More Portugal Please!
After tearing up the town in London, the Temporary Nomads and our visiting families decided to move onto a new country with a new vibe. Friends I had met during my time studying abroad had always told me that whenever I was to come back to Europe that I should make sure Portugal was on my itinerary. It was a place many of them had vacationed and they said it was inexpensive and had a really laid back feel to it. After chillier weather and a fairly hefty bar-tab in the U.K. this sounded perfect, so we bought the tickets and made our plans for travel.
What We Did
Day 101 (10/31/16): We arrived decently early in the city of Porto, Portugal. Justin, Katie and her parents were staying in an apartment by the water, while Adam, Sammie, Steve, and I were staying a few blocks away overlooking a square. After getting settled, we headed out to find some lunch at a burger/steak sandwich joint. We had our first Portuguese beers (Super Bock) and then went for a walk around the town. We stopped at the train station to buy our tickets to Lisbon, walked up to Porto Cathedral, home of the archbishop, and then strolled across the top of the Don Luis I Bridge, the number one attraction in Porto. Once on the other side, we wandered down to the waterfront to get some more pictures of the hillside city, before crossing back at the lower level and wandering the boardwalk. We chilled on the boardwalk with a few more beers, watching the sunset and taking in the city vibe. As darkness fell, we went on an epic grocery hunt around town to try and find supplies for dinner. We returned to our apartments, had a few more cocktails, and hit the sheets.
Day 102 (11/1/16): After a light breakfast, we met back up with the others. I had planned an all-day food and wine tour of the city. The first stop on the tour was a petisco (Portuguese tapas or small plates) restaurant. However, upon arrival, we found it to be closed. We had overlooked the fact that today was All Saints Day, and we were in a Catholic country. This meant that it was a public holiday and businesses were only open at the owners discretion. Whoops. Not to be deterred we carried on our tour, improvising as we went. On the food side, we tried fried meat pastries, éclairs, bifana (spicy shredded beef sandwiches), and the most famous food in all Porto, the legendary Francesinha sandwich, or “Little Frenchie”. It is a sandwich stuffed with pork, shredded beef, and sausage, covered with a hefty helping of melted cheese, and smothered in a tomato and beer sauce (it is somewhat similar to a Croque Monsieur). After our original choice for wine on our side of the river ended up closed, we wandered into a wine shop by chance (I cannot remember the name or I would write it, but it is on the Rua de Santa Catarina) and ended up getting a lengthy lesson in port and other Portuguese wines, including an education on how to hold and pass the glass and what to serve it with. Sufficiently fat and happy, we walked back to the other side of the river to the main street along the waterfront called Avenue de Diogo Leite. We spent most of the rest of the afternoon, wandering in and out of port wine cellars, doing tastings and tours, and sitting out on the street sipping our spoils. When our appetite returned, and the sun was setting, we returned to a restaurant near Katie and Justin’s place that serves bacalhau, or salted cod, another Porto specialty. Afterwards, we said goodnight to Katie’s family and headed back to our apartment, where the four of us stayed up drinking far too much port wine and playing euchre.
Day 103 (11/2/16): Today we boarded a train destined for Lisbon, the capital of the country. We were once again staying in separate apartments, approximately 15 minutes apart. Adam and I were staying in the hip Barrio Alto neighborhood, while Katie and Justin opted for an awesome luxury apartment closer to the waterfront. Once we all settled in and got groceries, we decided to take the tram down to Belem, an area outside downtown famous for its palaces, monastery, and monuments. We first visited the Saint Jeronimos Monastery, and managed to hop on someone else’s group tour for free (the tour guide invited us, so no, we did not sneak in). We spent time going through the various rooms, exhibits, and chapels, taking pictures and marveling at the architecture. We then headed to the Monument to the Disciveries, which was erected to commemorate all the explorers of Portugal. We found it to be a bit of letdown, given that it was covered in scaffolding for a routine cleaning. We proceeded down along the river to the Torre de Belem where we took pictures, watched the sun set, and hunted for the famous hippo. We caught a late tram back into the center, and headed to our apartments to make dinner and rest up for the next day.
