In life we make or break our own success. Being single at this age isn’t something I foresaw as a wide-eyed and bushy tailed youngster but, as many of us millennials know, our generation looks very different to the one our parents grew up in. This reality of my life, one that may have seemed cause for remorse, has become one for celebration, once I adjusted my attitude to one of living life to the fullest. Ever since Covid hit, (actually even before) I have been feeling the itch of a travel bug. In 2020 I was 25, and the last time I had travelled overseas with my parents, when I was 19 years old. It was the last of numerous trips to a broad variety of places from theme parks to New York City, from Australia to the Victoria Falls, and, of course magical Paris and Italy. I loved every minute of it. My parents had taught me to value experiences over things, but somehow, after completing my studies, the consumerist, corporate world had swallowed me whole. The drudgery of 8am-5pm just leaked into a need for immediate spending and the gratification it offered, well for me at least.
During the course of the tedium and stuckness of Covid19 lockdown in 2020. I had given the idea a fleeting thought from time to time, but from 2020 it became more than a wish, a desire, an aspiration. I felt that I needed to go to Portugal. And then, I waited and waited for the right moment. I had saved up the money but kept waiting for that perfect moment until, as with all my best ideas, while out running, I asked myself; “What am I waiting for?” I realised I had no reasonable answer and raced home to book myself a trip to Portugal. There is no time like the present and, although nervous and unsure of myself, I have come out the other side as a strong advocate for solo travelling. My first solo journey, taught me that you will never learn more about yourself, never test your limits or force yourself to open up more so that when you venture out alone. I have been extremely walled up for so long, and lockdown only made it harder, but this trip made me see, grow, and open up. I was challenged and confronted by myself in ways I never knew possible.
Day 1: Arriving in Lisbon
Lisbon, touching ground in Lisbon, exhausted from 18 hour of being in the air, 24 hours of travel time. Stinky, tired, frustrated from a transit that never showed. Side note: Transit from airport in Lisbon, kids just don’t do it. Uber is much cheaper, much easier and you can share a trip with a friend.
Something about touching the ground in a new place, made my heart leap with energy. Later that night walking with the group through the city of Lisbon to dinner. I was bewildered and starry eyed. Beautiful bright colour houses stacked on top of one another, cobble stone beneath my feet. The sun filled the sky with orange hues, and it said goodnight. We arrived at a stunning viewpoint. A breathtaking vista, the air filled with sounds, sounds of a man playing the guitar, the chatter of voices, the gurgle of the water running from the fountain. It all seemed almost unreal to me. And, to top all that off, as we came back from dinner, the moon filled up the night sky, illuminating streets thronging with people. Here is a place you lose all aspect of time. the sun sets later and, as night falls streets get busier. Here is a place of magic and moonlight and longheld dreams.
Still wide eyed like a kid in a candy store, we wake up early the next day to set sail to our new location Porto, with a few stops on the way. One of the things I love about Portugal is the variety in environment. What do I mean by that? Good question, I mean the versatility. The country looking lands, the street scenes with the graffiti, the cobblestones, the monuments, the winelands, the ocean and the trees all in one space, very much like home to me.
Our first stop Fatima, on a Sunday of all days. The country is rich with culture. As far as the eye could see there were countless Portuguese Grannies, carrying massive candles for all their loved ones. The
centre was crowded with people making the pilgrimage on their knees. Praying as they shuffled down the pathway. Religious or not, it was a beautiful experience. The spot held a space that was sacred and you could feel a lightness in the air.
The second stop, Coimbra, as we drove up steep hills, past the aqua duct, listening to our guide telling stories of how JK Rowling drew inspiration from the students and the university in this small
town. We got to witness a festival they were having with the university, a school so rich with tradition, culture and festivities. I was in awe. Oh how I wish I could have experienced something like this, like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was an exciting and enriching experience to see how life can be done in a different way to the one we are so familiar with. We stopped at a little chocolate shop in our break for had a chocolate tasting. I opted for chocolate and Port wine, my first taste of Port wine. It was sublime! 10-year-old Port wine. Port wine is not for the double minded. You are either on one side of the spectrum or the other, and I am on the side that looooves it! This little chocolate
shop was so special. Quaint and down to earth. It reminded me of the movie Chocolat 2000.
Next we arrived in Porto where we had a moment to settle into the beautiful Selina once again, before we went for a walk to our dinner spot. Hosted by a local underneath a old shop, we got a taste of local food, bottomless wine and good conversation. That night we feista’d! Luckily Porto is a university town, making for a lively Night Scene.
