Embarking on a trip initially planned for six friends but eventually undertaken by just my buddy Ponce and me turned out to be a surprising deviation from our original intentions. Our destination deliberations began with Vietnam in mind, only to reconsider due to the substantial travel time that threatened to consume our precious vacation days. Morocco seemed like the next best choice until recent earthquakes cast doubt on the idea of an enjoyable time. Thus, we redirected our attention to the picturesque Lisbon, Portugal.

Day One: A Culinary Prelude and Airbnb Antics

Our adventure, initially intended for a party of six, took an unexpected turn as friends dropped off one by one until only Ponce and I remained. Yet, we embraced this change with enthusiasm. The Airbnb, initially booked for a larger group, turned out to be a perfect fit—cheaper than two individual hotel rooms in the same area.

Setting the tone for our exploration, we began at a local cafe near our Airbnb, savoring what would become one of the best meals of the trip. This unassuming spot, discovered through a Google search, tucked our bags away in a small room and led us to a private patio. As we waited for the keys, we shared stories with other guests, turning an unforeseen delay into a shared experience.

The wait for the Airbnb keys extended when the previous occupants mistakenly took them. Despite the 30-minute delay, the housekeeping team eventually delivered the keys, revealing rooms that were not only extremely clean but also equipped with everything for a comfortable stay. After a quick shower and change, we hit the streets, familiarizing ourselves with the area and exploring open shops. A Sunday arrival allowed us to navigate without the usual crowds, leading us to a grocery store for breakfast supplies—a sound fallback plan.

Day Two: Arch Triumphs and Urban Discoveries

The following day, Lisbon welcomed us with open arms beneath the Triumphal Arch in Praca do Commercio. We explored the city's urban landscape, capturing photos, and soaking in the vibrant atmosphere. Record shops, graffiti art, ornate church entryways, and a surprise street party added layers to our urban discoveries. Gathering information about trains and planning our Sintra adventure marked our journey through the neighborhoods and center of town.

Day Three: The Sintra Shuffle and Castle Charms

A train ride to Sintra unfolded the beauty of the Castle of the Moors ruins and the enchanting Gardens of Parque da Pena. The real castles, with their inconsistent steps and exposed walls, offered a unique perspective on castle life. Navigating Sintra's charming town, we indulged in local cafes and explored shops, encountering a tattoo and artist shop along the way. Our return journey provided a different glimpse of Sintra's offerings.

Day Four: Sketching in Rossio Square and Downtown Delights

The winding streets led us to Rossio Square on the fourth day, where my artistic side found expression amid the bustling atmosphere. The cobblestones created a beautiful pattern, complementing the architectural wonders and art installations. While reminiscing about our initial plans, the locals, seemingly unaffected by the hills and cobblestones, added an authentic touch to our experience.

Throughout our journey, Portuguese cuisine remained a highlight, each dish paying tribute to local flavors. The weather, consistently perfect, complemented our explorations. Lisbon, with its hills and historical charm, provided the canvas for our unique travel story. Reflecting on the trip, the only regret was not bringing my partner, as Lisbon's beauty would have undoubtedly left her awestruck. For anyone seeking a mesmerizing destination, Lisbon is the place, but pack comfortable shoes, prepare for lots of walking, and consider renting a car or relying on rideshares.

Day Five: The Return

Our final day, dedicated to travel, afforded us a few hours to stroll around the neighborhood before heading to the airport. Notably, despite not speaking Portuguese, we navigated Lisbon adeptly, highlighting the city's accessibility for non-native speakers. The return journey, while uneventful at customs, concluded with us appreciating the calm weather back home. Despite the trip being originally planned for a larger group, being with Ponce allowed us to capture moments, enjoy street parties, and relish in a relaxing and mind-clearing experience. Lisbon, with its myriad activities and serene atmosphere, left us with a desire to return, a sentiment I wholeheartedly recommend to fellow travelers.