When I decided to take a Portuguese course, I was hesitating between going back to Brazil, which I already know and love, and going to discover Portugal. Brazil was more tempting for obvious reasons but in the end Portugal won as it was closer and cheaper to fly to, especially for one week only. So I headed off to Lisbon, which I chose over the Algarve as I thought that at this time of the year – October – there would be more people to meet and more things to do.
I stayed with friends of friends whom I barely knew but their hospitality had no limits. I recognized in them the generous spirit of Brazilians, always keen to make you feel at home and show you the best of their country. It’s always better to discover a city with locals, as they know the good places to visit and the best restaurants to eat in. Lisbon is a gorgeous city, built on hills and on the border of the Rio Tejo (Tejo River), which allows for spectacular views. On my first day after school, I discovered it on my own, walking from the school located in the Saldanha area down to the lively centre next to the river. This took me a few hours as Lisbon is full of squares and little streets leading to even more squares and more beautiful views of the hilly surroundings.
The following days I was guided by my friends, who knew exactly where to go to leave me speechless and I strongly recommend all these places. To name a few: the Castelo São Jorge on the top of the hill where old Lisbon is located; Ericeira and Cascais, villages where you find the most amazing beaches with clear turquoise waters; and last but not least, Sintra and the Palácio da Pena, located on of the highest hills around Lisbon and from which you can catch a breathtaking view of Portugal’s rocky coastline.
However my week was not all made of sightseeing and I also thoroughly enjoyed my Portuguese classes. After an initial level test, I was placed in a class with students coming from Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea and Czech Republic. There were 7 of us and even though the atmosphere was relaxed, our teacher Marta was very good and I really feel like I’ve improved. We worked mainly on tenses and pronouns, Marta would explain the rules and give us some examples, then make us practise and there was also a little bit of homework to be done everyday. This combined with the use of Portuguese every day after class made me progress and regain some of the fluency I had lost, although I feel that a second week would have significantly made a difference, as one week is over a bit too quickly.
The school’s activities were good too and were led by Miguel, another teacher. I went to his lecture on Portugal’s history – from 6th to 20th century – a little bit daunting at first as there’s a lot to cover obviously but overall very interesting. He also guided us through old Lisbon, where there is a bank which opens its doors twice a day to give a tour of the underground vault where ruins from the 5th century can be found. Another thing you don’t easily find if you don’t have help from locals!
Surprisingly enough, I found Portugal to be quite similar to France in many ways: some of the landscapes were reminiscent of the south-west Landes with all the pinewoods, some of the architecture in Lisbon could make you believe you were in Paris, and the supermarkets offered the same variety of food and products (except they have a lot more fish!). It was a real change from England, but if you like France, you will definitely enjoy Portugal.