Lisbon & Porto - Portugal
19.03.2010 15 °C
Our Portugal adventure began with our first European budget airline flight of the trip. The term "cattle class" is commonly thrown around when discussing airplane economy seating. Well Easyjet certainly give the term new legs, with their lack of pre assigned seating. Is was quite funny to "run with the herd" down towards the airplane in an attempt to secure a seat next to your loved ones. I was half expecting to be shot with an electric bolt between the eyes when I reached airplane, but instead I received a welcoming smile. My flawless run/luck regarding having no issue with budget airlines continues. The plane left on time and didn't crash. Woohoo!
We arrived 2 hours later Portugal's capital Lisbon. We didn't have too many problems locating our bus to the city centre, we got us to our stop for under 3 euros. We scrabbled off the bus to instantly find ourselves approached by a man offering us "Hashish??? Hashish??? You Smoke???". Not keen to spend 20 years in a Portuguese prison we waved him off and continued on our way. We instantly sensed we weren't in the best area, with many touts and beggars (which we were increasingly getting used to) targeting the airport buses. We continued onto our Hostel. Lisbon suddenly went from being flat to VERY HILLY. Lugging your little existence around in a backpack on flat ground sucks badly enough, so hills/steps are no friend of yours in this situation. Now marry hills and backpacks with Lisbon's super slippery when wet cobbled footpaths = scariness! As we climbed upwards the area improved vastly and we suddenly found ourselves in a high end shopping area, and a quiet side street in which our hostel was located.
Our hostel was a small scale pleasant place with charming side street views. Once the backpacks were off we enjoyed the view from our hostel counting 5 different coloured buildings in eye shot. We've found since leaving the UK, that the hostels have been pretty fantastic, very clean and roomy and offering much better value for money. It was now pretty late in the day, so we decided to get something easy for dinner. We ended up in a local take away place called 'Portvilla' which offered us basic Portuguese staple meals. Portugal was our first country we noticed their wasn't a lot of English speakers (besides tourist sights and hotels/hostels), so we had fun with our very accommodating server, as we both spoke the universal language of 'Point and Nod' along with the trusty old finger abacus. We ended up with a slice of basic chicken breast (me) and beef (Sam) in some doughy bread, a potato side and a yummy clear soup of some sort. Oh and a beer, all for 4 euros. For some annoying Sam started saying "GRAAAATZZZI" /along with a hand gesture, to every Portuguese person he came across, despite me repeatedly telling him that that was Italian for thank you, and to drop the "TZ" and then you're almost not completely insulting them. So of course he's continued to do it all through Spain also. I'm sure in Italy he'll start saying "Gracias" just to be clever.
Sam didn't do a film review, but he wrote about his take on the meal -
On our first day in Lisbon it was raining and by dinner time we had both had it, so we tried a local mall for something to eat, not really worrying about what it was. I spied some locals heading in to a small Portuguese chain restaurant, serving basic meals with a local beer. They didn't speak a lick of English but we managed to get simple feeds of soup (which had tasted like leek and a mushroom perhaps) and a Bifana roll (Beef) which was good to dip in your soup. I did had a bit of trouble buying some additional beers, with the weird looks I kept getting from the male server. We later figured out I had been saying 'Beer, Woman'. The locals all stayed for a few beers as did we and the place had a really easy going feel to it. It was a simple feed but certainly wasn't junk food and when we left there we felt great. At first Lisbon was a bit of a culture shock but after that meal we couldn't wait to go out and get lost.
We did and packed in a heck of a lot of walking and sight seeing in Paris, we had basically wiped ourselves out by Portugal. In which case and since we only had a day in Lisbon, we decided to give one of those 'Hop on Hop Off' bus tours a go. They're about as much of a organised tour as I can handle. It ended up being ideal, as you could get on and off at all the majour sights, with out having to think about anything. We generally waste half a day just figured out how to get here and there. So it was good in that sense, and it also took us to places we probably wouldn't of gone to otherwise. For example it took you right through the grimy but endearing fishing industry areas, and all through the modern former world fair area of Lisbon. It was amazing to go from the crumbling seafaring influence buildings to the ultra contemporary buildings of Lisbon's former derelict industrial area. Quite an interesting contrast. We completed route one on the hop on hop off bus, and then picked up the second route which took you out to Lisbon's Belem district, to the famous UNESCO protected Belém Tower.
We're beginning to notice the landmarks we're visiting are never the actual size you imagine them to be. I was certainly surprised at how pint sized the Belem Tower was, but none the less impressive. I marvelled at it's beautiful ornate Manueline Gothic architecture with its incorporation of maritime elements and representations of the discoveries, all which very much reflect Lisbon's style in general. A different sort of unique rustic grandeur which very much distinguishes itself from all the other European cities we've been to so far. After we enjoyed the Belem area we'd decided we'd seen all we could see on the bus tour and decided to burn some calories and walk back up the hill to our hostel. Walking in Lisbon is and attraction in is own right. Beautiful Rococo tiled houses are around every corner and equally as beautiful the non tiled houses are rendered in every colour imaginable, and all in every condition imaginable.
