Long Layover, Lisbon

My husband and I recently took a cheap flight from Toronto to Bordeaux that had a long layover in Lisbon, Portugal. This was exciting for me because I had yet to visit Portugal or it’s capital. Here is how we spent our 20 hours in the port city for some takeaways for your next visit there.

24hr Metro Tickets

This may sound unromantic, but let me explain. Upon landing at Lisbon Portela Airport, my husband and I waddled around like chickens with their, well you know the rest of the expression, because we could not find wifi to get detailed directions to our Airbnb and we do not speak Portuguese. In situations like these, I always head to the information desk at an airport and I have never been disappointed, friendly, English speaking attendants have always pulled out maps and circled routes and bus stops for me when I’m unsure of exactly where I’m. The nice man in Lisbon carried on the tradition.

My husband and I carried our 40 liter backpacks to the metro and got in line. While deciding which tickets to buy we opted for the 24 hour metro tickets that worked on multiple forms of transportation and would at least get us back to the airport for our 8:30 flight on to Bordeaux the next morning if nothing else.

The metro in Lisbon is relatively easy to figure out, it’s relatively small, clean, and runs from 6:30 am (just in time to get us there in the morning, phew!) until 1am. Now the reason why a metro ticket has made it on to the list is because it includes rides on the famous Tram #28. I knew nothing about this tram until I started seeing pictures of it on magnets and T-shirts at tourist stalls. It is canary yellow and looks as if it is straight out of the 1920’s, and it very well may be.

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Although Lisbon was a small city and our Airbnb was conveniently located a 30 minute walk from the sights that we wanted to see, we still hoped the tram a couple of times while there, it’s a must. Having the 24 hr ticket saved us money in the end because each tram ride paid in cash is €2.90 ($3.36) and we rode the tram on two separate occasions during our quick stay.

 

Word of warning – it’s a bumpy ride so not for those prone to motion sickness. Also, not comfortable to germaphobes or those with claustrophobia as the drivers do not seem to have a concept of “full trolley” and allow people on continuously even if the tram is bursting from the windows!

 

Get to Graça

We had a kind Airbnb host who recommended that we go to the next neighborhood, Graça for sightseeing due to a famous church, beautiful architecture, good restaurants, and a viewpoint of the city. We heeded her advice and were not disappointed.

The church is called Igreja da Graça and it is free to enter. Like most cathedrals in Europe it impressed this American traveler with its ornate carvings of biblical stories and height of the naval. Not a lot of time is needed to tour inside the church, which is perfect for a quick layover.The overlook is directly in front of the church, two birds one stone, even better for a short stay and battle with jet lag!

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There is a room connected to the church that consists of the famous Portuguese tiles that depict more biblical stories and Portuguese history. Unfortunately all of the descriptions of the work of art are in Portuguese. Magnificent tile art can be spotted all over the city.

 

Wander

Lisbon is touristy, granted we were there on a Saturday afternoon, but the city was buzzing with life and it seemed that the majority were travelers. As previously mentioned the city is small, so wandering around getting lost is not all that intimidating. The city is fairly hilly, so head down towards the water or back up into the higher neighborhoods until you stumble upon a good restaurant or cafe. Being that it is steep, wandering down is far more enjoyable than wandering up, so hopping on Tram 28 is a good idea when wandering up!

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Lisbon felt safe, historic, and slightly tropical. As my husband noted it has a Central American feel to it, more so than other European cities. Neither of us could say exactly why, it could just be the weather and tropical fauna, but it felt relaxed. Make your way down to the port, have a seat and dip your feet in on a hot day.

There are food stalls, restaurants, and a large market near the port that reminded me of a mall’s food court, it wasn’t the most atmospheric of European markets, so we skipped, but it likely would be a good place to get food to go (skipping the plastic bags of course) and heading down to the water to enjoy.


