Hello! For those of you reading this post, close friends or even new friends, I hope you enjoy this blog as a way to share in my adventures in Portugal this summer. For those of you who do not know me, here is a short background: My name is Marielena Dias and I am a 3rd year student at the University of Florida studying political science with an emphasis on European Union studies and international relations. My interests are international law, teaching or working in politics, and international relationships among nations especially considering influences such as culture and religion. I am part of a research group in the U.S.- the McNair Scholars Program (miss you all!) and I recently received a research fellowship as well. I am of Portuguese descent and I hope to one day return to Portugal to work on a Master’s or Doctorate.
Starting this blog was a bit difficult because there are just so many aspects to studying and traveling abroad that have a right to be told and should be included when telling stories. I have only been in Lisbon with my study abroad program for the last 3 days but already there are so many adventures and moments I wish I could share. Even if I were to share them in stories, I will never be able to fully transfer the images in my mind of how blue the sky gets here or how crisp and clear the air feels when I walk about the city in the mornings. Furthermore, I am slowly but surely falling in love with this city and, because of this (as often happens to people in love), my mind is constantly memorizing every single detail of the city and I find my surroundings to grow more beautiful each morning I wake up to greet them.
In my lifetime, I have only visited Portugal a handful of times. Last summer, I visited my family in the town I spent the happiest moments of my childhood in- Carregal do Sal. It was the first time I had visited in 5 years, and I realized how much I missed the environment when I returned to the U.S. for college in the fall. I made myself a promise that I would return again the following summer some way or another. Over the year, I spent hours looking at educational opportunities in Portugal for graduate studies and I found a few that I really liked. However, spending a short vacation in a country with family is radically different from actually studying and working there, so that was the primary motivator for my visit this summer- to see how I might like being part of the university community in Portugal.
One of the things I love most about being a student is the opportunity to experience life in a way that adults my age may never get to. As a university student, I can pack my bags and spend six months or one year in a completely different country and continue learning fascinating subjects. I can experiment different cultures and meet new people to see what region of the world I someday want to call home. Who says that you can’t go anywhere, do anything, or be anyone. We are all capable of making the most of this life, and it is our right to do so. No adult working in a typical job can ask for half a year to go visit a new part of the world for an internship or study abroad program, but students can do this and find themselves in ways never imagined possible.
Just like with any story, the best way to introduce it is by setting the scene. Right now, I am studying in the city of Lisbon- the cosmopolitan, historically rich, and culturally delicious heart and soul of Portugal. This city is dripping with folklore, history, gracious people and appetizing food at every corner. The University of Massachusetts- Dartmouth summer program in Lisbon rents rooms at the Lisbonaire Hostel for students, and I have to say that I absolutely love it there!
When I first pulled up to the street the hostel was on, I honestly became very confused. The photos of the hostel on the website led me to expect that the outside of the building would be as ornate and glamourous as the inside, so when I saw the light gray, simple building stationed on a street full of graffiti covered apartments being renovated, I got a little worried. Upon walking inside, though, I was blown away! The building is only two years old, and it’s the perfect location for any students wanting to visit Lisbon.
Each apartment corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, and has its own designer. The suites are all completely different, except for the fact that they are extremely COLORFUL! If there is one thing I love, it’s lots and lots of color… so these rooms are such an amazing place to come home to after a long day of classes. Plus, our apartment theme is based on blues and grays… so relaxing! Some students from the program I am in have a loft-type suite, with a living room and bedroom downstairs. Another group of students have their own large and spacious kitchen with a different bed / living room layout. Moreover, the rooms come with fully furnished kitchens, towels and clean up services in the rooms, a television set with cable, and unlimited wireless internet. In the mornings, the sun rises in the perfect angle to bask me in sunlight from the window, and then I like to make myself a cup of tea and look out at my magnificent view of the city while I blast film score soundtracks from my laptop. (*NOTE: If I haven’t already sent you the link, my favorite study playlist ever is found here. You are welcome, in advance.*)
Better than my apartment is the area I am surrounded by. I am never bored for a moment here in the bairro alto (Translation: high neighborhood- since it is located on a hill. Bairro Alto has a famous reputation for its night life and countless bars that line the streets, but it also is home to some pretty significant sites). There is so much to explore and discover! Today, walking home from class I bumped into the cutest, elderly German couple I have ever met and even took their picture outside of the trolley cart near my street. There is an amazing Indian restaurant next door, a restaurant near my university with food from Goa (once a colony of Portugal in India- so it is Indian food with a tropical twist to it), a Japanese pavilion at the top of the “elevador” at the end of my street, and many other ethnic groups / shops / restaurants in my area. By elevador I mean that at the end of my street you reach a road where you can only go left or right that is inclined at least 45 or more degrees. On this street travels an old fashioned yellow electric trolley, and it gives you a lift to the top of one of the Bairro Alto’s many hills. I have promised myself to refrain from using the trolley, just to get some more walking time in. In fact, that is another thing I love about being in a busy city- all the walking time and how things are in walking distance. In America, especially in Florida, the land is really flat and everything is so far away- therefore car travel is a must, unfortunately.