Day 3 - Lisbon to Porto
Our 3rd day in Portugal began in the early afternoon with a 3 hour train ride north to Porto. We didn't really have any idea what to expect or what Porto would have to offer (other then Port), but it had been recommended (thanks Kristy!) and as it turns out, our favourite destination so far. From the moment we arrived in Porto we could instantly sense it was a lot more crusiey and laid back then Lisbon, as well as much more HILLIER! More steps and hills up to our hostel. Again, another great value for money hostel, which was close to everything but in a quiet side street. We had a tiny little balcony with a view quite typical in Portuguese cities. Beautiful terracotta roof tops, churches, castles and the odd derelict half falling down building, haha.
Day 4 - Porto
For some reason 'he who usually sleeps like a log' (Sam) didn't sleep very well and subsequently 'he who rarely gets cranky' (Sam), had a huge pair of cranky pants on for the beginning of our first full day of exploring in Porto. Regardless of his mood, the sun was shining and there was no time for mucking around. We headed towards a church/castle looking building we could see from our hostel, in the general direction of the Funicular (cool tram like things which haul you up and down the steep hills of Porto) down to the water front. On the way we got bailed up my a beggar, who attached himself to us as we walked past the train station. Previously we'd concocted an cunning plan of how to get rid of beggars ... just pretend we don't understand a damn thing they're saying. He began his plea in Portuguese, then switched to English, in which we continued to act dumb "Do you speak English? French? German? Spanish? Italian?" we were so stumped by this multi-lingual beggar, we were too afraid to say our pre planned go to language (Polish) in case he could speak that also. Eventually he gave up on us as 'Cranky-pants McFurson' (Sam) marched up a very steep hill at a very brisk pace, leaving the beggar behind gasping for air. He may be multi lingual but he needs to definitely give up the cigarettes if he wants to keep up with his prey.
Once we reached the church on the hill (Porto Cathedral, a 13th Century Romanesque delight), we were rewarded with stunning views over both sides of Porto. We realised we'd taken a wrong turn in getting to the Funicular, and therefore we decided to head down on foot. How hard could it be right? Well it was a bit of a confusing jungle, down through Porto's roughest areas. It was actually quite a highlight for us to try and navigate our way under archways, over ill repaired cobbled paths and pass by crumbling yet colourful buildings. All the while enjoying million dollar views down towards the river. I think it is a testament to the importance of listing these important heritage areas (which most of Porto old town is) otherwise developers would have raised a boring soulless apartment block in the blink of an eye. We never once felt uncomfortable or afraid. We were a bit weary of the hungry looking cats running wild. Portly well fed Aussies would fed them for a year, and there was definitely enough of them to take one of us down.
We eventually reached the river Douro, and it is hard to know where to look first. The whole area is visually stunning, with its jumble of styles and colours, as houses begin layered from the bottom of the river bank and head up the hill like a crazy game of domino's. Along both sides of the river locals and tourists mingle in front of village style shop fronts and cafes.
Sam still had the crankies, and seeing as Coffee is his drug we found a little family run no frills cafe (with a shop dog, aww). Turns out they made an awesome Espresso ...
With Sam's much cheerier mood we headed across the Douro river towards Porto's famous Port Wine Cellars. the Cellars along the river front seemed to be touting expensive sampling and boring tourist tours, so we decided to be adventurous and follow some signs pointing upwards and off the beaten tourist trail.
It was a looooooooooong and steep trip up ...
Which kept going ...
And going ...
Till finally ... Nirvana! In the form of Taylor's Port Wine Cellars.
Our first two samplings were free (that's more like it) and additional two samplings were 6 euros. And they weren't little baby samplings either, let me tell you. We enjoyed our Port on their beautiful terrace overlooking all of Porto. We literally sat there for a good couple of hours just enjoying the afternoon sun and view. After we were suitable yet respectively comfortably numb, we began further exploring the cellars stunning gardens, equipped with free roaming Peacocks and Silky Chickens. A PERFECT place for a wedding, shame its not in Melbourne! We hiked back down to the river bank and enjoyed the Port side of the river before heading back up to our hostel (this time on the Funicular), wrapping up our best day so far.
Day 5 way sent trying to figure out how to get to Salamanca in Spain, which was to be our next destination. This was seemingly and impossible task involving many buses and transfers. We decided to spend the rest of the day in Porto, and leave for Madrid on the night train instead. We headed back over the river Douro, this time staying high and crossing the giant steel monster bridge across the Douro from the top. Quite an exhilarating experience to be so high up, but what a view. Sam who has an irrational fear of heights, power walked over the whole thing, unable to look down. Of course I was an understanding girlfriend and capture the whole thing on film ...
Our final hours in Porto were spent enjoying yet another panoramic view from Porto from another great advantage point in Porto.
Porto left us excited and renewed after some Paris burnout, and definitely would love to go back for an extended stay. Portugal and its people were exceptional and authentic, and Portugal has definitely left a lasting impression our souls.