A Travellerspoint blog


Day 21, Lisbon/Sintra

sunny 26 °C

We tried to get going early on our 21st (!) day of travel (that is 3 weeks folks!), but the stress of not having accommodations booked for our stay in Cinque Terre made our departure later than it needed to be, while we were frantically sending off emails. We took the train to Sintra today, 40 minutes from our location in Lisbon. Once we got off the train we found a map and started walking towards town. It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve been so far. The walk took us along roads with beautiful views of Sintra and the towns farther down, if you strain your eyes in the 10am sun the ocean is only a few kilometers away. We followed the signs through Sintra’s little town center to the Castle of the Moors. It ended up being quite the strenuous climb, but we were very agreeable to it, we could always use the exercise. We paid the 14 euros each (!!!) for a ticket to this castle and the Pena Palace, which we would see later.
The castle was built during the 9th and 10th centuries by the Moorish people. It has a very rich history and a strategic position in the land around it. We really enjoyed the grounds and climbing the walls. The walls had been rebuilt in the 1830’s by King Ferdinand II. The views were spectacular. We wondered all morning what it would have been like to look out over the same lands 200 years ago when most of the development wouldn’t have been there. Signs told us that there had been artifacts found dating back to 5000BC in the area. That was hard to even comprehend!
After the castle we hiked a bit further until we got to Pena Palace. The first thing you notice is it’s bright colours standing out against the blue, blue sky. This palace was built in the first half of the 1800’s, by King Ferdinand II, when he acquired the land and the monastery that was already established. The castle has many architectural elements in play that we found very interesting. Many rooms in the castle have wonderful vaulted ceilings and the styles are both medieval and Islamic. We really enjoyed touring the rooms of the castle, with all the old furniture and stylings. The views from the castle were amazing, we were on top of our part of the world. You could see for kilometers all around, as far as Lisbon . We could even see huge waves crashing on the distant beaches.
Before we left the hill entirely we explored a tiny part of the grounds. The entire grounds measure more than 200 hectares, with an eclectic collection of plants and trees from around the world (even Sequoia Red Woods). We didn’t have much time to explore so we poked around in the valley of ferns which is, as the name implies, a valley filled with a wide variety of ferns which were planted 150 years ago. They are enormous now, looking more like trees than plants! There are also 5 small man-made lakes all connected by little waterfalls and loaded with fish. And one black swan!
After our adventures on top of the mountain we walked back down to town. By the time we arrived, we were starving. We ordered the requisite pastries the town demands, queijadas and travesseiros both of which were nothing special and dined on quiche and salad for lunch. We bought a few postcards and took the train back to Lisbon. Desperately in need of clothes and not able to do laundry until tomorrow we stopped in at H&M. Shane bought a few shirts and some underwear and I got a new shirt from Springfield.
We ate dinner at the hostel. Eight euros each bought us soup, bread, 3 drinks and dessert as well as an amazing Portuguese bean stew that really knocked our socks off. And a major bonus, we could eat until we were full, the pot was on the table awaiting refills. During dinner we chatted with a German fellow, Philip, who also happened to share our three weeks of travel anniversary. We chatted about our travels, he just came from Porto too, and about Germany and the state of our food systems worldwide. Towards the end of the night he wrote us out a list of things we need to check out in Berlin and in Munich. We keep getting lucky with personal recommendations from awesome people from the places we are visiting.
And to top off the wonderful day we FINALLY got a reservation in Cinque Terre for a private room. The kicker is that were so desperate to get a room we were willing to pay up to 90 euros a night and this one comes in at 50 euros a night and it’s private! Our perseverance worked out and the universe lined up a room right on budget!

Posted by s-a 13:02 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon Comments (4)

Day 22 - Lisbon

The day that wasn't.

sunny 35 °C

Yes I know I skipped day 21, I'll post it later!

Shane and I have decided that if no pictures are taken on our camera in a day, the day simply doesn’t exist. We took no pictures this day, so, this day really wasn’t.