Day 104 (11/3/16): Today, we awoke early, ready for a day-trip to Sintra. Sintra was a town about twenty to thirty minutes away from Lisbon famous for its many palaces and castles. We started our trip with a visit to Pena Palace which served as a project of King Ferdinand II. It was a little foggy in the early in the day, so our view of the town was mostly obstructed at this point. Regardless, we toured to inside as well as the crazy-colored walls and terraces. Afterwards, we walked down into the gardens to see the “lakes”. From there, it was just a short hike over to the Castle of the Moors We ate our packed lunch in their garden soaking up the sun, which had finally made its appearance. This fortified structure looked a lot more like traditional medieval castle/fortress ruins than the previous castle, and we thoroughly enjoyed the view of the ocean from the top of the look-out towers and walls. We looked at the cisterns and graves, as well and posed for numerous more pictures. We decided to hike the rest of the way down the hill into Central Sintra. The trail was nice and shaded, winding through several impressive properties and boasting more awesome views. When we reached the bottom, we stopped for a beer courtesy and Mr. and Mrs. Veatch. We relaxed a bit and then walked past the President’s Palace, opting not to go into this one. After a stroll through the main square, we hopped back in our Ubers and headed back to Lisbon. We did dinner separately at each of our apartments, but decided to meet back up for some casual drinking and games. We introduced the Veatch’s to power hour and held our trip’s first euchre tournament, in which Justin and I emerged undisputed victors. Katie, Justin, and the Veatch’s stayed in the rest of the evening, while the rest of us chose to try and experience some of Lisbon’s nightlife. We went down to Pink Street just after midnight. We got a few beers at a bar near the beginning of the street, and made friends with the bartender. She recommended a club down the street called the Music Box. We went in and got a drink, but found it to be kind of dead, even though it was 2:00 a.m. Sammie had reached her limit, and after an Uber mishap, we all went back to the apartment.
Day 105 (11/4/16): After our late night out, I was nursing a massive hangover. You may have thought Sammie’s would have been worse, but that girl has a magic power that keeps her from getting them and makes her perpetually ready for another drink. I was exceptionally jealous of that power today. We were meeting up with Katie’s crew for a sailing trip on the Tagus River. We packed some goodies and took an Uber to the dock. We boarded our boat and headed out with calm skies. However, about twenty minutes in, after the wine had been poured, we were met with a freak storm. The boat was listing so hard, we were thinking it may tip, as the rain started pelting us, we all headed below deck. The rocking below made me want to vomit, but everyone else remained in good spirits. We sliced cheese and meat and waited it out, while our two guides got absolutely drenched navigating the boat through the choppy waters. As quickly as it arrived, it clamed back down, and we wiped off the seating and went back above. Everyone spent the rest of the time on the boat relaxing, drinking beer and wine, and enjoying the water (I was trying, but my god being on a boat is the worst place to be when you are super hungover). When we departed, we all went back to our apartments to shower and rest up a bit. We met back up for a nice dinner of steak and seafood (Sammie was even adventurous enough to try octopus!). We toasted to the end of their trip, and I said goodbye to Katie’s parents, who would be leaving in the morning. We decided to get a couple more farewell drinks with Sam and Steve in Barrio Alto, and to check out a suspicious advertisement. It was awesome seeing everyone hanging out on the street and having a good time. We downed our last Portuguese beers, danced a little, and said good night to an awesome country.
Day 106 (11/5/16): We woke up early, and Sammie and Steve packed up. We said tearful goodbyes to them, and put them in an Uber bound for the airport. I am pretty good at goodbyes, but after they left I broke down a bit. I would miss them. I am sure Katie was going through the same thing with her parents. Katie and Justin checked out of their apartment and joined us at ours for the evening. With our family now safely on their way back to the States, we had one goal: to plan the rest of our trip. At this point we did not even have a place to stay the next night, but knew thanks to our overzealous border guard that we had to high-tail it out of Europe. So, we spent the day booking Airbnbs, tours, hotels, flights, ferries, and buses, as well as finally selecting our return date for “Christmas break”. We were working so feverishly, we did not eat lunch or breakfast. We did, however, go out for these DELICIOUS Portuguese pastries called nata that Katie and Justin had discovered the night before at a place called Manteigaria. They were delicious custard-filled pastry cups that come out hot and fresh to be covered at your own discretion with cinnamon and sugar. I was in heaven. Warm, sweet, custardy heaven. So, plans now laid, we fell asleep, ready to get back on the road.
What We Learned
- Pay attention to a country or areas visa rules! Upon entering the country, Katie, Justin, Adam, and I were all briefly detained going through passport control given our many European stamps. The border guard was insistent that we had overspent our time in the Schengen area, and was not wanting to let us in the country. He insisted that since we had entered Iceland, which is part of the area, on July 25th and it was now October 31st, that we had overspent the 90-day tourist visa by a week. We had to prove to him that we had spent a little under four weeks outside the area with our trips to the U.K., Croatia, and Bulgaria, which are not included. It took going back in our Airbnb records to show him and some serious convincing. He eventually let us through, but left us with a string warning to get out of the area as soon as possible. While it worked out in the end, we had not been paying that close attention to the visa rule, and we could have ended up being unable to enter had we not selected some of the travel destinations we had. Just a cautionary tale to remind others to mind the visa rules for the Schengen area I suppose.