 

No doubt there was a lot that we missed in our short stay in Lisbon, but we enjoyed ourselves. We did check out the exterior of the famous Castelo de Sao Jorge, but to save money and time we did not pay the €8 entry fee. We had one meal in the Airbnb that we picked up from a supermarket, the prices were cheap for cheese, baguette, and sausage. We also made ourselves get up from our afternoon nap and head back into the center for a meal out at a restaurant because we though it a shame to leave the city without having seafood, but it turns out that restaurants, or at least this specific one, charge per item, meaning each pat of butter we used showed up on the bill and what we thought would be a €20 meal total for two turned out to be a €35 meal, it didn’t break us but did surprise us! Not sure if that is common for Portugal, Lisbon, or just restaurants in tourist infested neighborhoods.

Lisbon was the perfect place to have our layover on our way to visit my in-laws and a beautiful re-introduction to the romance of Europe.

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Help-X Work Exchange – Best Way to Travel

Back in 2011 my boyfriend and I were scratching our heads at a little coffee shop in South Korea as we prepared to leave our teaching jobs there to travel the world and gain experiences on the way. At the cozy little cafe, drinking hot chocolate late at night, I stumbled upon a website that satisfied what we were looking for: Help-X. Since that winter in 2011, we have left Korea (and returned and left again,) and have traveled the world, hitting multiple countries and Help-Xing whenever possible.

 

What Exactly is Help-X?

Help-x stands for Help Exchange and explained simply, is a network of both hosts and helpers who join the website (by paying a nominal fee and creating a profile) and then search for one or the other – host or helper, to begin contact via the network.

For example, my boyfriend and I are helpers, we listed our skills and explained who we are in our profile. Then we searched the network for a host that had what we were looking for: yoga, building, permaculture, heat (just kidding, but no, for real, I need heat in a cold place and hot water is a must,) and dogs are a bonus. To find a host we search by country, depending on where we’ll be and then we start sending out initial contacts. (You can checkout Help-X and have a look around at hosts, but details and contact information can’t be viewed or made without membership.)

 

On the host’s end, they likewise create a profile with photos of their accommodation, land, family, etc. Related websites and Facebook profiles are included so that helpers can learn more. A long or short description of open availability and work expected is listed. Work that is common includes basic gardening, helping with construction, and sometimes even teaching English, or yoga!

Below is a photo of a host’s home in the French Pyrenees where one of my primary tasks was collecting donkey doo, shown in the first photo above. The other two pictures are from a recent Help-x at Re-Green in Greece where I happily upgraded to yoga teaching. *The photo to the right, below showcases a beautiful natural structure at Re-Green, made of a variety of natural building techniques, you might recognize the back wall full of wine bottles. Beautiful. Many hosts and helpers are like-minded in their respect and care for nature and the environment.

So, What’s so Great About Work Exchanges?

  • Exchanges of Ideas & Skills – Whether you’ve never heard of permaculture or spent much time with your fingers in the soil, or you’ve done multiple PDCs (Permaculture Design Courses,) most hosts will take you on and teach you the skills that they require of you. Being that Help-X is part of the sharing economy, just like 150364_731184428877_1273975783_nCouchsurfing or Freecycle, as a helper you are likewise expected to share any skills or ideas that you have, that could be cleaning or helping in the kitchen, construction, or painting. Sharing and learning go hand in hand and it’s a wonderful thing that we can share and learn with each other around the world.

 

 

  • Perfect for Budget Travelers – In general, the arrangement is that in exchange for four, five, or six hours of work per-day for five or six days per-week, your host will provide you with accommodation and meals. To break it down, this means that after paying travel expenses to get to your host you will essentially have zero costs while there. For example, in one of my most recent stays with a host, my boyfriend and I stayed for about two and a half weeks and in that time we spent a total of 25 euro ($28 USD.) That’s not much for two people in two weeks while traveling. Compare that to how much would have been spent on lodging and food while traveling, a huge savings. Yes, we had to earn our keep, but working in the sun for a few hours while gaining skills and making friends isn’t a bad trade-off.
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Not exactly in the sun. My boyfriend and his Help-X friends in France.

  • Learn from Locals – It’s not always easy to get a real feel of a city or region unless you can chew the fat with a local while traveling. You can do just that while Help-Xing. A unique opportunity to ask a native of the area about the state of the region and country: economically, socially, environmentally, etc. It’s common that your host will share meals with you from time to time (or always, hopefully) and may even take you to their favorite local spots for food and drink, or to a cultural outing. In France our hosts took us to a local, ancient church; in Greece we ate at a ridiculously delicious Taverna. Travel memories to last a lifetime.