Shane decided that it was a very good day to sleep in. I, on the other hand, think sleeping beyond 8 hours is a waste of time so I got up at 0700. I went downstairs with a huge bag full of laundry to stick in the machine at the hostel. When I got there I found another guy just sticking his laundry in. I went to sit down and wait for his to be done. He came out a minute later to say that he didn’t have the correct change, the machine only took 50 cent pieces, I could put mine in if I wanted. Of course I didn’t have 6-50 centeuros either. I walked around looking for change. After some time (and me telling him his laundry was in the dryer not the washer) his was done and I put mine in. While mine was going in the dryer broke.

Damn it! He took his to find a place to dry his laundry and hoped that before mine was done it might be fixed. Fat chance! He ended up hanging it in his window. I didn’t have that option however, because we had to check out at 1200 and we had a lot of laundry, more than would fit in a window. I took the wet laundry and tried to find a dry cleaning place the guy at the front desk told us. I walked for an hour trying to find it, up and down steep streets. I ended up back at the hostel with a bag of laundry still wet. Shane had finally gotten up (it was 1015) and was eating breakfast with our friend Philip, I went to sit with him and told him about our predicament. The guy at the front desk found another place to try. We both walked out the door and down the street until we reached the address. It wasn’t there. We walked back to the hostel, the guy at the front desk told us again it <b>really was there!</b> Shane went out and looked again, it wasn’t, it was only a tourist shop.

We got the computer out and look again for the dry cleaners. I went upstairs to pack our stuff (it was 1115) and Shane went to get the laundry dried. I packed, checked out and put our bags in the hostel’s storage room. Shane came back with a pack still full of wet laundry. They wanted 30 euros to dry the laundry. 3 euros per kg. And the pack had weighed 10 kgs. [Ok so a quick aside about this incident from Shane: So I found a place close by that Alyssa had told me about. They did full laundry service. After trying for like five minutes to explain to the Portuguese attendant that I simply needed the laundry dried, not fully serviced, another attendant who apparently spoke perfect english came out to help me. Ok awesome, I only need this dried. She explained,’It’s normally 7.5euros/kg to wash, but since it is only to dry then it will be 3euros/kg. You have 10kg, so 30euros.’ ‘But it’s in my pack and there is a bunch of other stuff in there too. And IT”S WET!’ So she took the laundry out and weighed it in a plastic bag. 8kg. ‘Ok so 24euros.’ I was laughing. Surely this was a joke. ‘Ok, how about I give YOU 10euros, you stick my laundry in the dryer for a half hour and we call it even.’ ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not an owner. I know this is a crazy amount, but I cannot.’...WOW!] We were done being upset, it was really funny to us, we laughed about it for a long time. We asked the guy at the front desk if they had somewhere we could hang it. He said they did and took us upstairs to the staff patio where there were laundry racks hanging from the rafters. We hung up all our laundry and went downstairs hoping the extremely hot day would dry it in time.

When we got back downstairs we ordered two large beers, we really needed them. While we were posting and updating the guy whose laundry had been in before mine, and who had lost his money in the dryer machine came to sit down. We chatted for a while while Shane was preoccupied by the computer. He was from the west coast of Australia and by the time he left (and introduced himself, his name was Mike) it was 1300.

Shane and I both knew we wanted bachlau one last time before we left Portugal so we consulted with David Lebovitz’s blog (the man knows what he is talking about.) We decided to go to Baro Alto and made the 20 minute walk (hike!) to the restaurant. It was so hot this day that we were both absolutely dripping with sweat by the time we got there. It registered 28 degrees, but in the hot Portuguese sun it felt like 35. We ordered some water from a waiter that was very unhappy to see us there at 1500. We tried the quesa (a fresh goat and sheep’s cheese) and bachlau a bres both of which were very very good. The waiter gave us the dirtiest look when we told him we were sharing but we just laughed, we’re almost beyond caring what the staff thinks, though a part of me still thinks it takes a little away from the experience when someone treats you badly. By the time we finished we were SO glad we shared because we had to roll out of the door we were so full.

