Portugal was never at the forefront of my travel list, in fact I had never considered it at all. Not that I was consciously trying to neglect the nation, I just didn’t know what to see there. Growing up I had dreamed of walking the Seine, partying in Camden, and sneaking around Venice in a gilded mask for Carnevale – what does one do in Portugal? The I heard they had jungles there and my interest kicked up a bit. Then I heard of grottos and caves and forests. I’m not exactly the outdoorsy type unless it begins to sound like something from a Harry Potter novel. I’m like a nerd-adventurer. My roommate and I had been pondering a trip to India – something we’d both wanted to do for a long time – but had backed off because it was slowly flowing over the rim of our “extended” budget, and the trouble of planning and getting U.S. vaccinations while living abroad was too much work during midterms. Besides, by the time spring break rolled around we were exhausted and not looking for such a wild ride.
So we decided on Portugal. A little sight-seeing, a little hiking, a little r&r. Lisbon is small and lacking in tourist attractions. It rivals San Francisco on its hills and as for street signs, ha! good luck. There is a castle and a monastery you could visit but after the equivalent of a year traveling Europe those things kind of blur. (Besides the best ones are always the one’s you stumble upon like the cloisters in Adare, Ireland). We bumped into other travelers who went and said things like “oh yeah that’s nice”. Just nice? Instead we spent the days walking the river, buying antiques from the sweetest lady in the city, and riding the tram. The paella was excellent everywhere we went and the warm fresh air was rewarding after months in England.
We had been advised by a friend that Sintra was the place to go, and we planned to take the short train up there on our own, spend a day hiking and have a picnic. It would have been about 30 euros cheaper than the tour but honestly, the tour was worth every penny and it was my favorite part of the trip. We stayed at the Lisbon Living Lounge hostel which was just as nice as most “hotels” and had awesome decor. The lounge/kitchen was beautiful and friendly and the bedrooms were decorated by artists. (Although I do have to say if the place hadn’t been as nice our room’s CSI theme with police tape and a backdrop of the woods would have been CREEPY). They offered a Sintra tour – with lunch – for 40 Euros and we got talked into it by the charming clerk. (Doesn’t hurt that everyone who works there is attractive ;)).
The tour – we went to the palace first and hiked it’s grounds which are extensive and amazing. Everything you want in a princess’s backyard, hidden grotto’s, golden sunshine, knotted trees – we spent almost all of our allotted time there and blew through the palace interior which was impressive but the outside was amazing. Then we went to Pena (I may be getting these names wrong I’ll get my roommate to check this) which I had never really heard of but it had caves! There are “cave walks” which consist of you taking long strolls under-ground. Some of the group wasn’t too keen on this, arachnophobia and all, but this was a highlight for me. Couldn’t really get any good pictures down there but it was the perfect place to hide from an evil queen. The cave let out under a waterfall and you had to navigate some teeny rocks to get to the other side. I’d suggest hiking boots although one girl in our group did manage it all in espadrilles.
From there we headed to the park for lunch. Stephania, our tour guide, cooked up some chorizo, bread and cheese (I call it cheese but it was magic cheese made by fairies sooo good!), wine jam, WINE, spiritual cod (which is like a white fish casserole that the monks in Portugal used to make), more wine, and chocolate cake. I’m sure I’m forgetting something there was so much food. And the cutest puppy came and finished it all up for us.
The tour group was an awesome bunch of women which is part of what made it so much fun. (More on that later I’ll compare some tours for you, if your new to traveling alone that will give you an idea of what to expect – not the giggle fest movies give you).
Next was the Western most point of Europe. I have a serious bone to pick here because when I was planning this trip I saw pictures of this and was all “eh why go to see a sign?” Online, everyone’s photos show them smiling in front of a huge stone pillar when in reality, if they had turned the camera around, it looks like this –
Way better than a sign right?! It’s actually prettier than that in person but photos lie.
The last stop was the beach where we watched hot surfer dudes, adorable surf puppies, oh yeah and there was an epic sunset too.
This is a photo of cats following the fisherman out so they can steal his fishies… cutest little thieves ever.