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!!