On our way back we stopped at the post office to get stamps from the grumpiest post man in Lisbon, who though he spoke English didn’t say one word to us during the entire transaction. We also bought a large towel for sun bathing which we intend to use sometime quick. We copied the directions from the internet to various places we needed and gathered our laundry and repacked our bags. We left for the airport at 1700.

It took a while to find the correct bus, but with our bags and sweaty clothes we found it, and made it to the airport with plenty of time. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 20:20 (8:20pm) but when we got through security we noticed it had been delayed until 2300. We wandered around window shopping and had dinner in the cafeteria. We found our gate and hoped to get online to bide our time, but the internet was not working for anyone. At 2130 (after our plane had been delayed until 2330) an announcement was made that we (our flight) could get a free dinner, so we took advantage of that. We also bought two little bags of candy for later. We watched an episode of The Tudors (a tv show we recently downloaded) and then, very shortly after that was over, we ran (and pushed and shoved) our way inline to get onto the plane. Budget airlines do not assign seats in advance it’s totally first come first serve. As a result, to get seats together you have to be in front of the line. We managed to get on and sat down for our late departure (2345.)

We touched down in Milan after a quick flight (watching two more episodes of The Tudors, which is awesome!) at 0320.

Posted by s-a 07:53 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon Comments (2)

Day 20, Lisbon

sunny 25 °C

I awoke to nightmares in my bed this morning, this often happens when the temperature rises above 35 degrees in the room I am sleeping. It’s like the inside of a humidifier in dorm rooms at night. Tonight I am going to turn on the air conditioner for sure, and when someone turns it off I am going to get up and turn it on again! Breakfast at the hostel is awesome! There is a lot of food and coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice is 50 centeuros a glass! We updated the blog and planned our day.
We decided Sunday was the best day to visit the museums and monasteries we wished to see because everything is closed here on Monday. We also decided that taking the tram to Belem would be a nicer alternative to the suburban train. We walked to the tram stop mentioned in all the books, a 1/2 a block from our hostel. It was packed with people waiting for the same tram, we stood in line for 10 minutes until the first tram came, it was also loaded with people. As a result no one got on and we stayed in the exact same position.
Well never mind that, we aren’t the kind of people to just wait. We decided to follow the tracks to the very first stop so we could get on the tram there. We made a few wrong turns before we figured it out, but we got there. Of course there was a mob of people there too, so we waited for the 15 minutes it took for another tram to come, and just before the doors closed the conductor let us on. (I should also note Shane almost got in a fight trying to get on this tram as we were getting pushed and shoved in every direction fighting for out place in line!) There was no more space to stand on the tram as we boarded, so I squeezed in beside the conductor in this front seat. I had unobstructed views of the road in front of us, just like him. It was such a cool experience! The man had this really weird handle that he tuned in half circles back and forth, sometimes he did more than a half circle and sometimes just a few degrees. It was connected to a large metal compass like thing. It was really loud and clicked a lot. The only guess I have is that it had something to do with the gears.
We got off at Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, which was beautiful and because it was Sunday we were able to get into the cloisters for free. We had arrived at 11am and it was quite busy. We explored and ate our fruit. I had mentioned to Shane a few times in the last weeks that I would like to be in a beautiful old church while service was on, so we decided that this was as good a place as any try. At 11:40 we got into the church and took a few pictures.
We sat in the back row and waited patiently for the 12pm service to start. Shane interlude - As noon approaches, a monotone announcement comes on telling people to be silent. In several languages. The noise persists, and even into the service people are still acting touristy. As the service starts there are still people loudly whispering. And worse. They are snapping photos with their loud cameras. Some are even using flash. FLASH!!!! We aren’t especially religious, but we are at the very least respectful. There was a small part of the beauty of the whole thing lost to the disrespectful gaggle of tourists who chose to remain during the mass, but left their manners outside. -Thanks Shane!
The music was absolutely amazing, it gave me goosebumps a few times. We moved after about 15 minutes about 10 rows ahead where we wouldn’t be bothered by people coming in. At 12:30 four children came and sat down a row behind us, all alone. At 12:35, 6 children and one adult came and sat one row in front of us. At 12:35 6 children and two adults came and commandeered the row we were sitting in. That makes, if you were counting, 16 children in three rows. Most of the children in the church were respectful but there was approximately 20 children five and under that were really loud. Their parents let them run around the isles and hang off the beautiful stone pillars. They screamed and chattered and made up games and played with their toys. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was like a toddler free for all! The children beside us walked all over the benches, they screamed for their mothers and at each other, they walked and hung off the benches in front of us. They poked at each other and giggled. All the while the readings and praying and sermon were going on. If we visit during mass again we will most definitely not be so shy and sit much closer to the front where we can focus on what is going on. All things considered it was still a very good experience.
Right after service we walked to Pasteis de Belem, a place known for it’s pasteis de nata, but is very much a tourist attraction by itself. We got there just as the line was dwindling and had very little of a wait before understanding what all the hype was about. The natas were a-maz-ing! That’s all I can say, you need to book yourself a bee-line ticket to Lisbon to experience the magic for yourself. We each devoured two each standing right outside the restaurant leaning on a railing to just to keep our feet underneath us.

