Perspectives on Portugal

It’s been a while since my last travel post – man, I love travelling, and I love to write about it! So this time it’s Portugal, where Mr. Betterhalf and I recently spent two weeks . I am full of praise! I do admit that I did not research much about the country before we went, because I was too caught up in… uhm… life, I guess! And I do admit, I had totally underestimated the beautiful, fabulous country of Portugal! So, join me once again on my trip to the very Southwest of Europe!

First stop: Porto

It is super-easy to get into Porto city centre from the airport with a bus for only 1.85€!  When we got off the bus, I immediately encountered the helpfulness of the people – my rucksack was open and my wallet and travel documents went flying without me noticing. I was held up by various people yelling and pointing – they rescued me from a lot of inconvenience! We made our way to the Porto Wine Hostel (I know, so appropriate for me!). It is a very cute little hostel with very nice staff (who speak at least three languages). Our room was clean, but tiny. They do have a very talented photographer for their website pictures! It is a good place to stay, just a little overpriced.

Porto is love at second sight. When we first wandered around the city that night, I basically just noticed derelict buildings, where the top floor would be literally falling apart, while the lower storeys were still occupied. I noticed a very apparent drug problem that showed in the meth-struck faces of guys weaving and yelling in front of the Sé do Porto. I noticed that I wouldn’t have to worry about my excercise level, because the city only consists of hills. And I mean: hills!

The love for Porto really came on our second day. We took a boat trip on the Douro River that divides the city into two parts. From the boat you see all the wineries, where the famous port wine is stored. Later we walked around the city, admittedly with a short nap break, because the steep alleys took their toll. After dinner, we walked around some more, and saw the most amazing thing: people dancing in the streets, just because! They put on some music in the house, turned it up to max and just danced! I thought that the poorer people are, the more they try to find joy in life! We sat down at a bar right next to the Ponte D. Luís I and just enjoyed the beautiful vibe. Porto is definitely worth a visit!

Second stop: Nazaré

We picked up our rental car in Porto and headed South towards Nazaré. As you will read later, it was a very wise decision to refuse the upgrade to an SUV! We gave up relying on our GPS rather quickly, because the signal kept getting interrupted. We drove through a beautiful countryside with its endless forests (and yes, we could smell the forest fires that had destroyed so many peoples’ lives just a week earlier). Nazaré is a small city and keeps up the hill-theme big time!

We had three nights in Nazaré and spent most of our time in Sitio and at the Farol da Nazaré. The view there is breath-taking, and the Praia do Norte, which is basically a surfers’ beach does make you feel small, in a good way! On day, we were able to spend an afternoon on the beach and even went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean!

When we left Nazaré we fell out of favour with the Portuguese police. Our GPS acted up again and lost us. We made a left turn, and it looked as if we were entering a one-way-street the wrong way. Mr. Betterhalf had a short moment of panic, turned the car and cut a solid line. We stopped at the side of the road, and I tried to get the GPS to work again, when I heard a muffled “Shit!” from the driver’s seat – we had cut that line right in front of a police car! What followed was a rather funny version of good cop / bad cop. The Sheriff on my side of the car was the good cop. He did not remove his super-cool sunglasses, so I didn’t remove mine. He was nice enough to ask if we were lost first. And yes, people, I did it. I played the “helpless girl” card. I am not proud of that. It worked! He explained the best way to get to Lisbon, and only then told me that we had done something wrong. I said that I knew and how sorry I was, and could he please explain the way again? The bad cop walked up to Mr. Betterhalf’s window. Got his ID and his license. Walked back to the car to run a check (while Mr. Betterhalf saw in the rear mirror that he just stood at the police car for five minutes and then came back). He gaves us disapproving looks, not surprisingly, because we did break the law big time! They let us go eventually, not without stating: “We won’t be so nice next time!”

Third stop: Lisbon

Do I have to mention the hills? Nah, didn’t think so. Well, Lisbon is beautiful, period! You cannot but feel the lust for life in this city! It has so much to offer, so many different districts, super relaxed people, an endless number of bars, restaurants, cultural events and just a flair that is very unique! We spent a lot of time just walking around Alfama or sitting by the River Tejo – with Jesus and the Golden Gate Bridge in sight! And don’t miss out on the Cemitério dos Prazeres, your morbid heart will thank you! The only downside is the drug-problem – I have never seen drugs being sold that openly and right next to the police. Makes you wonder whether the police have their share in it…

We stayed a the Expo Astoria, which is right next to Praça Marquês de Pombal, where you can catch the Metro if you are tired of walking. I highly recommend taking the Tram 28 with its old cable cars, it is fun and you get a good overview of the city! As good as public transport is, parking is a problem. And here we were glad we turned down the offer of an SUV. The hotel itself does not provide parking, but we were told we could use the car park of Hotel Fénix. Oh! My! God! First of, the entry ramp is also the exit ramp. You just pray that no-one wants to get out while you get in. It is unbelievably narrow as the traces of car paint on the walls prove. We got in eventually, but decided to just check into hotel and then park somewhere else and also cheaper. Well, you cannot just get out. There was so little space, that we had to reverse backwards into the exit lane, and then I had to get out, walk up the ramp and guide Mr. Betterhalf up there without scratching the car. It was an utter nightmare! I shall never complain about narrow parking spaces in Germany again!

Last stop: Sintra

This was my view for the next six days. After so much walking, sightseeing, taking it all in, we just lounged on the beach. And in the pool. Oh, the wonderful 100m-pool of Hotel Arribas! We did not do much more than getting up for the breakfast buffet, take a swim, lie on the beach, swim again and prepare for dinner. Oh, dinner! While I was in heaven with all the seafood in Portugal, Mr. Betterhalf probably lost quite some weight. Vegeterianism is not something the Portuguese seem to know, let alone understand! While we did find options in the cities (mainly Indian restaurants), Mr. Betterhalf would have starved to death had it not been for one very dedicated waiter at the Arribas Restaurant.
So maybe that’s a business idea, and I can one day make my dream of living by the sea come true and open a vegetarian café on Portugals West coast!

All in all: I need to come back! The Portuguese are super-nice, almost everyone speaks English and if they don’t, they still make you understand. People are very helpful, and don’t seem too annoyed by the tourists. The West Coast still seems to be a vacation spot for the Portuguese themselves, so you can catch a good bit of their life-style.

Obrigada, Portugal!

Kerstin

 

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