Friday, February 19, 2016


Portugal is like Spain's hip little brother. While Madrid has all the classic European characteristics, they're embodied in a classical 'this is Europe' kind of charm; whereas Portugal has managed to effortlessly juxtapose everything 'hipster' within balconied apartments, cobbled streets, street fountains and relentless February rain.

After a seven hour drive to Porto in a rental car featuring:

  • me - who has the WORST sense of direction you can ever imagine - giving directions to get out of Madrid 
  • delayed GPS phone navigation app resulting in several missed turnoffs (I actually stopped saying when we went the wrong way and carried on directing the new route, it saved a lot of frustration from everyone else)
  • Justin Bieber sing alongs (too late now to say sorry)
  • panic about passports and border crossings; unnecessary when you can just drive right across to the other side
  • toll road radar confusion
  • a collection of music that spanned from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to filthy reggaeton
  • a car that had window wipers that automatically sensed when it was raining
  • me being the only one who knows how to fill a car with petrol #girlpower

We arrived at the cutest backpacker's hostel in Porto. Two brown doors greeted us from the outside, and didn't open to let us in from the drizzle for a very long time. Luckily, once we got inside and to our Ikea-chic bunkroom, all was well. It was so CLEAN, new and modern. Plywood bunks with crisp white sheets, a bathroom that looked like it had just been installed and two window/door things that showed a view of a grey sky and some rooftop cats. Just outside our hostel were dozens of vintage camera shops, vintage clothes shops, vintage record shops and vintage everything shops. As well as shops that sold cool lights/lightbulbs/lightfittings and cute cafés.

Despite the weather (it turns out February is rain season in the West), we donned our coats and umbrellas and attempted to visit something imPORTant; a winery. Porto is the city of Port, and you can't go there and not get a cheap 6 euro winery tour with 2 free samples. Actually, you can...

Several selfies later on the bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel (so it was basically a sideways Eiffel tower that cars could drive on), misdirected meanderings around the hills (finally hills, a Wellington girl misses her hills) leading down to the waterfront, we discovered that unlike in Spain, things close early here.

We came to Porto for the weather


Ah well. We'd already filled up on franceshinas for lunch, which is a heart attack in a sandwich. White bread loaded with ham, steak, chorizo, cheese, drizzled with cheese sauce and topped with a mild curry sauce, so we weren't particularly hungry. We'd mastered the tram system, so headed back into the centre of town to find a wine bar and sample some Portuguese drops.

It didn't take long to find a cute wine bar tucked into a side street, although when you're absolutely sopping wet, tired, unsure exactly what you're looking for and with a group, it feels a bit longer. But luckily we'd struck Happy Hour, and got down to business. The waiter was incredibly polite and patient with five girls ordering, and gave us a good overview of the different styles of wine from around Portugal. In a nutshell, the grapes are mixed.

It wouldn't be a trip to a wine bar without spillage. My white sweater was the victim of said spillage, and I was heartbroken that for the rest of the trip I'd be wearing (I hadn't brought any other sweater) a top that made me look like I'd been stabbed in the chest. My luck changed when one of the waiters lent some stain removal spray, so all that was left was a powdery residue and a faint blue mark.

The port was undeniably excellent, and the ham and cheese platter that we ordered later on was amazing. We returned to the hostel happy, and happier still when one of the people working there offered to order us pizza. Portuguese people lived up to their reputation of being incredibly nice.

Morning #1 in Portugal and it was breakfast time. I expected something along the lines of the meagre offerings of Spanish hostels - maybe some packet cake or bread roll and coffee. But the cute dining room (Ikea strikes again) boasted a platter of ham and cheese, three different kinds of bread (chocolate chip bread was one option), milo cereal and cornflakes, fruit salad, filter coffee, tea and fresh fruit. It was heavenly. Moreover, we met a Polish traveller who had been to Portugal several times before and gave us valuable tips on what to see and where to go in Lisbon. She also confirmed our suspicion that it wasn't worth visiting Sintra in this weather.

Our winery tour eventuated later that morning, post expert parallel park by me, the only one brave enough to attempt it in a rental car (thanks Wellington for the training). Although it was in Portuguese (the English tour was too late for us), I managed to glean that wine is stored in barrels, some barrels they send to Scotland for whisky, Port is stronger than normal wine, cute toddlers don't appreciate winery tours but you can make funny faces at them and the like that, and 6 euros is a really good price for 2 tasters and a 1/2 hour tour.

