A Travellerspoint blog

Portugal, a must-see!

FOOD
Portugal has a variety of deliciously scrumptious food to satisfy even the fussiest of eaters! With a huge variety of local and international cuisines to choose from, Portugal seems quite ahead of other European countries in its approach to fresh ingredients and experimentation on traditional dishes.
Noteworthy mentions: 'Time Out' in Lisbon, the Francesinha sandwich, Pastel de Nata.
Don't bother: Kebabs.

FUN
It all depends on your idea of fun! Lisbon had a really good nightlife, with perhaps the biggest attraction being that you can drink on the streets. Whilst the party scene isn't really up Sam and I's alley, we definitely appreciated the vibe and enthusiasm of everyone in the streets, whether they were hanging at local bars or waiting to enter clubs. One of the best places to go is the old town in Lisbon, where the streets are narrow and full of partygoers.
During the day there's museums, observatories and galleries in both Lisbon and Porto, as well as plenty of sightseeing. I know there are plenty more places in Portugal that have much to offer, so this is just a bite-size version of what you can expect!
Noteworthy mentions: Bèlem Tower (Lisbon), Praça do Comércio (Lisbon), Bèlem Tower (Lisbon), Livraria Lello Bookstore (Porto)
Don't bother: Going outside on a Monday.

FARAWAY
17,716km from home!

Posted by Laurena and Sam 13:42 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Lisbon and Porto (and our first encounter with bed bugs!)

Portugal! What a place! Our first stop was Lisbon, the capital city. The first thing we noticed about Lisbon was the architectural decorations; tiles. Every second building's façade is decorated with them. Colours range from yellow to blue, red to green, and some are patterned with all the colours in between!

We spent just a few nights here, having arrived a night early due to finding a really convenient Bla Bla Car driver. We stayed at Jardim De Santos, a chic hostel with really lovely staff. The hostel isn't very close to the centre of town but there are at least three tram stops within 200 metres of the front door. These yellow trams are worth taking a ride in, with their quaint wooden and leather interiors and old-timey fixtures. Just don't expect the them to arrive on time or to be empty. It's certainly an experience to be standing in the rain for half an hour, as five trams roll by, not bothering to stop because they're already too full to trundle up and down the cobbled streets! Don't worry about pre-buying a ticket, as you can get them on the tram, like many places in Europe.
Again, we took a free walking tour around the city, discovering Lisbon and Portugal's history. Lisbon hasn't always been the capital city. At one point, Rio de Janeiro was named the capital when the royal family fled Napoleon's invasion of Portugal in the late 18th century. This fact is not remembered fondly by the Portuguese.
We made friends whilst at the hostel and spent our second day with them, traipsing around the city, exploring local markets, spying dead rats at the dock and eating local cuisine. One of our favorite places to do so was 'Time Out', a fantastic foodcourt setup in an old warehouse that's full-to-the-brim with food stalls cooking local and international cuisines with locally sourced ingredients. A must for all foodies! We also happened to be in the city at the same time as Lisbon Fashion Week, so we grabbed this opportunity by the collar and watched a bunch of scantily clad Portuguese models strut their stuff in Praça do Comércio for 'Billabong'.
That evening, we had our first self-cooked meal consisting of delicious roasted vegetables, which we shared with our friends. This was washed down with local sangria that we mixed with oranges and finished off with our very own banana and choc chip cake. This hostel had fantastic facilities for cooking, however, it was that evening that we discovered every backpacker's worst nightmare; bed bugs! Now, Sam and I were relatively realistic about the possibility of bed bugs being around at some hostels, however, actually seeing them crawl around your bedframe is certainly not very inviting. I, for some unknown reason which I don't want to question, was not bitten once! Sam, on the other hand, was like an all-you-can-eat buffet, cherry on top included, for these hateful little bugs, and still has some scars to prove it. Crossing our fingers that we won't see them again.

The next day, we walked to Bèlem to see the tower and seeing as Portugal is famous for its 'Pastel de Nata', aka Portuguese custard tarts, we had to give them a go and what better place to do that than at Casa Pasteis De Belem, the traditional home for the staple food of the sweet-toothed Portuguese! Baking, selling and serving these delightful sweets for over 150 years, you'd be crazy not to try out them out! However, the best option is to simply wait in line and buy them from the front of the restaurant rather than sitting down. The service could do with improvement and the coffee is fairly dismal.