A day to get lost in the city of Porto, I joke but getting lost in an unknown city where you don’t speak (or read, or understand) the same language as the locals is a joke really isn’t that funny. But, if I have learned anything from life, it to find the humour in things, especially with the luxury of being able to see a new country. Looking at things through shades of humour has a way of shifting problems into their appropriate perspective. And that’s what saved the day in Porto.
I started our free day in Porto on foot, on a mission to find a Vodacom shop, forgetting that this is Portugal, and the shops will open when they choose to.
Afterwards we headed out on a walking tour, Porto is rich with beautiful architecture and designs.
The city is exotic and it’s hard not to walk around with great wonder. We learnt about the buildings, we walked in the streets, we saw the inspiration for The Harry Potter books, we saw a breath-taking
train station, we stopped for mouth-watering pastries, we felt raindrops falling on our head, we saw breathtaking monuments and visited the most beautiful McDonalds in the world. Talk about “from
the sublime to the ridiculous”. I can go home now. I came to Portugal to see the most beautiful Mc Donalds peeps. Haha! We saw a lady with her pet bird of prey. She was feeding him… McDonalds.
I later visited Livraria Lello, a must for all fellow book lovers. I found it a wonderful experience and not
one I left empty handed. And, to add to the wonder of that day, I fell in love in Porto, in love with
boots, of course. I now understand where my obsession with shoes comes from, Portuguese shoes!
Wow wow wee waaah! Another trait I can thank my Iberian peninsula forebears for.
We later went for a tour around the city which ended with a Port Wine tasting, my absolute delight. We took a long walk back, but crossing the bridge on foot, alongside the river was breathtaking. As the sun set, we came across a public section where a man was strumming the guitar, filling the air with beautiful melodies. People gathered around. The stray cats sat in the houses that the city provides for them, some venturing over for the odd scratch. Later that night we set out to find the famed “francesinha” the special dish of Porto, I did not partake of this traditional dish, made from bread, ham, sausage and steak or roast meat, covered with cheese and a hot tomato and beer sauce, but I have it on good authority, from a reliable source, a 10/10 navigator, that it was delicious. It definitely seemed like an appropriate hangover food. I was on the side of not drinking that night, but the waiter asked if I was driving and when I replied, “no”, proceeded to fill my glass. These friendly Portuguese Peeps hey? I was later lucky enough to find the best Gelato, shaped like a rose.
As soon as experiences become memories, some of those remembrances become hazy, but every day in Portugal plays like a vivid movie in my head. Something about that magical land of my forefathers awakened my consciousness so sharply. Throughout my time there my mind and senses were fully engaged. Our first stop on the way to Penich was a beautiful little town called Aveiro. Brimming with artwork, Aveiro is well known for its sweet Ovos moles, (which didn’t make me ill, as I had thought it would after hearing the description). A sweet with egg inside! Hardly a great enticement to try it. But, when in Portugal… So try it I did. To each his own as the saying goes. Personally, it wasn’t a snack I’ll be indulging in again anytime soon. What I did enjoy in Alveiro was the boat tour through the beautiful canal. The air was fresh and crisp. We passed a statue made in tribute to the Ovos moles. The bright-coloured ribbons festooning the bridges caught my eye. In Alveiro the lovebirds (human variety) use ribbons instead of locks to avoid the danger the weight of the locks causes over time. Meandering through this quiet, peaceful town was a serene way to start another full day. The people were friendly, warm, and welcoming. I was thrilled to see pop art on the walls of the town, it reminded me of my art studies. Aveiro is certainly worth a stopover.
From quaint Aveiro we set off to the Nazare. It was an overcast day, so we didn’t get to see much of the waves but it was a wonderful experience to look out from the shore and watch the immense waves (among the biggest that have ever been surfed) rushing to shore. It’s a spot I would love to revisit on my next trip, hopefully this time to witness a surfer shredding these epic waves of mythical proportions.
The final stop before reaching Peniche at the end of a long day, was Quinta do Sanguinhal. “Another day in Portugal, another tasting,” or so they should say. When in Rome do as the Romans and when in Portugal drink the Port. We had a wonderful tour around the wine farm before we settled down to a tasting and after the merry warmth we found at the bottom of the wine glass, we proceeded to Peniche. The overcast sky did nothing to dampen the eager anticipation for the surf that I was longing for, that awaited us the next day.