Before departing to Lisbon, we also visited the oldest bookstore in the world and an incredible cathedral, got ham and cheese sandwiches that made 4/5 of us queasy, and had all our umbrellas blown inside out at least 5 times. The library was Hogwarts-chic, a cute staircase, stacked with books and probably had enough tourists in there to populate a small nation. But it was worth the visit nonetheless. The cathedral was something else. Exquisite detailing in every part, but we couldn't get a proper look as it was also a Sunday (edit, it was a Saturday) and there were services taking place there.

Livreria Lello

Lisbon was the next stop, a four hour drive away from Porto. All went smoothly, except for the fact that our reserved park was being hijacked by a random car and in order to park, we had to wait for the police to tow away the offending vehicle. Luckily that happened before we had to pay 90 euros for overnight parking in downtown Lisbon.

This hostel boasted a huge social/kitchen area, only a few rooms but some cool roommates, and also had amazing breakfasts. I don't think I'll be able to eat bread or cheese for a while.

It had been two days since I said goodbye to my toothbrush in Madrid, and at about 10pm at night I decided it was a good idea to perhaps scout out a supermarket or a pharmacy and get my dental hygiene routine back in order. It didn't happen. Everything was shut, and somehow magically ended up eating icecream at a hip food market downtown. As my friend Rhys would say, 'new latitude, new attitude'. I tried to put the scolding I would get from my dental hygienist to the back of my mind, it was hard enough confessing the sin of not flossing every day.

One of the things that the Polish traveller recommended we do was check out the Pink Street. We kidnapped an Australian backpacker and headed towards town. It's nothing like NZ or even Spain here. The Pink street is a road painted pink, where anyone in the bars that line the street can openly gather on the road to consume their beers or wine. The atmosphere is buzzy - the closest thing I can compare it to is like a 7's street party, minus the costumes, with a classier vibe (aka people are drinking more responsibly). The bars were all unpretentious and cheap. They're not there to attract people with fancy decor, rather, attract people who want to socialise in large groups and enjoy the night, then maybe go onto a club.

Sunday was spent sightseeing around Lisbon, unfortunately in the rain as well. We didn't get off to a great start by waiting at the wrong tram stop, but eventually managed to get to where we wanted to go, to a castle. A visit to the actual castle was given a miss because of budgetary concerns, so we wandered the streets and turned up to a lookout over the city. The terracotta tile companies must make a fortune in Lisbon, because roofs are made of nothing else.


After selfie-stick lessons and waiting for the rain to stop to get photos, it was down to the main gate of Lisbon (an impressive sight) then on the bus to the neighbourhood to Belém, to try the famed Pasteis de Belem, a portuguese custard tart.

The line for the custard tart place was mindblowing - it was obviously a tourist hotspot. Somehow we managed to line up in the take-away line, then also enter the restaurant and order more custard tarts and coffee from the kitchen once seated. The restaurant boasted 400 seats, and they had the machinery down to a fine art. Although the line to be seated was huge, it moved rapidly and before we knew it, we were sitting down and trying to get warm.

The custard tarts lived up to the hype; warm, goey, with crisp pastry and delicious with cinnamon sprinkled on top. I still have to discover a decent place to get coffee from, however.

The next stop on the itinerary was the Torre de Belém. I expected to be climbing up hills to get there, but in actual fact it's on the sea, surrounded by sea. It had some mythical quality to it, even when it was somewhere that prisoners were once housed, in the cells nearly below sea level.

There were several levels to the towner (as one would expect) and our visits to each level were split between trying to take photos in the sun, then hiding from the rain in the downpours. It really felt like a magical place, and unfortunately that's all the knowledge I have on it because we didn't get a tour or anything #ignoranttourist.

Leaving the tower was also breathtaking - you can see the sunset coloured buildings climbing up the hills, some covered with mosaic tiles, all with little balconies and shutters.

The market was next - a cheap option to get some Portuguese food. My cod soup was delicious, and I forgot about getting dessert because we were involved in a very heated yet friendly discussion about the legal systems in Colombia, Brazil and NZ (yay for common law) and trying to explain the rules of cricket with a coast, an umbrella and a fork.

There were others socialising in our hostel that night, and we had a hilarious game of Celebrity Heads (but with objects as well) before my RA skills were put to use later on #tpv15.

I'm going to wind it up now as my fingers are frozen (it's 3ºC here and my apartment has no heating) but we got back to Madrid safe and sound and in conclusion, it was fun. The end.

Tourist monk-eying around in front of a monastery in Belém

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