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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Annita Christodoulidou: Independent travel to Lisbon, Portugal

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    05 Dec
    Annita Christodoulidou and friends on the beach with surfboards

    Thanks to Gateway I was able to travel to Lisbon alongside seven friends for a total of six days. My friends and I wanted to treat ourselves after exams and since we had ever visited Portugal before, it was quite easy deciding on a destination. We had enrolled on a surf programme for beginners, which included daily morning surf lessons but still allowed plenty of time in the afternoon to explore the rest of this beautiful city. Our villa was in the area of Costa da Caparica, a stunning town along the coastline, known for its sandy beaches and surfing seas, but still very peaceful and quiet as it is relatively unknown by tourists.

    Once we settled in the villa on our first day, we decided to wonder around and explore the neighbourhood. We ended up at the beach down the road from our villa. The view was magnificent. The sea was a misty grey colour which complemented the long stretch of pale sand perfectly and was almost indistinguishable from the cloudy afternoon sky. We walked along the beach for quite a while until we stumbled upon a tiny mediterranean fish tavern and decided to stay for dinner. The food was exquisite – you could definitely tell the fish was fresh, but the way it was cooked also reminded us of home. After dinner we headed back home. We had an early night to recover from the flight and prepare ourselves for our first surf lesson in the morning. Our surf instructors picked us up from the villa the next day and drove us to the surf school – which was literally a shed full of wetsuits and surfboards. We were all asked to wear a wetsuit, pick up a surfboard and head to the beach. Our first lesson was so much fun but also very exhausting. We came to realise that balancing on the surfboard wasn’t actually the hardest part, as we had initially thought. The real challenge was moving from a lying to a standing position once you caught a wave; and all while trying to avoid hitting each other (which, unfortunately, did happen once or twice).

    After the lesson, we had lunch, a shower and then headed to the city centre, which was a 20-minute drive from the villa. We wondered purposelessly around the oldest parts of the city, mostly in the Alfama district, which consisted almost exclusively of narrow roads surrounded on both sides by very tall coloured buildings. The people were very friendly and polite and had led us to a rooftop café-restaurant, which oversaw the city and a beautiful sunset. The lovely waiter at the café had mentioned that that night was the official start of the famous Lisbon Sardine festival, and that we were really lucky to have booked our tickets then. Suddenly, the weird smell of deep-fried fish that covered the whole centre made sense. The Sardine festival is a very special occasion for the Portuguese. It is a week-long celebration, filled with night-long street parties, with loud music and stands selling beer, sangria, ginjinha and of course, sardines. The narrow streets in Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhoods mesmerised locals and visitors with their colourful decorations and the lively and inviting 
    atmosphere. Needless to say, we ended up spending the whole evening there.

    Sintra, a small town just outside of Lisbon, was by far my favourite. We headed there the next day after our morning surf lesson. Sintra is known for its numerous gardens and nature parks and it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, due to time constraints we only had time to visit one monument, the Pena palace, located on the top of a hill, completely surrounded by a heavily forested natural park. The park was beautiful, but the palace definitely stole the show. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. It looked like it belonged in a fairy tale. And because it was at the top of a hill, the views were breath-taking. In the evening we returned back to the city centre and stopped at Pink street, a street (literally painted pink) once known as the ‘red light district’ of Lisbon but now transformed into one of the coolest spots to relax and have a drink (or two). 

    On our fourth day, we returned to the city centre to explore some of the newer parts, like the Baixa district. The difference between the older and newer neighbourhoods of Lisbon was striking. This was because the Baixa district was completely redesigned in 1755 after a disastrous earthquake struck Lisbon, while Alfama was least affected. We visited landmarks like Arco da Rua Augusta in Praça do Comércio, one of Lisbon’s largest plazas, Elevador de Santa Justa, a lift constructed in the industrial era and Ascensor do Lavra.

    On our last full day, we decided to visit the Belém district of Lisbon, an area with lots to see and try. We visited Torre de Belem, Lisbon’s most famous and photographed monument and also took a guided tour of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, called as such because it used to be populated my monks of the Order of Saint Jerome. Lastly, after a casual stroll along the Tagus river we ended up at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, a magnificent 56-metre-high monument built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The highlight of our day, however, was trying Pastel de Nata, traditional Portuguese custard tarts topped with cinnamon from Pastéis de Belém, a shop so popular for its custard tarts, people might need to queue for hours before they’re able to get their hands on one. Later in the evening, we headed to LXFactory for dinner and drinks, a trendy shopping and dining area situated in a redeveloped 19th century industrial site with a great choice of restaurants and bars, of which the Rio Maravilha was the most notable. It is a funky rooftop bar with a view of the river, a relaxed vibe and industrious décor.

    Overall, visiting Lisbon was an amazing experience, and I am grateful to the Gateway Programme for giving me the opportunity to make the most of my summer holidays. It was a great way to connect with my friends and develop on a personal level, as it was one of the first times I was travelling without my parents. This meant we had to plan ahead, navigate to the places we wanted to visit and manage our own budget throughout our trip.

    I would definitely recommend Gateway to all Murray Edwards students, not only for the amazing opportunities it offers students but also for the really useful seminars throughout the year.

    Annita Christodoulidou