After we settled into our hostel, we headed into the town for dinner. This spot was surely a secret gem. Tucked away from all the others, this little restaurant was unassuming and quiet. Old school comes to mind but in the very best sense of the words. The menu was drawn by hand, and the bill was tallied in a book by hand. And as for the food? The food was sublime. Certainly, the best seafood meal I ate on the entire trip. The name of the restaurant is S.Pedro. If you are ever in the vicinity, make a point of spending a couple of hours in this magical throwback to a bygone time, with a personal touch and simple food that can rival the best in the world.
After the jam-packed day roadtripping to Peniche, today I enjoyed a slower start to the day. I woke looking forward to a more gently paced day, to having time to take in the atmosphere. The sky was overcast and the air was crisp and fresh. I eagerly anticipated heading into the ocean, I always feel it washes me clean in every sense, both physically and emotionally. I rented a board and headed down to the shore. The only audible sound was that of the waves crashing into the shore. The paddle out was tough, and the current was strong, but the ocean, as always, was fresh and invigorating and it sure was good to get my salt in.
After the surf we went down for lunch, munched down an appropriate amount of food for a surfer’s appetite and boarded the bus to head into the town of Obidos. Somehow, I had contemplated not joining this venture. I would have been bitterly disappointed if I had. Obidos was better than I could have imagined, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in real life. The town is medieval and has a castle wall running through it that you can walk on. The wall steep and the safety of taking this path when there has been a festival with lots of alcohol imbibes is questionable. Obidos is known for its signature drink Giginja, which is a cherry liquor served in an edible chocolate shot glass, that you eat with the shot. The combination is a -not to be missed- flavour sensation. The town itself is very quaint and traditional. There were people making bread and a funny little granny shuffling down the middle of the road not wanting to stray off her narrow path. So endearing and humorous. After our walk along the wall, we found a medieval tavern where they served us beers. (Because even if you don’t drink beer, you can’t visit a medieval tavern and not partake). Surely there must be some ancient law forbidding abstinence? Either way I was not going to put it to the test..
We made our way back to Peniche, our eyes feasting on the beautiful country landscapes and, once back, we headed out to the beach for a picnic party against the backdrop of the sun setting on another beautiful day in beloved Portugal.
This day makes me excited to just think about it, as this day was the day I did one of my favourite excursions of the entire trip.
The bus drive was very long and we stopped in Capela dos ossos, where you’ll find the Chapel of Bones. We found a spot to grab some lunch and continued on our way to the Algarve. The group was doing an exciting atv driving excursion, which they thoroughly enjoyed but we had other plans. We made our way to the Benagil Caves, I had no idea about this place I cannot take credit. My friend told me about it and maaan! if my bucket list only knew it existed. This beach is the kind of things dreams are made of, we hired a SUP and paddled our way to the caves. Were we stopped off and took in the surreal beauty, I swear my heart stopped because I have never seen anything this beautiful.
Day end, full-stop, it’s over now. HAHA! okay not quiet. We headed to Tavira, arriving at my favourite time of the day, Candy Land! or so I call it, when the sky fills up with the colours of candy floss as the sunsets. That evening we found the best pizza I have tasted in my entire life at Aquasul and drank the tastiest espresso martinis at Ofélia’s where we would come back the following evening.
The day was out on another perfect day in paradise.
Today we got to wake up late to the quiet town of Tavira. We enjoyed a walk around the town and visited a beautiful park with an array of spectacular flowers. There were gorgeous blue bells and pink lotus. The town bell sounded while we were there and a little train ran through the roads of Tavira. We visited the local fish and fresh produce market for the experience and found our way back to the hotel where we enjoyed a rather still day. There was an aqua aerobics’ class in the hotel the pool, and the instructor was so keenly enjoying taking the class that near the end he jumped into the splits, it was a great vibe to witness. Later that day we went to the beach, stopping for lunch in a fishing town along the way. When we got to the beach it was super-hot. Luckily there is a train that take you down to the ocean. We got to ride along in the train through the wetlands which are absolutely beautiful. And what a gorgeous beach! On one end there were rows of anchors from ships. We swam, drank cocktails and tanned. A great afternoon, spent in a very special spot.
Once we made it back to the town, we were unfortunate in that a highly rated restaurant was fully booked, the name of which is O Tonel. If you visit, please do tell. I want to know what we missed out on. Then again, there is always next time, because I will definitely be back. We found a lovely Indian spot for dinner and ate until well sated. We also got the full Portuguese experience and waited 45 minutes for the bill, which was followed by more espresso martinis. The sun has set on another beautiful day in Portugal, and we face our commute back to Lisbon the next day, where we will say our goodbyes to the tour group and our travels together.