- We quickly discovered that downtown Porto, at least anywhere near the waterfront, is devoid of any real grocery stores. We tried two different places in order to purchase supplies for one dinner and breakfast. And what we each ended up getting, would be considered sad at best. Katie and Justin opted for plain noodles with olive oil and grilled veggies, and I purchased the ingredients to make tuna salad sandwiches. Woohoo! So if you do not want to do the same, I would recommend staying a little farther from the waterfront, or going out to eat.
- You do not have to fork out a ton of money for a food tour (I was seeing it as being about $60/person in Porto). We have been on a strict budget this entire trip, and with our family being here and all the birthdays, we were tracking a bit over it. We were going to Porto primarily because both of our families are big wine drinkers and we thought it would be fun to try Port where it was born. But we are also pretty big foodies, so I thought a food and wine tour would be awesome. However, when I was researching it, I could not find one that fit within my price range. Therefore, I decided to make my own. I researched foods that were traditional or typical for Portugal, and Porto specifically, and used the itineraries for these different food tours as a kind of guide. We ended up with a tour that included six different food stops, and three different wine places. And, since we were able to order the food ourselves, and split things between the group, we spent very little money (roughly $30/person without the wine tour). Now, the caveat to this is we did not get as much additional information about the food we were trying, although several of the restaurants and the wine shop were happy to answer any questions we had. So, the choice is yours à I have attached my information sheet about the foods we tried. It includes information about the type of food, restaurant/shop we tried it in, and the order we went on during our tour.
- In Lisbon, the trams are incredibly popular. That means that they can get exceptionally crowded. In other cities we have been to, this level of activity on the train meant that nobody was going to be checking tickets. However, this was not the case in Lisbon. Regardless of how packed the train is, they have people on board who ensure everyone has a ticket at all times. So, do not try and game the system or you may end up with a hefty fine.
- Take an Uber to Sintra, especially if you have a group of three got more people. While the train to Sintra is only about $2.50 one way (and slightly more for the way home for some reason), once you arrive, you must then pay for transportation up the hill to Pena Palace, which is not cheap. The people who will drive or cart you up the hill know it is an extremely long uphill walk and that you will be using them (or else waiting on a horribly unreliable and often overcrowded public bus). The Uber will take you all the way to the top. And, you can walk down. The trail down is fairly easy, shaded, and pleasant in good weather. You can then decide if you would rather Uber or train it home.
- The clubs in Lisbon doe nit get busy until between three and four in the morning on the weekends. We had thought that they would be filling up around two, as I had seen in other countries, but we ended up disappointed. In Lisbon at least, everyone goes out to bars in say the Barrio Alto area for several hours before heading to the nightclubs. So, your best bet is to head up there and wait for those bars to close. When they do, people will begin making their way to the next party and you should join them then.
- At the wine shop we found, we got a crash course on the proper way to make, pour, hold, pass, pair, and drink port wine and other local varieties. I particularly enjoyed our lessons on holding and passing it. Apparently, when you hold a port glass, you are supposed to use three fingers and hold the base from underneath. Then, when you pass the port, you are supposed to make a pendulum-like rocking motion with your arm, passing smoothly to the other person upon extension and they are supposed to rock it back, continuing the motion, and cradling the port. We had a hard time figuring all of this out, and ended up making it look like an extremely exaggerated and awkward dance step, much to the amusement of our host. Now, he could have just been screwing with us, but I had fun all the same.
- After our education in port wine, we decided to indulge in some. Back at our apartment, Sammie, Steve, Adam, and I had a bit too much. This led to s then assaulting and taking photos with a large wooden dog statue that was in the living room. The photos remain some of the funniest of their visit.
- The freak storm we experienced while out on the boat was definitely a memorable moment. The listing was so intense, we thought the boat might turn over. Katie’s mom at one point even ended up throwing her glass of wine overboard. Then watching the rain fall so intensely while we saw the legs of our guides running frantically around deck to adjust the sail and navigate the boat. It was nuts.
- When walking to our nice dinner that night in Lisbon, we walked quickly oast a bar that had a sign outside. The part of the sign we read said “Free Beer, Topless Waitresses”. Steve and Adam got fixated on that sign, discussing how awesome it would be for a bar to have topless waitresses and making plans to go back to the bar after dinner. Well we did go back to that bar, and the full sign actually read “Free Beer, Topless Waitresses, and False Advertising”. The look on the boys’ faces was priceless. We snapped several pics, and went in the bar for a drink anyway on account of their creativity.