How I spent NYE doing what I love

I never plan for new years eve. As a freelance photographer, usually my NYE is spent photographing some music event, capturing others people partying, drinking and dancing. This year though, no photography jobs came through. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I truly believe in some sort of “fate”, and I have been so focused on creating and publishing travelling related content, I thought this was the perfect time to pursue my ambitions and use the opportunity wisely. And so I decided, I’d finish and start the new year, doing something I love: travelling, writing and photographing.

On December 30th, I booked a bed at the Moon Hill Hostel in Sintra. My friends all felt it was awkward that I had decided to spend NYE alone, in a hostel, a mere 8 miles away from my house! But for travelling, one doesn’t need to get on a plane and cross the ocean. Besides that, one of my 10 Resolutions for 2016 is microadventuring – I’m pretty certain that most of us don’t really fully acknowledge the surroundings of the places where we live. Also, I was due to write a full guide to Sintra for a different travel site, and thought this would be the perfect time to do it.

I got on the train to Sintra mid-afternoon. I had decided I wouldn’t completely lie about what I was doing – writing about Sintra – but I would have to do a little white lie about where I was from… so I said a half lie: I lived in Viseu. I’m actually from Viseu, but I live in Sintra… so not a complete lie, for the sake of getting genuine answers from people I would come across. 

Sintra train station

Sintra train station

The Moon Hill Hostel

The hostel is really close to the train station. It’s a five-minute walk or less. On the short way I could still see that lots of cafés and restaurants were open. I hadn’t had lunch yet, and wasi starving.

I got to the hostel at the same time as a few other people, at least three different bookings at the same time. A young receptionist greeted us, checked us in, showed us around and indicated our rooms.

The Moon Hill Hostel

The Moon Hill Hostel

The hostel environment was really welcoming. A large but cosy living room, with too iMac computers available, comfortable sofas, a fireplace, lots of books available for reading, board games, a big TV, large windows facing the patio and an open staircase for the rooms in the upper floors. Across the patio, on the upper level, there is a common kitchen where guests can cook their meals and watch TV. Below is the bar, and next to it, the restaurant, where they serve breakfast.

The rooms are really nice, packed with things we usually don’t find in hostels: each bed has a supper comfortable mattress, and comes with bottom sheets, duvet, 2 blankets and 2 pillows (!!), an individual light and an individual plug. The room also had a heater (A/C in the summer), a bathroom (with shower), a desk and a chair. Each bed has a drawer with locker designated to it. A little detail that makes a big difference.

There was another girl in the room – Andi, from Texas, USA, also a solo traveller (check her video interview here). She was going to Lisbon to see the fireworks for NYE, but since it was still early, we decided to go out and eat something in the meantime.

On our way out, I asked a couple things to the receptionist, like where could we go and eat something, but we got no answer, assuming all places would be closed for NYE. Knowing the hostel had both a bar and a restaurant, I asked for that, but she said they were fully booked. Fair enough.

Me and Andi walked out, and there was a really nice restaurant just around the corner – the Apeadeiro. Yes, they were fully booked for NYE dinner, but since it was still early, they welcomed us in. We had a lovely typically Portuguese dinner: starters, main course, dessert, wine, coffee, and they offered us Port and a complimentary pastry to finish. It was under 15€ each, and my belly was  crying out for joy.

Andi was leaving to see the fireworks in Lisbon, and I had a couple of articles to finish writing, so we headed back to the hostel.

Andi in Sintra

Andi in Sintra

Once back at the hostel, I asked the girl at the reception where should I go for the midnight moment. I was disappointed to hear her say there was nothing in Sintra: one had to go to Lisbon or Cascais to see / do something – everything in Sintra would be private and was all fully booked, including the hostel. A little piece of me was dying on the inside. I love Sintra, I came to Sintra to spend NYE in Sintra, please don’t tell me there’s nothing there, especially if you work in a hostel, a place usually full of solo travellers, looking for things to do, to learn, to meet new people whilst one travels. Even if there aren’t big public events like the celebrations in Lisbon, there are people (like myself) that fully enjoy a quiet celebration, embracing nature and simply other people’s company. If I come to Sintra to spend NYE, do not tell me I have to go to another place.

