I used my Gateway funding to travel to Portugal in order to improve my self-confidence and independence whilst simultaneously experiencing a new culture.
Having never been outside of England without my family before, I decided that I wanted to try it, and a graduation trip with friends seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine post-exams freedom with a trip to a city as beautiful as Lisbon. The lack of parental presence from the initial planning of the trip to the packing and travelling made me realise how many things needed to be done in preparation. There were plenty of aspects to travelling which I had previously taken for granted, from trying to decide on the best method of travel to then finding the best deals on flights and accommodation, and from airport baggage restrictions to currency exchange and safety precautions.
Despite initially deciding to make this trip in April, the revision and stress we all went through in the lead up to exams hadn’t left us with much time to plan out what we actually wanted to do once we got to Lisbon, except for sampling as much of the food as possible in our time there. Therefore once we landed at the airport, the first thing we did was pick up a tourist map. After making sense of the surrounding geography, we managed to find the Tube station to take us to an area close by to the apartment we were renting for the week. The subsequent walk to the apartment was a wonderful promise of what our week was going to be like, with brightly coloured buildings to exquisitely designed fountains and food markets filled with more options than we could wrap our heads around.
We established a morning routine of going to the bakery a few doors down from the apartment to buy a fresh loaf of bread, and usually bought egg tarts or some form of pastry to go with it. We also cooked a couple of evening meals since there was a supermarket on the same road. With a few food courts, cafes and restaurants to add to the mix, I ate a greater variety of food in that one week than I ever have before, as well developing an appreciation for watermelons in hot weather. However, the intake of food was definitely balanced with the amount of walking we did from one tourist attraction to another.
Among these were the Rua Augusta Arch, a beautiful stone monument by the Tagus River; the Castelo Sao Jorge, a fort that was built in the mid-11th century which was subsequently used to house royalty from the mid-12th century; the Torre de Belém and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, both of which are in the area of Santa Maria on the bank of the Tagus River. We also made a day trip to the nearby town of Sintra where we visited three of the parks and palaces (which involved lots of stairs as well as breath-taking views and architecture), our favourite of which was the Pena Palace (affectionately dubbed the Disney Palace by us because of its bright multi-coloured walls).
As well as giving us plenty of unforgettable memories from one of the last times that our international group of friends would all be together, the trip also made me more confident in my ability to be independent, which was a useful feeling when preparing to enter life after university. Lisbon is one of the prettiest places I have ever visited and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be able to unwind after exam week. I will definitely be going back someday.
Gateway Challenges Funding 2015