We waited for the tram to take us back to to Lisbon and while were waiting an old couple saw Shane’s pack with a Canadian flag. I noticed them trying to sound out the word “Canada.” They were getting close and Shane confirmed it for them, that opened the flood gates and the woman couldn’t be silenced! She was talking and very expressive with her hands. Almost exclusively though sign language she communicated with us. She was saying how old she was (79) and her husband (80) and how long they had been married (60 years!.) She said that he didn’t listen to her anymore (he tuned her out) (or looked at her and rolled his eyes and slept!) It was awesome! She told us that the tram came right where we were standing (we had been discussing this just before) We were highly entertained and laughing quite a bit. We boarded the next tram, but realized when we got on we didn’t have the exact change the machine requested so we just didn’t pay, us rebels!
We stopped for lunch at a place just down the road where we had an awesome pork and clams dish and a glass of cerveza. After lunch we took the metro to Museu Calouste Gulbenkain, named for the person who donated a large part of the collection at the museum to the city. The museum was really really cool! Because it was Sunday the museum was free so we splurged and bought the audio guides. Just a note to say here that we LOVE audio guides and they greatly enhance the experience of any museum. There was an awesome collection of 16-19th century paintings which is a favorite of both Shane and I. We took our time enjoying the museum, stopping once for coffee, where Shane decided to leave me for the sexy sugar girl on all the sugar packets we get. First though, he had to cut out the male figure in the pictures before he could get to her.
After the museum we found (and got lost finding!) Versaille cafe, a very old style cafe with crystal chandeliers and plenty of atmosphere. We ordered two more pasties de nata and two cafes. The natas were very good here too, all though notably more sweet and chilled instead of warm. The metro led us back to our hostel where we ate sandwiches and filled up on beer and wine.

Posted by s-a 12:17 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon Comments (4)

