw that happen I felt much more comfortable. The first two days I was honestly worried the bus driver would tell me to get off the bus, or something along those lines and I wouldn't understand because it was angry/fast Portuguese. Luckily I figured it out quickly and that did not happen. Now I use the bus like a local and the bus driver even greets me in Portuguese sometimes! Around the city it is not very common to own a car. Most people simply have a transport card, like I do, that allows for metro and bus use in Lisbon.
This past weekend we went to Lagos in Algarve. This area in the south of Portugal is absolutely breathtaking. They have plenty of beaches, since it is on the coast. Unfortunately the water at these beaches is from the atlantic ocean and it tends to be very cold. Since I am from Puerto Rico and I am used to warm waters, this was a bit of a shock to me. I was surprised at how people would just hop in without even mentioning the temperature meanwhile, I was very satisfied just having the waves coming back and forth to touch my toes. Lagos Portugal is only a four hour bus ride away and definitely worth the trip. There are many different bus services as well as train that transport you all across Lisbon and Portugal as well. This past weekend we went all the way down to Algarve but on weekdays after school sometimes there is enough time in the day to take a quick train down to the beaches in Lisbon. The best part about all this extra transport is the price! All of it has been extremely reasonable especially for students on a budget.
Another very useful tool when traveling and trying to find your way is to use google maps! If you are traveling to another country and don't have an international plan for internet, a sim card is a feasible option. There are different ones with different costs and features but all the students so far have been able to find one that suits their needs. Wifi is available in lots of places and some people get around with just that but it does get difficult when you are trying to find a place you've never seen before. Google Maps is the app I've used the most and without it I would've had lots of trouble getting around. It might just be my horrible sense of direction but everyone else seems to like it too. The Only downside to using google maps is that if you're holding it sideways and looking for street signs, you might as well stamp the word tourist on you're forehead, which brings me to my last point about transport. Street signs are very very rare. What is most common is for the name of the street to be on the side of buildings and not on a sign. This took a little getting used to since in the US there are signs everywhere.
Stay tuned for more fun information about Portugal and Lisbon!
Orientation began this week and my legs are super sore! The initial orientation to the program is not only about academics, it's about everything we'll experience during our time in Portugal. During the orientation we were asked to take a placement test for our language class. Having never taken Portuguese before, I asked if I should be taking the test but since Spanish is my first language I was asked to take it. I got about a 50% which placed me in the intermediate course along with 4 others that had all taken Portuguese before. Right after the placement we began our first four hour daily class.
Have you ever had someone ask you a question, but you weren't able to answer? Not because you didn't understand the question, and not because you don't know the answer but because you don't really know how to speak the language. It is by far the most frustrating part of my trip so far. The problem is that I understand everything the teacher says and since its an intermediate course she expects us to reply in Portuguese, which I've had a significant difficulty doing. On the bright side its only a two week intensive course and i'll be done in five days.
When the class began we talked about many topics related to Portuguese culture and we talked a lot about food. The first presentation in class was about coffee! I love coffee and drink it at least three times a week. The teacher explained how to order coffee because in Portugal, even though they consume lots of coffee, they only have espresso in tiny cups. Our teacher explained that if you order anything but an expresso you'll be exposing yourself and everyone will know that you are not from Portugal. So, in an attempt to blend in I decided to only drink a specific kind espresso called "pingado" which means it has only a splash of milk. Something I've found really odd yet super useful and I think we should start this at Susquehanna is that they have espresso vending machines all over the university! For 40 cents I can get my tiny Portuguese coffee in just seconds. With the coffee, people also have pastries and there are "Padarias", which are probably most similar to a bakery in the US, and they have all sorts of tasty treats. The most traditional one is called "Pastel de Nata" its a custard-like filling inside a delicious flaky and doughy cup. (pictures at the bottom) but enough about food and more about the trips this week!
This week we visited a Market which was part of class and we had to go around asking the vendors questions about their products. Despite my lack of vocabulary, it went surprisingly well! I asked vendors about prices and most popular products and also bought some kiwis! We spent the afternoon there and then we spent some time at the beach after. The beach is easily accesible with the transport card provided by the program. Public transportation is very easy to use here and most people don't have cars because they're not necessary and its also difficult to find parking on the streets.
Lastly, we went to a very old and historic town called Sintra! In this town there are many castles and palaces worth exploring but we only had enough time to visit two this week. The tours were great but the views of the palaces and the areas surrounding were just breathtaking . Lisbon and also Sintra are very hilly which makes for some amazing views where you can even catch a glimpse of the ocean! During one of the visits to the castles we saw Madonna's new house! This town is also easily accesible by train so I will definitely be back for more exploring.
Until next week!
September 3rd sure snook up on me! I felt like one second I was on my couch at home with my dogs and the next I was on an airplane flying 3668 miles away from home. I don't like to admit how nervous this made me but I can't be so hard on myself. After all, I am going to a foreign country where I don't speak the language and on top of that I don't know a single person here. I'm sure anyone in my position would have a few butterflies in their stomach too.
I take an airplane to get to my University in PA and back home since I live in Puerto Rico. For this reason I considered myself a master at packing. The detail that I forgot though is that I usually leave all my winter stuff in PA and for this trip I need to bring some winter clothing. I never realized how difficult it is to pack winter clothing for a trip. Everything is bulky and takes up half the suitcase or it's too heavy. Either way by the time I was done packing, which took about a whole month, I thought I had done a great job and I was so proud of myself.
Today when I unpacked, I realized I only brought one hat and one scarf. They don't match.
It's not the end of the world but its proof that even if you've started packing in advance and you think you've done everything right, silly things like that happen and you can't be upset at yourself forever.
My host mom picked me up from the Airport. She is very nice and my room is perfect with its own balcony and everything! I have access to a kitchen, bathroom and living room as well as laundry facilities. It's odd for me to speak to my host mom in english because it's a second language to both of us. I prefer speaking Spanish in general because it just comes more naturally to me but I really hope that I can speak to my host family in their native language soon. I can't wait to be immersed in their culture and in their family. It's only been the first day and I already met her sister and her three nephews.
Ive dealt with being homesick before since I do study away from home on a regular basis but it does seem a bit different since I am so far away. I haven't been gone long at all but I already miss my family, especially my two adorable puppies that I spent most of the summer with. Im excited because this is the start of a new part of my life but it does scare me not know anyone at all before I start. I love spending time with family and this seems like a close knit family that will help me through the longing. They also have a pet chinchilla. I like dogs but I guess a chinchilla will have to do.
This week I will be doing an orientation and tours around the city and then I start my two weeks of intensive Portuguese classes. Here we go! It's time to explore my new home.
I'm Isabella! Welcome to my semester in Lisbon, Portugal!