Remember, public buildings, such as museums, are not open on Mondays. We have repeatedly forgotten this small yet crucial detail and have often found ourselves with very little to do. So, on a wet Monday in Lisbon, we spent the day doing our laundry, planning out next step and taking some time to simply relax.

Next stop: Porto!
Porto would have to be one of our favorite places so far. A quaint city, full of beautiful old buildings, lovely weather (especially after all the rain in Lisbon!) and telephone boxes, Porto offers plenty to see and do without all the hustle and bustle of major cities.
We stayed at Oporto Invictus Hostel, a super clean hostel with great kitchen facilities and extremely helpful staff. Also, not a bed bug in sight. We arrived in Porto late in the afternoon via bus and spent the evening doing nothing of great interest (grocery shopping, cooking, going for a short walk). Our first full day was spent taking walking tours; one in the morning that covered one half of the town, and one in the afternoon that covered the other half. Each tour took around 3 hours, so you can imagine that by the end of the day, not only were our legs dead, but our brains were, too. Porto is full of interesting titbits and history and is quite proud, if ever so slightly strangley, of its 'connection' to Harry Potter and J.K Rowling. J.K Rowling lived in Porto for around three years and supposedly started writing Harry Potter during that period. One of the first things you'll notice in Porto is the abundance of young people walking around in black uniforms with a sort of cloak/blanket draped around their shoulders. These people are university students and are apparently the inspiration behind the uniform at Hogwarts. There's also a beautiful book store Livraria Lello Bookshop (you have to pay a couple of euro to enter) where Rowling apparently first started writing the novel. This bookstore is actually quite beautiful and I can imagine it would be a lovely place to spend an afternoon reading if there were perhaps less tourists. The interior looks as you can only imagine a beautiful, antique bookstore to look; tall wooden bookshelves and a winding wooden staircase reaching to the mezzanine above. There's a beautiful stainedglass window in the ceiling and a little coffee counter and chairs next to the window on the top floor. Be you interior lover, book lover or an all-round lover of beautiful things, I highly recommend a visit.

The next couple of days were spent visiting museums, such as the military museum, a shopping center and mostly devouring the delicious liberal food, such as black beans and liver (that was an accident, we had no idea what we were ordering), kebabs and the famous Portuguese sandwich: the Francesinha! Originally invented by a Frenchman who came to live in Porto, the sandwich consists of multiple layers of meat and bread, typed with melted cheese and served with a spicy soup-like sauce. Not for the faint of heart, this sandwich is traditionally ginormous and definitely not cholesterol friendly.

We planned on leaving Porto after three nights, but after a minor hiccup involving booking a Bla Bla car for the wrong day, we stayed a further night but this time at Pilot Hostel, as Invictus was fully-booked. This hostel had a fantastic atmosphere and a really good common room. We made some more friends, had a midnight kebab run and enjoyed some local Port. Port-Porto...you can't leave without trying some!!

Next stop: Barcelona!!

Posted by Laurena and Sam 13:03 Comments (0)

Hola, Spain!

sunny 28 °C

Spain! A quick trip on a ferry from Tangier to Tariff and viola, you're in Spain! After a mad dash to the bus station involving taxis that refused to take us and only having 5€ in cash and some good luck, we caught the last bus to Seville. Arriving at 8, we realised we had no idea which direction we were supposed to head in for our hotel so we asked some policeman. They rattled off Spanish to one another, arguing about the quickest and safest route before they finally decided to print us off a Google maps walking map and warning us to be wary of our valuables (thanks for instilling such confidence, guys!)
The next day we headed out for a breakfast of tomato rolls and coffee, whilst we got a feeling for the city and people watched. The buildings here are stunning and so are the people. Everyone, young or old, is dressed well in either two-toned suits or shirts and jeans and every second person is walking their dog(s). Most adults smoke, including fashionable grandmas in pearls and tortoiseshell glasses.
We took a walking tour at 10, with "Feel The City" tours. Our guide was a history buff who studied tourism, making our tour that much more interesting as he passionately told us stories about Seville's history. We visited the Cathedral, Plaza De España (where some of Star Wars was filmed), Torre del Oro (the Golden Tour) and the Royal Tobacco Factory, which is now used by the University. There is a neighbourhood in Seville called Tirana, where Flamenco was born. Under the oppression of the Catholic church, the Jewish, Muslim and gypsy communities started a new movement of music that spoke of their suffering, lives and love. In the evening, we treated ourselves to a Flamenco tour, where we learned the history of Flamenco and watched a traditional show. Much of the show consisted of a man singing, whilst accompanied by a guitar. The songs were heartfelt and emotional, the raspy voice of the singer adding an extra layer of intensity. A woman danced also, wearing traditional dresses that accentuated her figure with ruffles. Her hands moved in rhythmic circles and her feet moved in swift motions, tapping the wooden floor.