I assumed the young receptionist probably had little experience as a solo traveller (or travelling altogether). I also soon learnt, that the hostel was mostly booked for this special night by a group of local people, friends with the staff. It’s a great thing when people are so close, they want to spend NYE together in a friendly place, but since this place is a hostel, the guest experience should be a top priority. Having pretty beds and clean showers doesn’t make it on its own. It is sad, really sad, when a hostel prioritises personal relationships and local friends, and leave out guests, who are paying for their stay, and are not welcome in the bar / restaurant. It is sad, when you look up for a hostel that sells itself as having a bar and a restaurant, and the receptionist suggests you will have nothing to eat until the morning after, because “everything is closed” and they “are fully booked” (even though you’ve booked a bed with them). Good thing the hostel has a restaurant then (not)! Sometimes a smile is more comfortable than the most expensive mattress in the market. And that’s some food for thought here… I too have worked in hostels before, and for hostels – in such special events, I would have asked the guest to hang around for the midnight countdown, have a drink at the bar, join the group – the restaurant was fully booked for meals, but couldn’t other people join for a drink? Apparently not. I would never have sent the guest away, alone, to another city. I was really disappointed with this, but deep down, I was thankful it was me, and not a real guest. I truly hope they don’t do this to real guests! It’s sad!

For a moment I almost felt like this was perhaps a waste of time.  I felt like I was spending money to spend NYE alone, when I had my family having a cozy meal just 8 miles away, my friends partying close-by, and I knew placed where things were going on. But then I remembered my 10 Resolutions for 2016, where I wrote about “embracing adversities”, “do things I usually wouldn’t do” and mostly, “be happy”!

So I decided I would take a walk around the village for NYE. I would take “an outsiders” perspective on things, and would keep embracing my “foreigner” persona.

Sintra. The Moon Hill Hostel is on the left side, in “greenish” light.

Mystic Sintra, the Moon Hill.

I must now say, walking around in Sintra, alone, in a night where the streets were empty… it was the best thing I could have done! I cannot remember the last time I had seen Sintra so empty and so “true to itself”. There is a different vibe here, every little detail takes us on journeys far away, little stories within, textures, layers, colours. As I walked past restaurants and bars where people celebrated NYE, it was like watching a movie. I almost dare to say I felt like the director of my own story – it was a time to show and embrace my goals, where I was sort of welcoming this new lifestyle and laying the path I was ought to walk. I haven’t got many more words for this, but I have a collection of images I captured whilst having these thoughts. It was pure introspection, and for sure the perfect start for the new year ahead: do what I love  in the place that I love.

The day after: Hello 2016!

January 1st. When I walked back to the hostel, people were still partying in the common areas. It was an odd feeling, almost as if I was crashing in somebody’s private house party or something. I went up to my room and immediately started writing and editing photos of what I already had for the Sintra guide. Soon after Andi came back from Lisbon also. We fell asleep whilst people outside were still partying.

I woke up to unusual sounds in a hostel: just outside my dorm, children where stomping and screaming in the corridor. Don’t get me wrong, I love children, I’m just not used to having then hanging around in a hostel, specially in the dorm areas. It was… odd. Apart from that, I had a really good night of sleep – the bed is really comfy, and the bunks give a great sense of privacy too.

I had a shower and got dressed, and went for breakfast. Breakfast is another thing that is unusual at the Moon Hill Hostel – it is served in their restaurant, Caldo Entornado, and instead of the normal buffet we were sat down and served by a waiter. Bread, cake, fruit, coffee or tea, juice, butter, jam, ham and cheese. The restaurant has a really nice feel, greenlist colours and nicely decorated, featuring a privileged view to the National Palace.

Once again, the (same) receptionist was not very helpful wits suggestions of things to do on the 1st day of the year. I did some research online, and found two things I really wanted to see and were open today: the Quinta da Regaleira and the Café Saudade.

Quinta da Regaleira

I will leave more details about the Quinta da Regaleira for another post. It is a one-of-a-kind mystical place, not far from the centre of the village. After visiting the Quinta da Regaleira, we had lunch in the village, in a place called Adega das Caves. Again, we had nice meals, at the same 15€pp price.

We then headed to Café Saudade.

Café Saudade

Café Saudade is this super picturesque and cozy place, with an art gallery, great cakes, teas, souvenir shop, and peculiar decor! Everything here is worthy of framing and hanging in a wall or picturing on a postcard.

We ordered scones and hot chocolate, because the rainy weather was really asking for it. Both are generous: the scone is large and corn flavoured, delicious! And the hot chocolate was dripping and lusciously sprinkled with chocolate powder. YES! Big win-win for the Café Saudade here!

Caldo Entornado

Later we decided it was worth to try the Caldo Entornado dinner. Same prices as everywhere else – around 15€pp.

The display was amazing, but I keep saying – it does not feel like a hostel, it is too fancy! That is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just unusual. The Canja de Galinha had a twist, as it was blended and creamy, instead of the typical broth, the shrimp were really tasty and the dessert was incredibly photogenic.

The following days I visited other places in Sintra: the Moorish Castle, the Pena Palace, the National Palace in the Village, the Monserrate Palace and the National Palace in Queluz. I will go through all of these individually in separate blog posts, as there is SO MUCH to talk about!

Lafter, I will share my “quick guide to Sintra” when it’s finished.

Leave you comments and suggestions below! HAPPY 2016 <3

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