The second week of my travels began in Stockholm, Sweden. After a week of fairly mild early spring weather in the UK, the low temperatures in Sweden felt particularly frigid, but apparently I had just missed even lower temperatures and a substantial layer of snow only a week earlier. I was able to meet up with my friend Joe, who’s a medical student in Scotland and who I met back in October when I hosted him as a couch surfer in Amsterdam, and we couch surfed with an awesome guy named Andre, who is originally from Portugal and is working in Stockholm as a software engineer for Google (wicked smart!). The three of us got along famously, and had a lot of fun walking around the cold cold city together.
Although there wasn’t any snow on the ground, there were monstrous chunks of ice floating in the river. They were huge! I wanted to ride them down the river like a surfboard! When the chunks bumped up against each other they made a soft tinkling sound, like wind chimes almost. It was a really lovely sound.
Andre took us to an epic lookout spot up on a hill along the river as the sun was starting to set. This seems like a good point to advocate for couch surfing: it is truly the best way to travel, in my opinion. Not only is it free accommodation, but it’s an opportunity to meet awesome people and have a cultural exchange instead of a purely tourist experience. I probably never would have found this amazing lookout spot on my own or in a tourist brochure, and I feel like I got to see Stockholm as a local sees it. So that’s my two cents on couch surfing: it’s awesome and I highly recommend it.
Joe left early on my last day in Stockholm, so Andre and I took a train a short distance outside the city and walked around a frozen lake. It was kind of incredible. Despite my apprehension, we stepped out onto the lake and walked around on top of the ice, and we even did a little moonwalking (or attempted to, at least).
If I thought the temperature shift from the UK to Sweden was intense, it was nothing compared to going from icy Stockholm to sweltering Lisbon. It was in the low 80s! So hot! I couch surfed with a fella named Diogo who lives in the Belem area of Lisbon, so I spent most of my first day in Portugal just walking around the neighborhood checking out the San Jeronimos monastery, the Monument to the Discoveries, and the famous Pasteis de Belem which serves delicious pasteis, a super tasty egg custard pastry, to the hungry masses.
I absolutely ADORED the mosaic sidewalks around the city center. They’re so gorgeous and so detailed, it was difficult to take my eyes off of them while walking.
One section of the city center area used to be a largely Muslim neighborhood, and you can see that influence in the Arabesque tiled facades on many of the buildings. So pretty.
One day, I took a train out to Sintra, which is a stunningly picturesque little town about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon. There are three major castles in Sintra, but unfortunately I only had the energy to climb a formidably steep hill in the overbearing heat to make it up to one of the castles, the Castelo dos Mouros. It’s amazing that these castles were built so long ago and have remained intact and just absolutely stunning. To be so high up and looking down on the sprawling landscape in miniature below made me feel both so big and so tiny at the same time.
Seriously, it does not get any more epic than this.
The Torre de Belem was one of the last sights I saw in Lisbon, and it was dusk, right before Diogo and I went to a photography exhibition opening at the museum he works at. Isn’t the color of the sky amazing? The photography exhibition was gorgeous, and it featured five different photographers from different Portuguese-speaking countries. There was a ritzy reception afterward with endless free glasses of champagne and divine hors d’oeuvres, including pasteis! It was the perfect way to end my stay in Lisbon.