We stayed in Seville a couple of nights, exploring all that the town had to offer. Then it was time to head to Portugal...

Posted by Laurena and Sam 11:48 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

"See the Sahara and die"

Morocco Summary

If you have ever dreamt of going to morocco, or thought you might stop over whilst visiting Spain, I must insist that you do whatever you can to make it so. However, I ask that you forget the cities and instead head for the countryside. Whilst the cities are full of interesting sites and thriving with people, it's the countryside, the desert and the mountains that offer the real essence of all that Morocco has to offer. Forget about Naples, "see the Sahara and die", for there is nothing like it. Sweeping dunes of golden sand flow like a turbulent river of gold into the distance and camels stead footedly trod the terrain, carrying their many burdens. Lying down at night, you look up to a black canvas, speckled with the lights of distant galaxies.
The mountains are diverse and strikingly beautiful, their peaks rising to impossible heights. Some are soft with dark green foliage, whilst others are all hard rock and sharp facades. Morocco is a country of tradition and modernism walking hand-in-hand. Old men walk down the street in traditional garb whilst talking on iPhones and young men in jeans and polo shirts walk around in traditional, pointed yellow shoes. All the seats and tables in the cafés are faced towards the street, lined with men, young and old, smoking and drinking coffee. the women walk freely through the streets, shopping alone or chatting with friends. Children wear white lab coat style smocks over their ordinary clothes for school, most of them walking or riding a bike. There are almost as many cats as there are people, some healthy and fed, some not.
Morocco for me, will always be vegetable tagine, kittens, markets, red, red sand and crisp mountain air. Never shall I forget the buildings,
the spices, the prayer call or the heat, but most especially, I will always remember the people.

Posted by Laurena and Sam 11:38 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Chefchaouen

sunny 32 °C

The Blue Jewel...Chefchaouen is a beautiful town situated on the side of Morocco's Rif Mountains. This town was founded in 1471 and served as a fortress for exiles from Spain. Nowadays, this beautiful blue town is the home of Berber tribespeople, Muslims and Jews. Some of the Berbers can still be seen wearing traditional clothing of colourful cotton clothes worn with woven hats decorated with coloured balls.
We spent three nights in Chefchaouen in a beautiful hostel, with an entire floor to ourselves consisting of a kitchen, bathroom and living area. During the day we explored the powder-blue alleyways in search of treasures and food and before sunrise we would walk to the Spanish Mosque, which boasts the best view Chefchaouen has to offer. The sun would set behind the mountains in all its pink, yellow and orange glory as the evening prayer call would echo across the valley, sounding like a chorus. Shortly after, we would make our way back down to the hostel to spend some time on the terrace, writing about our day, planning our next stop or just listening to the flow of the nearby river.
If you ever find yourself organising a trip to Morocco, definitely add Chefchaouen to your plans. The people are very friendly, with the shop owners being far more pleasant than those in the city. The old men sit in the town square, chatting and children run around, chasing kittens or playing with soccer balls. The children are very friendly and not surprisingly, bilingual.

There's a three hour bus ride from Tangier to Chechaouen a few times an day, with plenty of taxis at both ends to get your to stations and accommodation. We took a train from Marrakech to Tangier, but you can go from pretty much any of the big cities to Tangier by train or bus. Happy Travels!!

Posted by Laurena and Sam 13:31 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

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