Home of the best desert the Mediterranean has to offer – Pasteis de Belen!
A 10 hour flight and barely 4 hours of sleep later, we were off to catch our first ever RyanAir flight. For all the negative whispers that surround it, right from the staff being rude to the company charging customers for breathing space, we found our first experience to be quite pleasant. Our flying experience mirrored that of flying on Australia’s #1 budget airline – Jetstar. In my opinion, people seem to expect a fair bit in exchange for the measly cost of a budget air ticket! First world problems.
Chapter 1: Lisboa
It looked like we would not have luck with finding a CS host in Lisboa, but Paulo and Pamela, first time hosts, came to our rescue at the last minute and offered to host us for 4 nights. This was our first experience staying with first time hosts and the hospitality shown to us by these two was simply incredible!
Realising that we would be tired after a 7 hour journey that spanned across a flight, ferry and a train ride, Paulo insisted that he would cook dinner for all of us; and what better than some fresh octopus paella! Right from boiling the entire octopus to garnishing the servings with coriander, our masterchef for the night was impeccable in his cooking. Sharing the house with 2 other girls other than Pamela clearly had taught him the fine art of cooking. Not only did they delight us with their culinary skills, they took us out on a midnight excursion of the city, across the famous Barrio Alto – Lisboa’s heart throbbing party neighbourhood. It was great to be hosted by these guys as they embodied the Latino hospitality in them – something we treasure dearly!
The following day we went on what has now become a customary activity – a free walking tour with the company ‘Sandeman’s New Europe tours’. After getting a brief on how Portugal had been invaded by one and all, right from the Arabs to the Christians and the Spanish, we walked up through the windy streets of Alfama, a rustic neighbourhood famous for its Fado shows. Fado is one of the most popular and traditional music forms, in which agony and sorrow is depicted by the singer. Intense and quite soulful, it’s not your music for your regular date night, but goes perfect if you are in the mood for some soul music and a cocktail to go with it.
Chapter 2: Reunion!
After a great 4 days at Lisboa, we headed up an hour north to Lourinha, a little beachside town where we would spend the next week with Veronica and her mates. We met Veronica during our travels through Italy last year and she had invited us to spend a week at her summer house in Portugal, and here we were!
Vero’s family had a massive, luxurious house a 5 min ride from the beach and Vero, her boyfriend Damian and her mate Mona had come down to spend a week at the place with no other plans apart from surfing and cooking up a storm in the kitchen – suited us perfect! We were party to numerous BBQs, managed a bit of time surfing in the icy cold Atlantic waters apart from playing plenty of board games with the guys. Old fashioned fun, the way we like it. Vero was heading in a month to Colombia and was a bit nervous never having been to Latin America but we managed to connect her with our delightful host in Medellin – Elizabeth who instantly promised to take care of her during her 6 month stay there. Our world continues to become smaller and the number of good people we know continues to grow in equal proportions.
Chapter 3: Porto
A lazy, fun filled week later, we headed up to the little university town of Aveiro where our mate from Warsaw, Krystof had us connected to his mates, Bruno and Rafael in town who graciously hosted us for a night. Despite having an ultra busy schedule with their thesis submission being due the next day, they took us out for dessert and a night excursion of the town.
The next morning we made our way up to Porto, the home of the famous Port wine. Dee was particularly excited about our visit as she had been dreaming of popping a few bottles for a while now. And pop is what we did atop the famous Porto bridge where we managed a nice little picnic at sunset. We were hosted by Fernando – the worlds’ most active couchsurfer (2,755 references were testament to that) and we found his undying spirit for life and for forming new relations with the people around him inspiring. Aged 65, he carried with him the youthful exuberance of a 21 year old, right from his wise cracks to him taking us out for a drink around town, to explaining the rich history of Porto.
Lisbon and Porto are cities very different in their landscapes, and the people who inhabit them, with Porto comprising of nearly 35% students, but both cities were equally delightful.
Our 2 weeks in Portugal reminded us quite a bit about our times in Latin American cities because of the spirit that the people encapsulated within them and we would definitely be back to explore the inland another time.
Portugal is a great destination in the Mediterranean as it is the cheapest of all the countries in that region, where the seafood is delicious, people are friendly and destinations diverse in landscape. From the beaches down south in Algarve and Lagos to the beautiful hilly rooftops of Lisbon and Porto, there is always a vacation for everyone that can be sought in this gorgeous country.
Due to having a fairly lengthy coastline, Bacalhau (Codfish) is the typical delicacy of this region. Complement that with some Pasteis de Nata (Portugese tarts) and you have your perfect meal!
What not to miss
Having a Pasteis de Nata a day makes all your troubles go away! Algarve is gorgeous as are the beaches of Lourinha in summer (July-August).
Next Stop: Marseille, France