Still with my mother, we started off for 8 days in Portugal after a brief break in Den Haag. Based on recommendations and flight availability, we would be spending our time in 3 cities all along the west coast- Porto in the north, Lisbon for a day in the center, and then 3 nights in Lagos in the very south.
One of my friends from exchange had visited Porto and highly recommended it, as well as gave me her map marked up with places to eat, drink, and shop. The city is the home of Port wine- a strong and sweet liquor aged a little bit like bourbon, so it has 18 port houses, most of which offer a generous free tasting and tour. The city is very old and has some of its historic relics sprinkled throughout. It is also very hilly and makes for a hard hike with luggage over cobblestone streets. A river splits the city into 2 parts, but it is still welded together by 5 or 6 bridges.
The local dish is called franceshina, which is best described as a modified hot-brown sandwich (wasnâ€™t that invented in Louisville?) and of course lots of port wine. We later learned that green wine comes from this region of the country, but we didnâ€™t hear about it at all in Porto.
Again on a tip, we took a day trip to Aveiro, a better beach town about an hour south by train. It also has some wide canals and for only 5 euro you can get a tour, but no Venetian serenade. If you want some flatter walking and a nice beach, I would recommend Aveiro if you have time. We spent 3 nights in the city and were able to do everything we wanted to, but I think we could have easily hung around a day or two longer just looking around.
The train ride from Porto was about 3.5 hours, so travel took the better part of the day. By the time we checked into our hostel, it was time to search for dinner and hit the sack. Lisbon has a very modern feel compared to Porto, which was a little run-down (in a charming, vintage way). I think Lisbon is to Portugal as Milan is to Italy- more progressive, business focused, paved. Bacaulhao is another Portuguese dish that we tried here. I think it is just cod fish prepared in various ways. Paella is another one that I had, but Iâ€™m not sure if it was the traditional version. Rice and seafood are always involved, but mine was creamy, like a really thick gumbo. Delicious.
With only 24 hours or so in Lisbon, we took an open air bus tour around the city to check out its sights. It is a tourist-friendly place with pedestrianized shopping areas, monuments well preserved and some nice parks. One area of interest is called Belem, where a maritime museum, cultural center, and monastery all sit on the river. If you make it down there, ask around for a place to get a Pasteis de Belem- itâ€™s a little like a crÃ¨me brulee with a crust and is worth a try with some coffee.
A friend told me there wasnâ€™t anything worth doing in Lisbon, so I didnâ€™t book much time there. I wish I had stayed a bit longer to get a feel for the place. I did learn, to my regret, that there are bullfights on Sunday and Thursday nights. We were there on Wednesday. Portuguese bullfighting is different than the Spanish, as the bull isnâ€™t killed. I think that Sunday and Thursday are the set nights, so plan accordingly if you want to experience that.
Lagos is a beach city that you may have unknowingly seen pictures of before. It has brilliant blue water and huge rock outcrops in the ocean. For us, the weather was perfect- 85 or so during the day and 70 at night. If you want a place to hang out on the beach- head here. The seafood is cheap (like the rest of Portugal), the sun is shining and there are quite a few opportunities to have fun. We took a boat tour along the rocky coast and through some of the rock arches for about 40 minutes for 10 euro apiece. I also got to have a full day of surfing lessons for 55 euro. There were sea kayakers and snorkelers along with cliff jumpers and those just lying on the beach.
I ate great seafood, besides the grilled sardines, every night and the sangria flowed freely (well, cheaply) every afternoon. This is the kind of place to have long afternoon siestas, get sunburned, and then go out for drinks with the rest of the tourists (of which there were plenty, but not too many) at night. No museums or grand churches, but still a great time.
Mom and I really enjoyed Portugal. For me, the fine weather and fresh seafood were a big plus, so season may be a factor to think about to travel here. Also, everything was pretty inexpensive (a return to Averio was 9.20) so it was a good place for us to pick up souvenirs. Besides the Port wine, I donâ€™t think that we encountered anything of international fame, but the local dishes, activities, and people provided us with a very relaxing week.
A note on the people: They are friendly and helpful, but donâ€™t count on English, especially when you try the restaurant that the boat driver recommends. We got on fine, but there was plenty of pointing at menus and simplifying vocabulary.