The Night Train: Lisbon to Madrid

As my time in Lisbon came to an end, I grew more and more anxious for the start of my study abroad program. Because I am a poor college student and also strive to experience new things, I opted to take the night train from Lisbon to Madrid, a 9 hour journey instead of a two hour flight.  The train ticket cost 24 euro, and the train left from the Lisbon Oriente Station at 9:30pm.

It was definitely not a luxurious experience, but I survived it well enough to be able to write a review, so here are the pros and cons of taking the Lusitania Hotel Night Train from Lisbon, Portugal to Madrid, Spain.

The Good
The most obvious positive thing about taking the night train in place of a flight or high speed rail is the price. 24 euro is probably the cheapest way to get across an entire country. Sure, Ryanair can have really cheap flights too, but if you need to check a bag, the expenses will multiply rapidly. Another benefit in the realm of saving money is that by taking a night train, one can avoid booking a hotel or hostel for a night, saving another chunk of cash.

Besides saving money, another positive was just having a reason to go to Lisbon´s Oriente Train station. It is a MASSIVE complex of platforms, a shopping mall and restaurants, an interesting spectacle with unique architecture that differs significantly from the rest of the city of Lisbon.In addition, the trains are also fairly clean and there are no baggage fees for big bags, which is essential for someone studying abroad with a bigger, non-carry on sized suitcase. There is also a bar on board that serves alcoholic beverages, as well as snacks and coffee, and the prices were surprisingly low.

The Bad

Comfort is the primary reason I would not recommend the night train from Lisbon-Madrid to all travelers. The seats do not recline much, and while they are bigger than airplane seats (slightly) they are not really compatible with getting any quality sleep. The train is also a bit noisy, as compartments can house about 30 passengers, and people are coming and going as the train makes stops across the country. It can make for interesting conversation, as there were tourists of all nationalities in my train compartment, but it can also be extremely annoying if one is trying to get some solid sleep. The train also rocks and sways a bit on the tracks, which would be hard for someone who is sensitive to movement when trying to sleep. The security on the train also isn´t fabulous for someone traveling alone, as there is no way to lock up luggage, so when I was walking around the compartments I had to worry about my belongings sitting unattended in the luggage rack. Luckily nothing happened, but it is very possible for thieves to gain access to people´s stuff with no one else being able to know.

Fortunately, I was able to get about 6 hours of shut-eye. I woke up about an hour before the train arrived in Madrid, enough time to gather my belongings and read a little before getting off. What was super convenient was that the train stop in Madrid is connected to the metro, which made it easy for me to take all my stuff to Plaza Eliptica to buy a bus fare to Toledo.

Overall
Overall, I would do the night train again to save money, but probably only if I was traveling with friends so I could have people to watch my bags when getting up to walk around or go to the bathroom. I would also buy a neck or travel pillow to make the journey slightly more comfortable. The night train is a cool experience for someone who has not been on trains much, considering they are very uncommon modes of transportation in the United States.

Have any of you taken the night train? Where did you take it and how was your experience?? Let me know in the comments

Xoxo Valerie
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Last Day in Portugal

After three days of intense exploration of all that Lisbon has to offer, relaxing and taking a slow day was much needed. The final day of our stay in Portugal also happened to be the biggest holiday of the year in Lisbon, El día de Sao Antonio.

Port Wine House 

The final day we managed to visit the Solar do Vinho do Porto and enjoyed rose and white port beverages in a cool and quiet atmosphere. Located at Rua de Sao Pedro de Alcantara in Lisbon, this bar is a good place to go to enjoy reasonably priced port wine and a relaxing atmosphere. The service was not the fastest, but it was worth having patience to enjoy a refreshing port beverage. The building is an 18th century palace, adding sentiments of charm to the overall atmosphere. Port wine here is available by the glass or bottle, with a huge selection to choose from.
The majority of the rest of the day was spent walking around and enjoying the last views of the city. Lisbon is really a beautiful city worthy of a visit by anyone entranced by European charm and especially Iberian customs. I really enjoyed my stay in Portugal, it was a wonderful experience to have with my mom and my aunts before kicking off my summer study abroad.
More pictures from the trip

 

Portugal Day 3: Cascais, Estoril and Belem

Every major city in a country that borders the ocean needs to have their quintessential beach towns. Cascais and Estoril proved to be great spots for dipping our toes in the water the third day of our adventure in Portugal.

Belem
In the morning, we started by taking the metro to the Baixa square and getting on an above ground train/trolley to head out towards the historical city of Belèm. Located just a 15 minute trolley ride (although a bloody hot and cramped trolley ride) outside Lisbon proper, Belém is a quaint area of Lisbon with a very rich religious history. We toured the Torre de Belém (free with Lisboa card) as well as the famous Jeronimos Monastery.

Estoril and Cascais 

With another brief train ride, we ended up in the Cascais/Estoril beach town. I was truly impressed with how crystal blue the water was, it felt like we were in the Mediterranean. Be warned, however, because the Europeans have a much different concept of what appropriate bathing suit bottoms look like. I saw more old-lady ancient butt at the public beach than I ever have in the locker room at my gym.
For dinner, we ate at a nice restaurant overlooking a river inlet and the ocean in Cascais. Definitely a beautiful city to walk around and enjoy, and I would definitely consider returning for a beach vacation in the future.

