Flying into Lisbon reminded me of the things I love about European cities – their uniformity, their quirkiness and their colour. Lisbon is lined with houses and buildings with terracotta coloured roofs, but the buildings themselves are often painted with vibrant shades of pink, purple or yellow.
When I arrived in Lisbon it was still too early to check into our hostel, so a few of the other students and I dropped off our bags and headed out to explore until check-in time. Stepping out onto the cobble-stoned streets, we were immediately greeted with an abundance of restaurants, shops and cafes; ranging from a rustic building with an H&M inside to small cafes with endless croissants and pastries. After the long flights, I was absolutely starving, so I headed into a small bakery on the corner, where I bought a croissant – for 1 euro! – which to my surprise was filled with a delicious custard. After picking up some pastries, we headed out in the direction of a gorgeous arch, the Rua Augusta Arch, which frames the entry to a large square overlooking the river. In the middle of the square is a large monument, nearby which a busker was playing, and couples were cuddling and posing for photos. We walked down to the river’s edge and looked out at the 25 de Abril Bridge – which looks surprisingly like the Golden Gate Bridge!
The next day we were mostly free to explore, so we headed up to the Elevador de Santa Justa, which is an elevator you can take up to a viewpoint. After climbing some rather difficult spiral stairs, you end up on a platform that gives you an amazing view of the city. When we climbed back down, we walked tried to go the archaeological museum but it is closed on Sundays, so we might have to try again another day! After that we decided to just wander the city, stopping for coffee, pastries (as always) and souvenirs.
Most souvenir stores seem to sell these really cool patterned tiles, and most of us were trying to work out what we could possibly use them for at home, just to have an excuse to buy them. Walking a bit further, we came across some markets that are on during the second weekend of every month, and almost every single store was selling Cork products! It turns out Cork is one of Portugal’s largest exports, and they produce half of all cork harvested worldwide. Funnily enough I had purchased a cork handbag from an Australian company a few months before this trip, and I was able to get some information on how to clean it from one of the stalls (turns out cork also gets quite dirty). After the markets, we stopped for lunch at Solas do Bacalhan, which had about three different menus and a sign that said ‘Portuguese Typical Food’ out the front. The waiter they had out the front convinced us to come in by telling us they would make just about anything we wanted to eat!
Later in the day we decided to head back up to the Elevador de Santa Justa (tickets are valid for 24 hours) so we could see the sunset. Even though it was mostly dark by the time we got up there, the view was still definitely worth it. Later we went to dinner in an area where the staff like to compete to get customers, and chose to eat at the place offering free wine and sangria!
On Monday we had an introductory day to the University and to Portuguese culture, which included a welcome lunch with the staff and the Australian Ambassador to Portugal, a lecture on Portuguese culture and then a trip to the Rua Augusta Arch and Lisbon Story Centre. You can take a lift up the Rua Augusta Arch and there’s a platform on the top where you can (again) look out onto the whole city, and it overlooks the Comercio Square and the lake, which is beautiful at sunset!
On Tuesday we started actual classes! First up we has a lecture on the history of the feminist movement, which was interesting to consider from a European perspective. Classes in Australia tend to cover the same content, but the lecturer, Ermira Danaj, added a very unique touch in telling us of her experience growing up in communist Albania, as well as experiencing the fall of communism in Albania, and how this transition impacted women and women’s issues. This lecture was followed by a trip to the Portuguese Platform for Women’s Rights, which is an organisation that brings together women’s rights organisations in Portugal. The organisation was inside a ‘house’ in the middle of a national park! It was also freezing cold inside the house, but they had a cat running around inside!
That night, a few of us headed to Lisbon Art Bar (which I think is also called Navegadoors) for 2for1 pizza! We ended up sharing some pizzas and paying about 2 euro each for the food, which meant we had plenty of money left over for cocktails! (Oops, cocktails and dancing on a school night meant some people were looking pretty rough in the morning!)
Our lesson the next day was on conceptual frameworks for gender analysis, after which we visited the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality, and learned that there are many organisations pushing for legislation in relation to gender equality in Portugal. They have a lot of resources dedicated to supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence, which seems to be a key issue on the Portuguese political agenda. After this we went to a bakery called Versailles, which was very busy but very cheap, and most of us bought a few pastries before jumping on the metro to head home.
We’re just getting started here in Lisbon but I can tell there is a lot to come! Stay tuned :)
"Applying for this program has been the best thing I could have done for myself. Having experienced the true culture and history in person has made me more hungry to learn about the foundation, concept and process of such historical structures. I would say before this trip, drawing to me was more like a chore and now drawing has become a passion."
While abroad, you're not only expanding your knowledge of a language, you are also meeting new people from around the world - forming amazing friendships - being immersed in the culture by participating in various activities, and simply experiencing this program is a unique experience