 

Local food, puppies, yoga, laughs, and sun – I’d say I’ve done a pretty good job of selling Help-X as a way to travel, work, and share. As posted in The Future – What’s Coming Up Page of KaraBemisYoga I am returning for a second Help-X stint at Re-Green in Greece. I loved it so much there that I can’t stay away.

Have you tried your hand at a work exchange or working holiday?

Must Knows Before Visiting Prague

My backpacking trip around Europe brought me to Prague, Czech Republic (or Czechia is it?) for a second visit. My first trip to Prague was back in 2006 to visit my dear friend Angela during her time studying there. It was a quick trip with two other girlfriends; we were guided around the city by Angela to all the must sees and local gems. Since that trip I have always considered Prague to be, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so I wanted to show the picturesque city to my boyfriend.

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View from the clock tower of Prague back in 2006.

On my recent trip to Prague I again hit all the must sees of Old Town and went on a free walking tour that was advertised at our hostel, Advantage Hostel, which is located walking distance to Old Town. Like other tours I’ve done in European cities, the tour is free but it’s expected to give a tip at the end. A great few hours of entertainment for budget backpackers. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the name of the tour company that we went with, but there are a multitude that meet up at Old Town and can be found on TripAdvisor.)

Tomas, our tour guide was Czech and had studied history and anthropology, so an ideal expert on the city. Not only did Tomas give our group of about 15 stories and legends of the city but he also gave a lot of great tips for tourists in general. Tips that I thought were noteworthy enough to write about here, especially since most of them should be know before even landing in Prague. Must Knows that can help you avoid paying too much or getting ripped off, so here they are:

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Must Knows

  • Money Exchange – DON’T EXCHANGE MONEY ON THE STREET. Apparently there are people who offer “good rates” for your currency to get Czech Koruna, but don’t be fooled. The tender that they’ll give you  isn’t real Koruna, but rather bills and coins from another Eastern European country, like currency from Bulgaria. Our tour guide recommended a place that gives good rates. It’s called Exchange and is located just on the outside of Old Town Square near to the Kafka Café, click here for a google maps link.

 

  • Validate Your Tram/Bus/Metro Ticket – It’s quite easy to use public transportation in Prague. Tickets can be bought at most convenience stores or places that sell cigarettes. Tickets range in price from 24 CZK ($1 USD) for a 30 minute ride and up to 310 CZK ($13 USD) for a 3 day pass. Upon entering your chosen form of transportation, you must stamp it in a little machine that puts the date and time on the ticket. If you fail to do so you might have the misfortune of meeting an inspector who checks for stamps and are known to single out tourists (since locals generally use annual transport cards.) The fee for forgetting to stamp your pass is 1,000 CZK ($41 USD,) a big unexpected expense to any traveler.

 

  • Beware of Taxis – They’re known to overcharge. I didn’t need to use one on my recent trip since I walked the entire time I was there, so I don’t know from experience, but again this is another tip from Tomas that I take seriously. I don’t recall exactly how much a taxi may rip you off, but any rip off is worth avoiding. Look for a yellow Taxi light on top of the car and follow other guidelines found here.
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    Nataranjasana in hiking boots in Prague.

    Another good idea is to ask your hostel or hotel to call ahead and book you a reliable taxi.

 

  • Invest in Good Walking Shoes – Prague has retained its historical beauty meaning that the architecture is stunning and there are sites to visit aplenty (plus parks and beer gardens.) Through history those bumpy cobblestone streets have stayed put in the majority of both Old and New Town and they wreak havoc on pedestrians’ feet. No matter which European city (or any city anywhere) you visit it’s an absolute must to invest in a  pair of good walking shoes, be them walking sandals, sneakers, or hiking boots. Cobblestone is no surface to mess around with flip flops or heels in!

 

You’ll be off to a good start keeping these tips in mind when you visit fairy-tale-like Prague. Also remember to drink all the pivo (beer) you can handle and eat some goulash with dumplings. My review of a centrally located Prague yoga studio coming up soon.