The stories of a couchsurfer

Miguel, Lisboa

Miguel

Recall how not long ago I wrote an article that demonstrated my reliance on the Couchsurfers that I stayed with in helping me figure out what to do in the city I am in. The specific example at the time was a visit to Sintra.

This was thanks to the advice of Miguel, my Couchsurfing host in Lisboa. As you read the story of my time with Miguel you should gradually begin to appreciate just how helpful and interesting he is and such a perfect example of how Couchsurfing has the potential to greatly enrich a visit in a foreign place.

This article also serves as a textbook-like lesson on how to be a good Couchsurfing host. Of course, the definition of a good Couchsurfing host differs depending on who you are asking – this variety from person to person is the beauty of the whole system – so it’s more so a textbook-like demonstration of what I think is a good Couchsurfing host. And I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t reach these standards myself when I host, so there were lessons to be learned by myself also.

To begin with, Miguel actually contacted me via Couchsurfing, as opposed to the other way around. This is because my search for a Couchsurfer in Lisboa was beginning to become desperate and so I posted an open request on the local forum that could be seen by all.

At the time he stressed the point that he didn’t actually live in Lisboa itself, but across the harbour in an area named Seixal. To this day, I’m not sure of Seixal’s official standing in regards to Lisboa, but after having stayed there, I would treat it as part of the greater Lisboa metropolitan area, and getting between the two places was dead simple.

So let’s begin our textbook chapter.

LESSON 1:

Miguel provided me with extremely helpful directions to get to his house, and when my plans changed slightly due to not catching the train I wanted, he reacted quickly and provided me with just as helpful alternatives. This seems like perhaps a pretty trivial service provided by the Couchsurfers but in reality it’s not. Particularly with the newer members or those who have not done any surfing themselves, they can often lack the ability to understand that it’s difficult to locate a house or apartment when in a foreign city. Some even require some constant asking just to get the address out of them. Providing the directions that he did demonstrated to me that Miguel had either done this before himself and was quite experienced with the idea of Couchsurfing and travel in general, or had the ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes, which is a great quality to have when traveling.

Eventually I manage to get myself to Seixal and Miguel even comes and picks me up from the train station in the early hours of the morning to take me back to his place. It’s there on that night that he tells me of his plan to go to Sintra the following day. He’s scheduled to take two Russian girls who he met via Couchsurfing but were not staying at his place and offers to take me along. At this time I had never heard nor read of the place and I figured it was more so a good opportunity to spend some time with and talk to Miguel rather than be impressed with the sightseeing.

Miguel drives us all to Sintra, taking us along the scenic route through areas like Cascais to ensure that we experience as much of the area as we can. When we arrive in Sintra it begins to dawn on me just how special this place might be. Despite it’s geographical beauty, there are loads of tourists abounds and this generally indicates something worthwhile.

To begin with, we stop off at a café and Miguel introduces us to some typically Portuguese pastries. Portugal and it’s people love sweet foods and there are patisseries abounds in every town.

LESSON 2:

Now it’s time to explore the region. Of course, Miguel has done this all before and he gives us a few insights and tips into the highlights of each estate. There is not enough time to visit them all however, so he lets us choose which one’s to visit. Again, this seems like a trivial quality to have, but quite often the host may be persuaded to try and take the lead and choose for the guests, thinking that they know better. Miguel instead gives us a rundown of each and then provides us with the option to choose.

Again, I know nothing of the region and at this stage am none too fussed so I basically agree with whatever the Russians want to do. The rest is history, and I won’t go over it again as I’ve already written about it in another article.

But at the end of visiting the Pena estate, I come out to meet Miguel as agreed and the Russians have not yet finished. This gives me some time to talk a bit with Miguel. To this point, we’ve already talked a bit about a variety of topics mainly concerning Portugal including the economy and the mentality of the Portuguese. Miguel has some strong opinions on these and it’s very interesting to listen to them. It’s hard for me to debate or provide any addition to them, because I just don’t know enough about the Portuguese state to be able to so instead I just take his comments on board.

Now though, outside the Pena estate, I want to learn more about the rich history of Portugal. Miguel is an book of knowledge. He teaches me all sorts of things, ranging from the early Portuguese explorations, the complex history of the African colonies and the more modern dictatorship. Just like Oleksiy before, he manages to come up with some astounding knowledge but then something great happens.

LESSON 3:

I ask him a certain question and the response was simple. I don’t know. And this happens again later when I pose another question. Miguel was happy to say that if he didn’t know then he didn’t know. This gave me great confidence that he was not bullshitting anything and I could genuinely accept with a large level of confidence the facts he was telling me.

That night, upon return to Lisboa, we all go out for dinner to eat caracois, small snails that are boiled and served with a butter sauce that are very popular in Portugal.

Over the next few days things continue to go well. My time in Lisboa coincides with the Feast Day of Saint Anthony. Saint Anthony was born in Lisboa and is the patron saint of the city. The Feast Day is more of a Feast Night and the day is reserved for preparations. By nightfall, the streets are packed with barbecues and stalls selling beer and meat. Grilled meats of most varieties can be found but the most common is the sardine. The Portuguese love their fish and particularly the sardines (which are a much larger size than the sardines most Australians would be used to). The streets are absolutely jam packed with people celebrating the festival and it wasn’t all too dissimilar to what was observed at Queen’s Day in The Netherlands.

Miguel introduces me to a couple of his friends who were very nice also. We don’t end up getting back home until six in the morning. The nights were long here with Miguel too, as we would usually have dinner somewhere late at night or go out for drinks. This usually meant that I would be getting to bed at around two in the morning or so, on average. The Couchsurfing Fatigue Effect was kicking on..

Eventually the Russian girls did stay at Miguel’s place during my stay. One night they made the famed borscht soup which turned out to be amazingly tasty. Miguel himself made some stuffed peppers as a starter and these were also enjoyed greatly. But it was Miguel’s 80 percent Ukrainian vodka that was the grand finale of that night.

And so finally it was time for me to move on, although I was tempted to stay longer. I had already stayed with Miguel longer than I had initially anticipated and there are only so many days on my visa.

Not only was Lisboa itself a great city but the company I had there was fantastic as well. In fact, perhaps my review of Lisboa was a little biased because of the fact that I was having such a good time there with the people that I had met, but that’s the effect that Couchsurfing can have on you.

I really couldn’t fault Miguel at all, and he’s become one of my hosting idols.

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