Across the street from my hostel is the famous Hard Rock Cafe, and to the right of that on the opposite side of the street is the Hotel Avenida Palace.
During WWII, this hotel used to be full of spies that were stationed in Portugal. The hotel still has some of the old tunnels and passageways that the spies used to use! Right next door to the hotel is a delicious place to get amazing gelato, and on the sidewalk outside of the hotel there is a street vendor who always has mountains of fresh cherries, yummy! Further down from the hotel is a plaza with elegant fountains, the Praça de Dom Pedro IV (Plaza of Pedro IV). The details on the statues in the fountain are so well designed, and not only are the plazas and buildings beautiful by day but they are all lit up at night!
Across the plaza is a super fancy bakery, the Pasteleria Suíça.
About 40 years ago, my father served in the Portuguese army and he used to spend a lot of time there. When he found out I would be in the area of Bairro Alto, the first place he told me to visit was the Swiss bakery because of all the scrumptious goodies it holds! As a cultural note, many cafes/bakeries in Portugal sell more than just coffee- they typically serve grilled ham and cheese sandwiches (tosta mista), teas, sodas, pastries, soup, and other goodies. The Pasteleria Suíça has a good variety of Portuguese treats like rissóis de camarão (shrimp cakes), healthy salads, and others. The best part about the place is the sweet shop!
There are so many adorable candies at the sweet shop area of the bakery. There were many chocolate covered almonds with different flavors like fruit cremes in the middle and they all had clever designs on them. Some were designed like the eggs of a robin while others were various colors or covered in gold and silver (edible) paints.
The last area I really like near my home for the summer is a street that starts at the Praça de Dom Pedro IV and stretches down to an area that goes near the river and ties with the Avenida Marginal. The Avenida Marginal is a picturesque road that passes all the best beach towns in the Lisbon area such as Cascais and Estoril. I will post the pictures from that trip soon. When walking down this street, there are so many cute shops all around and always something exciting happening. For instance, the other day there was a woman who spent hours standing in the middle of the street as a living statue.
I was lucky to get this picture of her, because she spent five minutes keeping me from taking a nice picture by moving her red scarf in front of her face. But it was all in good fun, and she even took a picture with me when I put two euros into her little jar. I spent the other 3 euros I had left over to buy an overpriced chocolate crêpe and chamomile tea at the cafe near her.
That’s my favorite part of Lisbon. Because it is basically the door to Europe since Portugal is the first country one meets when visiting the continent, there have been so many people who have passed through and lived in Lisbon. There is so much Arab influence on the architecture since the Moors were in Portugal and Spain for so long. Actually, there is a grandiose and beautiful mosque that I passed by on a Lisbon Sightseeing Bus Tour (pictures/blog later) that I hope to return to and visit at some point. Another big influence in Portugal is French culture. From the 15th to 18th century, Portugal was a fountain of gold and culture and sophistication. Anybody who was anybody spoke French or Latin, and there are still many French restaurants and foods that linger in Lisbon. A lot of the clothes have expressions in French, French words are intertwined into the language, and it is a large part of the architecture, culture, and so forth. The influence from the Roman Empire is also quite large. In fact, Roman caverns underneath Lisbon were discovered a short while ago that can be visited during the month of September. The caverns are open for only 3 days because they are flooded underground year round. Legend has it that the water that trickles down there when the cavern is not flooded is magical and can produce miracles. Here’s a video about that:
More information on my school, classes, and all the academic opportunities of the program to come. As we say in Portugal, adeus e beijos! (Goodbye and kisses!)