A real life Fairytale: Sintra, Portugal

Portugal day two proved to be very enchanting with a visit to Sintra, a historical town just 30 minutes by train just outside of the heart of Lisbon. The city is filled with Disney-like castles and beautiful, winding forest paths, through which we hiked through about 3 miles uphill.

The train station is easy to find, the green metro line to Rossio station leads to a square with a huge pillar with a statue atop it in the center. To the left of the museum with big white pillars is the station,- unique looking building with clock on top. Train tickets are about €4 for round trip to Sintra and trains leave every 30 minutes on line 1 on platform.

 Quinta de Regaleira is a manageable walk from the bus station and is a beautiful palace estate complete with gardens, fountains and grottos and caves. It was the best attraction in Sintra that I managed to visit, and only cost 6 euro for entrance.

Quinta de Regaleira
Walk to the castelo de mouros and palacio de Pena is brutal, much more physically taxing than the national palace or Quinta. We hiked upward about three miles, definitely a great ass-blasting workout with pretty scenery of a fairy forest along the way. The Pena palace and castelo were very cool to tour, definitely highlights of Sintra
For lunch we at at the painters garden, a restaurant with seating in a treehouse type dining area, very beautiful and off the main tourist drag. The food was great and it was a good stopping point before trudging onward and upward to the Pena palace and castelo. The hike was extremely long but very beautiful the whole way, and well worth it once we reached the top.
Palacio de Pena
I would definitely recommend Sintra as a full day-trip excursion for anyone spending time in Portugal. It is extremely beautiful and is great for people looking to walk a lot and get some good exercise while also sightseeing.

The restaurant we ate at for dinner was called Tronco and was back in lisbon proper. It was a small hole in the wall place, very cheap and served various Portuguese family-style fish dinners. I had fried hake and my mom had Dover sole that was delicious, and a slice of the orange cake for dessert was the perfect ending for the day.

Portugal Day One: Lisbon on Foot

After a grueling six hour layover in Philadelphia, two glasses of wine and a 7-hour overnight flight, we finally landed in Lisbon at 8:30AM Monday morning. The airport was easy enough to navigate, the signs herded us like cattle through hallways to immigration, baggage claim, and finally out to the reception area. The tourism booth was straight ahead, where various tour packages were waiting to be purchased.

We opted for the Lisboa card that would grant us 72 hour access to metro, train and tram lines as well as access to museums, discounts and other attractions. For 39 euro plus 10% off student discount, this is a great option to maximize adventure and mobility within the city.
The metro in Lisbon is located within the airport, making it easier to access the city center upon arrival. Not only was access convenient, but the cleanliness of the subway cars and the platforms blew me away. Caricatures, murals, and artistic pieces lined the walls of the tunnels, giving what would normally be a brutalist, ugly hallway the sentiment of an eclectic art gallery.
We managed to haul all our luggage through the metro and up a few blocks to the holiday inn, our home for the next four days. The deal my mom got on the hotel was great, about $40 per person per night for decent-sized rooms and most importantly, unlimited free wi fi. A nap was in order, the plan to meet in the lobby to begin exploring at 15:00.
Post-nap the journey began on the train headed to the city center. Getting off at the terreiro de paco stop put us right at the Praça do Comércio, a lovely wraparound of mustard yellow buildings overlooking the ocean.
The spray of the ocean left a salty aroma in the air that relieved the travel nausea and sparked hunger that took over my body. Right in the square was a lovely cafe, Aura. The vegetarian crepe stuffed with spinach and topped with cheese was a delicious mid day meal, and a frothy cappuccino gave me the caffeine boost I so desperately needed.

 

Moving onward and upward, we began walking uphill toward Se a lovely church with tall bell towers. Besides the fact that they are usually a free thing to tour, I’m not a huge European church fanatic. The gold adornments and stained glass and huge murals are beautiful and impressive, definitely worth a visit during a trip to Lisbon regardless of religious affiliation.

 

Rides up on the iconic, yellow tram 28 took us to beautiful views. It was absolutely terrifying, as the trolley was very packed and the tracks were shaky and rickety the whole way up and down.  Right before dinner we decided to do the Santa Justa lift, a fancy elevator that gave beautiful overlooking views of the city.

It was a long wait, but free entry with the Lisboa card, and at the top it connected us with a walkway that eventually led to our dinner at Stasha, a fantastic, elegant restaurant hidden down one of the many winding alleyways of Lisbon’s streets.

Located at Rua das Gaveas, this restaurant completely blew me away. The food was excellent and the service was really incredible. The waiter and waitress made us feel at home and were so kind and good with making recommendations. I had the mushroom risotto and tried my mom’s codfish entree. Everything was delicious and for dessert, I tried the passion fruit mousse. It was the perfect finale to a great meal, accompanied with complementary port wine. I cannot recommend this restaurant more to people spending time in Lisbon.

Day one was successful, managed to see a lot and get over most of my jet lag. The Portuguese people are extremely nice and welcoming, and it is very easy to get around the city efficiently.  The metro is clean and fast and overall the city feels very safe and open minded.

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