Day 19, Lisbon

sunny 25 °C

I woke up before our alarm went off, and started out my day trying to book accommodations. It’s an ongoing saga involving not enough accommodations and a small budget. At 7:30 I woke Shane up, we dressed and finished our packing. We went in search of coffee before our packs were strapped to our backs, marking us not only as tourists but as backpackers. Our coffee shop wasn’t open, (I suppose even he needs a day off) so we did walked the block and bought some fruit. 2 tangerines, 1 apple, 2 bananas and 1/2lb of cherries...1.24 euros. Things are so cheap here.5698918526_cf8c64d571.jpg
Across the street from our room we spotted a cafe and grabbed our espresso. We picked up our packs and started for the metro. As we were leaving the building the first drops of hard pelting rain began to fall. We ran for cover and groped our way through the metro.
We arrived at our desired platform one hour before scheduled departure. Waiting on the platforms is usually a pleasant experience, except this morning was rainy, cold and very windy. We were glad to see the train come in and relieve us from the chill. 3.5 hours later we got off the train in sunny Lisbon. Our hostel is very nice, it’s central and secure, the bunks have heavy curtains to block out the light and though it is most definitely a party hostel I don’t think the noise will be an issue. We set our packs in their lockers and went to find lunch. 5698869952_3f756b9566.jpg
Unfortunately lunch was a poor value for money. To bad really because we’d found such good value in Portuguese food. We left that restaurant slightly less hungary and to many dollars poorer. We wandered up a hill following the tracks of the legendary tram 28 on the advice of the reception dude at our hostel. We passed a pretty church with organ music playing. Shane and I were both curious so we peaked inside and saw a wedding being preformed within. We spent some time in the pews listening to the music while the new couple took pictures. We continued up the hill narrow, winding hill until we happened upon the monastery. We didn’t stay for long because it was packed, instead we headed back down the hill on the opposite side we came up, through the flee market, aptly named the market of thieves. It’s very fitting because the whole “market” was just a bunch of gypsies selling their loot. and pick pockets looking for targets. The entire thing was slightly unnerving, only helped (or not!) by the intense police presence.
We spent a few hours at the hostel trying to figure out hotel bookings for Croatia before Shane left to get groceries at the closest supermarket. When he got back Shane made us a huge dish of pasta with chorizo and wine and it was delicious! I’m so glad I finally got to eat some home cooked food! We did our dishes, took our showers and got dressed.
We enjoyed a few glasses of beer on the patios of Lisbon. At one place we paid 2.45 euros for a glass of beer and at the next we paid 4.50 FOR THE SAME SIZED BEER! It irks me to see us getting worked over by greedy businesses. We will need to be more vigilant here about just how much things cost, than in our beautiful Porto. After two glasses and some good conversation we headed back and to our beds for sleep.

Posted by s-a 01:31 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon Comments (1)

