...is the nickname that Portugal has adopted. The country is well known for its gorgeous beaches, warm weather and laid back culture. Unfortunately, I have not been so lucky with the weather, but on the exceptional nice days here, I have been exploring towns outside of Lisbon. I reached a point where traveling from big city to big city was tiring and they all seemed to meld together, so I decided it was time to get away from the cities and check out nature.

On Monday I took the train 30 minutes southwest of Lisbon to visit my friend Eva in Cascais. The entire ride along the coast was gorgeous, imagine PHC from Big Sur to Carmel, I was mesmorized by the sight and slipped completly back into California mode. Not a bad thing at all considering I was a little homesick for the Golden State.

When I reached Cascais it was love at first sight. It was strikingly similar to Ventura, a small
town situated on miles of coast with green rolling hills in the backdrop. The South side had long sandy beaches and the north side was lined with Santa Cruz style cliffs...perfection.

Eva and I got free bicycles and spent the day riding along the coastal bikepath admiring the humongous waves and rock cliffs. Bike riding seems to be a skill I have been working on perfecting during this trip. Afterward, Eva entroduced me to the most famous ice cream parlor in Lisbon (and possibly all of the world, in my opinion). Cascais definitely gets my vote for best off the beaten path small town in Ember`s Contenintental Europe.
Eva and I on a bikeride along the beach
Cascais coast
My first day in Portugal was culture shock. Coming from the Netherlands where everything is orderly into semi-chaotic Lisbon was definitely something I had not prepared for.

By the end of my first day in Lisbon I was ready to pack my bags and get as far away from Portugal as possible.  I'm not sure what I expected Lisbon to be like, but as I spent a whole day traipsing in the pouring rain through a city full of decrepit buildings and graffitied alleyways, I knew this was a far cry from the "California of Europe" I had conjured up.

By the end of my I-hate-Portugal-day, I was desperate to figure something out. There happened to be a weekly CouchSurfing meeting that night, so I decided to stop by. I met a lot of local Portuguese along with some foreigners living in Portugal. They gave me tips of what to see, offered me a place to stay and even invited me on a road trip to a small town north of Lisbon for the weekend.

The city might be different from expected, but the locals sure were welcoming! I decided that a Portuguese road trip was bound to be an adventure, so I agreed to join the crew. The thing about Portugal, is that everything is, well, slow. The people are relaxed and take their time doing things, a stark contrast from the United States, which in tern can be very interesting when coordinating a road trip with nine people. It was a small glimpse back into my Mexico days when I´d sit at cafes all day, show up to everything an hour late and take a whole afternoon to make plans for a night. Regardless, I loved it all and had a fabulous time getting to know my new friends and their culture.

We went to a small university town about two hours north of Lisbon called Coimbra. Our friend Bruno had a vacation home in a quaint little village on a river and surrounded by rolling hills just outside of Coimbra. The house was tiny, but we somehow managed to squeeze in nine people!

We got in touch with several Couch Surfers in Coimbra and met up with them throughout the weekend. Two of them introduced us to an all you can eat restaurant where each meal comes with a whole bottle of wine for 7.5 Euros...that was a big hit! We also attended a rock concert at the university. In the arena, each discipline had their own bar to decorate, and students clad in cloaks (traditional college wear here) danced on the bars.

The weekend was a perfect getaway for me, and I made some great friends. I now feel somewhat attached to Lisbon, and apparently have adapted very well to the Portuguese way of life, as I have now been here for a week and am still not ready to leave!

The CouchSurfing gang in Coimbra