Portugal: que curioso, que muito bonito!
Travelling in a foreign country is like entering a parallel world: it’s you but seeing different sights, engaging in different activities, communicating in a new way, exploring everything around you like a newborn – curious and hungry to taste, touch and see everything unknown in the new surroundings.
Having spent only a week travelling along the Western coast of Portugal, I feel like I’ve spent a month there – my brain is saturated with new experiences, new thoughts and memories (as is my camera’s SD card!).
This was my second visit to Lisbon and as such, it didn’t carry the see-all-sights-in-2-days pressure with it. We stayed at the heart of Baixa-Chiado, the most lively area full of shops, bars and restaurants. Despite the buzz of the neighbourhood, our flat was on a quiet and narrow cobbled street, mostly taken up by the outdoor seating areas of a few restaurants.
The focus of this second stay in Lisbon was simple – soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the local food and try to discover something new. Just a short walk away from our hotel, we found ourselves at the Sé Cathedral, right on the border with the Moors-influenced Alfama neighbourhood. This is my favourite area – colourful houses decorated with azulejos (colourful tiles on the exterior of houses), artist shops, cafés and bars that are filled with the magical voices of fado singers and musicians. But our most significant new discovery was the graffiti on the back streets of Alfama. The graffiti responded to the traditional azulejos with the new(er) art on the street and completed the colourful vividness of the streetscape.
The visual appeal of the city was complemented by a unique culinary experience at places like da Prata 52 and Manteigaria (best pastéis de nata in town!!). Our best find, however, was a magical place called Pavilhao Chines – a hidden bar in Bairro Alto, located in an old grocery store, occupying five rooms, each decorated like a museum covering the two world wars. The staff are old gentlemen who greet you at the secret entrance and bring you to an available table. We were surrounded by various army uniform hats and constumes, Russian revolutionary flags and airplane toys. The whole place transports you to the past – its tucked-away location, the smell of vintage objects, the music and the well-dressed waiters and bartenders with red waistcoats and bowties. And above all – the cocktails were heavenly!! The cocktail menu was akin to a fashion catalogue – thick and colourful. The experience felt a lot like a dream, given that we were very tired, half-asleep, and the atmosphere and the music only helped drift us even further away… Our last night in Lisbon – definitely one worth remembering!
The Berlenga Islands is a stunning archipelago just off the coast of Peniche, one of Portugal’s most famous surfer resorts. Our journey from Peniche to the main island was a bumpy but beautiful ride! On a small boat for 20-25 people, and with giant oceanic waves hitting us from all sides, we were holding tight on the upper deck of the boat, screaming, and laughing, and enjoying the beauty and force of nature all around us: the waves, the sunshine, the spray of water wetting us all over, the gusty winds, the incredible colours of the deep blue ocean, the golden island with a red lighthouse in the distance.
When our oceanic rollercoaster came to an end, our legs still felt soft and wobbly, and our arms were stiff from holding onto the rail for so long. After overcoming the effects of our turbulent boat ride, we embarked on our exploration of the island’s caves, red castle, and beaches. My highlight was climbing to the top of the island to get a breathtaking view of the ocean and its turquoise waters in the bays of the island. A serene view and unbelievably awe-inspiring… It was like transporting yourself into a glossy brochure of stunning places far, far away!
Castelo de Bode Dam
A place of natural beauty and tranquility, Castelo de Bode Dam is Portugal’s second biggest man-made lake (and also a source of drinking water for Lisbon). The road approaching the lake was deserted and it seemed like the lake was inaccessible. However, our coordinates were correct and the GPS took us straight to a wooden area with a café, sunbeds and a pool within the lake, where people were sunbathing & listening to music, and kids were playing in the water. The lake is surrounded by trees and hills with barely any signs of human activity. The whole place felt wild and secluded. We hired a couple of canoes and set off on a journey across the lake. The water was calm and the lake ahead of us was long and narrow, with little bays on each side every few metres. The sun was shining, the water was glistening and a gentle breeze was cooling us down. It was so beautiful and peaceful! Small boats were passing us by once in a while but other than that it was just us, the lake and the surrounding forest of pine trees. Canoeing was followed by swimming in the deep, warm waters of the lake and well-deserved sunbathing on the sunbeds overlooking the lake, with the sun setting behind the pine trees ahead of us… Idyllic!! 😀
Visiting Northern Portugal can’t go without a trip to Aveiro, the “Venice of Portugal”, with its canals and gondolas now attracting tourists, but in the past bringing goods into the city. After a big breakfast and a short tour of Aveiro’s cobbled streets with colourfully-tiled houses, our next stop was Costa Nova, the nearby beach by the Atlantic Ocean. The road along the coast was brightened by houses of all colours, shapes and sizes – tiled, striped, brightly coloured, multi-coloured… like in a seaside fairytale! As soon as we approached the beach we saw that all red flags were up: huge waves were bashing against each other, into the rocks and onto the shore. It was a slightly ominous, yet magnificent sight! The sand was white and soft and the sun was shining brightly. It was a truly awe-inspiring sight! A rocky pier was piercing the ocean and withstanding the hits of the powerful waves. The white foam from the splashing waves made the whole bay turn white and cotton creamy. The oceanic water was evaporating gently from the heated rocks. And then there were all the people standing cautiously on the shore, carefully dipping their toes in the water until a big wave came forcefully down, raising the water level to their chins; everybody looking over towards the horizon and onto the coming waves, admiring this beautiful force of nature; waves coming from all directions, splashing into each other, creating an upstream of water shooting into the sky and sprinkling drops of water onto those on the rocky pier… including me Stunning!!
* * *
At the end of our Portuguese adventures, we felt both exhausted and energised – exhausted from our travels and new experiences; energised from immersing ourselves in a different world, taking a break from our daily lives, and getting closer to nature… Ah, Portugal – que curioso, que muito bonito!!
What’s your latest travel experience been? And how has it left you feeling? Share in the comments below.