Day 18, Porto

sunny 24 °C

We started today off late. We (Shane) slept in, so I dallied about booking hostels for some of our trip before we finally left at 9:30. We went to our coffee shop, ordered our two espressos, (mine with milk...yum) we ordered a brioche bun and sat down to plan our day. I pulled out the map with it's list of things to see and set about planning. While we were deeply immersed in conversation about whether or not to take the tram along the river a gentleman spoke from above. I looked up, well dressed and glasses were what I saw, he asked again "You speak english, are you visiting?" We answered, "yes" of course. "The tram is very good" he said "Wait here for 10 minutes, I will be right back." Immediately we were intrigued, what could he possibly have for us, tickets for the tram? Another map? We sat patiently and waited, ten minutes passed and still no sign of him. "I wonder if it's just a trick" I said "No, not in Porto" Shane answered. We ordered more espresso and drank them very slowly. We wanted to know what he was up to. He came just as we finished our second cup.
"Diogo" he said offering us a handshake. We introduced ourselves. He asked where we were from and we told him. He set down a small stack of papers and a Portuguese book. He explained he was an editor from Time Out magazine the Porto branch, a name I recognized. It's a major publication for tourism in many major cities, a resource I had consulted in my research. He had a copy freshly printed from his computer of his Porto magazine. He took our map and circled, wrote and explained. He showed us the location of his favourite ice cream store, two of his favourite restaurants, which wine cellars to see and which to skip. He told us to take the tram, and "If you liked the gardens of the Cristal Palace, you will love the Serralves gardens in the museum of contemporary art." Twenty minutes later we had all we needed to know. His time was very valuable to us and his act just reinforced how we feel about the people of Porto, they are AWESOME!
We walked down towards the Church of Sao Francisco. The church was started in 1244 as a small church and added onto many times since. It’s recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Rich families in Porto gave considerable donations to the church (to buy their way into heaven no doubt.) No pictures were allowed inside the church, but it was a sight to behold. It was covered in Baroque style woodwork and painted in gold. The admission to the church (no longer used for religious purposes) included admission to the treasury as well as the catacombs. The treasury was nice, all though small, but the catacombs were so cool! Until the 18th century (I believe) the people of Porto (and I believe Portugal) were "buried" inside of the churches, it was not until sanitation came into mind that people were then buried in cemeteries outside. Inside the catacombs there are many wooden boards covering holes in the floor with numbers on each. There are also epitaphs stacked three high on the walls with the names and dates of death for the bodies (buried in the floor? in the walls? we're not sure.)
In the very back of all the rooms, round a corner and down a hall I saw a window on the floor into a room below. The window was lit so I took a peek inside. I gasped when I saw what I did. Bones, and a lot of them, for the viewing pleasure beneath our feet. It might not have been that shocking if I had every seen an actual skeleton before, but I hadn't. 10 feet away there was a grate that could (and was) easily removed, so I took a picture for you. The catacombs were the highlight of Sao Francisco for me.
After the church was walked on over to Diogo's recommended restaurant for lunch. As we were walking up a hill with our map in hand we crossed paths with the two Canadian girls we had met on the metro. They were looking for the port cellars with a new friend of theirs, another Canadian. Small city, small world! The restaurant was good, but not great. It was the least good meal we've eaten in Portugal. But Portugal has had amazing food, so that is not saying much.
After lunch we walked over the Douro river to Croft, a port cellar with a free tour. The tour was brief but extremely informative. We got a walk through the storage rooms with their enormous aging barrels (for the ruby ports) and the stacks of little barrels (for the tawny ports.) At the end of the tour we were given a sample of ruby port. The port was very good, it is extremely potent and sweet, for those who haven't tried it. Most port is started with crushed grapes mixed with a liquid sometimes called brandy (but not the kind you are used to drinking) that stops the fermentation, leaving a lot of residual sweetness, (and a boost of alcohol) before it is aged for a few years in wooden barrels and mixed with fresh wine at the end before it is bottled. Tawny ports are aged in small barrels and oxidize more because of their exposure to the air, and because of this loose their red colour, turning to more of an amber. Ruby port is aged in massive barrels, reducing the surface area of the wine oxidizing. The reduced oxidization allows the wine to keep it's deep colour, thus being known as a ruby. Very interesting information.
We headed over to the tram after our tour, hoping on and grabbing two of the few good seats on the car. We rode it to the end and then got off. We walked up to the contemporary art museum (the long way of course, it is Shane and Alyssa after all.) When we got there we were told we would have to pay to see the gardens. We declined, not wanting to spend 6 euros on something we shouldn't have had to pay for. We were on our way out the gates when I spotted a stairway on the other side of a bench. We checked that the security guard wasn't looking and scampered down. The stairs led to an underground parking lot and door led outside. We weren't sure until a 15 minute walk later where we were exactly, then we saw a sign reading "Serralves." We had successfully snuck in. Don't tell anyone. It was such a awesome park! First we saw the herb garden with it's trees (huge) of rosemary and it's lavender bushes. It had raspberries and lemon balm and oregano. Anything you find in the kitchen that is particularly aromatic was there in huge proportions. We kept on walking until we found ourselves at a farm. Pear trees, honey suckles, grape vines growing on arbors overhead. We met a bull and a turkey and a very passive duck. We kept on going and reached a large green pond loaded with fish. It's path leading romantically long it's side, over bridges and through a cave. We jumped a few puddles and came to large formal gardens. A left turn brought us the the stunning rose gardens, so much more structured than yesterday's but more beautiful in it's own. We had coffee at the tea house, and finally arrived in the grove which lead us to where we began at the front gates three hours earlier.
Porto's streets are amazing, getting lost is never a bad thing, you will inevitably find, if your eyes are open, something beautiful to fill them with. Our 5 km walk back home, was as always entertaining. Just before we reached our street we stopped in at Lusiada, the restaurant that had welcomed us so well to Porto. They weren't as busy this evening, so we took our time (we do anyway.) We snacked on olives and beer before ordering. The food was once again amazing. I had a fresh sausage and Shane a steak. After our meal and before our cafe we were again given two glasses of port. This time we can tell you it was a tawny port, which I prefer. We judged the value of our meal at 20 euros, and though the bill came in at 14 euros, we left what we felt they deserved. As we stood to leave we received our handshake, the one friends in Porto receive.

Posted by s-a 09:36 Archived in Portugal Tagged porto Comments (2)

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