The pace at which time flies while on tour is exceedingly fast. So much is covered in such a short space of time it feels like a whirlwind of a time. This last day snuck up on me, it felt somewhat surreal to me when I considered that later that day we would say goodbye.
On our way to Lisbon, we had 2 stops, one being the beautiful town of Sintra. Luckily enough, unbeknownst to me at the time, we had a beautiful day to see Sintra. I wasn’t aware of how temperamental the weather is there. Sintra is magical, it is honestly what fairy-tales are made of, and I found the best Pastel Da Natas there at Fábrica da Nata (but that’s a side note). We visited the beautiful Quinta De Regaleira, which is the Queens Palace. I don’t know if you have ever watched Pan’s Labyrinth, “El labarinto del Fauno”, but it felt as if I had stepped into that fairy-tale. My breath was honestly taken away and my descriptions cannot do it justice so you must go see it yourself, even if you that’s your only reason to travel to Portugal.
We carried on to Cascais, where we got to take a lovely street tour and see graffiti artwork and hear about how one man turned a whole neighbourhood around. I found this particularly inspiring to see how you can change and uplift an environment, just by having a dream and a vision and taking active steps towards it. It was lovely to see more of the neighbourhood and its down to earth day to day life, not just the popular tourist attraction spots.
We ended our long day with a farewell dinner near the harbour as we said our goodbyes and sent off the last evening in Portugal. We laughed, danced and cheered until our feet gave out and then we walked home bare-foot, shoes in hand.
The next day we woke up and almost everyone was gone, Charlotte and I went down for breakfast and set out to experience a tram ride, we took the tram to a popular viewpoint Mira Douro das Portas do Sol, where we got a gorgeous view of Lisboa. We jumped aboard the tram and made our way to find the perfect view of the Red bridge in Lisbon. There we found a vibey spot where the music that was playing was humorous. They played “I’m a Barbie girl” and we danced, sat on the harbour, visited the stores as locals sat reading their books along this spot on the harbour against the perfect backdrop of the Lisbon Bridge. We made our way back to the hostel to say our last Contiki goodbye.
Today I set out to explore Lisbon, visit the shops and get my bearings in my new location, having moved from the hostel we stayed at on tour. I enjoyed my solo walk to the city centre from my new spot, strolling slowly and taking time to breathe in every moment. I found pretty little stores on the way, sat by a beautiful fountain and eventually found my way back to my hostel, before heading out to make my way down to the Costa Da Caparica where I spent the afternoon soaking in the sun, reading my book and taking a stroll along the beach, breathing in the fresh salty air. The huge ocean swells were not to be ignored and wooed by the waves, I hired a board and made it into the ocean for a surf.
My last day in Lisboa and in Portugal. My heart was a little heavy to say goodbye to such a beautiful place, a space that felt like home where no other had before. I had a day trip booked to Sintra to see the castle I was yet to see, the Pena Palace. Much to my surprise the weather in Sintra had changed from the sunny warmth we had left on Saturday, Today was overcast and rainy but set the Castle up to be seen and captured in a moodiness that brought its mythical era to life.
During our lunch break I was determined to take advantage of my favourite things here before heading back home, I indulged in another one of my favourite pastel da natas from the highly recommended Fábrica da Nata. Then went into a bar in Sintra to try some more gijinha. I met a sweet man in the store that told me more about the Portuguese culture and offered me 1917 Port Wine to try. It went straight to the head and onto the bus and off to the end of the world, Sagres, Portugal. Taking care not to be blown off, I looked out from the end of the world and made it back safely.
We then set off to Cascais once again, but this time I got to see the side most tourists will see. I sat on the beach and dipped my feet in the water, took in the views and looked out upon the ocean. In a side street a man was playing the violin. The beautiful music filled the air as I walked along the cobble stone on the side street.
What a magnificent day, that evening I visited the park rooftop bar. At first, I had no idea where I was going. Unsure if I was in the right place, walking up a dodgy parking lot to a beautiful bar with a magnificent view of Lisboa and the bride at night. The lights lighting up the street in the dark of night, looked magical like twinkling fairy lights. I sat down and ate my last dinner in Portugal and bid farewell to another beautiful day in Lisboa. A perfect way to round off an indescribable amazing time in Portugal, choosing not to say goodbye to this beloved country, but I’ll see you soon.
I never knew you could fall in love with a place until I returned from Portugal, the heart-clenching heart-ache, the deep longing to back and the feeling of belonging in another culture, completely alone, surrounded by another language, alien, yet familiar.