Portugal, in so many words

📍 Blogging from: Norwegian Flight, London to Oakland

Bon dia my friends!

I would love to share some highlights from my recent trip to Portugal with besties Katie and Kelly (smiling, below). Between the three of us, our shared album on iCloud has 593 photos and 23 videos to cover 5 days. You do the math. That’s roughly 40 photos per girl, per day… Needless to say, there’s a lot I *could* cover, but I want to brief and only share the highlights.

To stay on track, I wrote an outline and I’ll try to limit myself to 300 words per day. Since I’m on a plane, I can’t do my usual googling for extra nuggets of info, so I’ll do my best to be accurate.

Day 1: Arrive in Porto (346 words)

Our Airbnb host gave us some recommendations and our first taste of pasteis de nata. They are probably Portugal’s most famous pastry – a circular flaky crust about 2 inches in diameter filled with 1-inch of eggy custard. I remember seeing them highlighted on the Great British Bake Off last season. They are incredibly tasty and there’s definitely some competition to see which pasteleria produces the best version.

After inhaling those and some cappuccinos, we went straight to Café Santiago to try our host’s next recommendation francesinha a lupa. It’s another Portuguese staple, a gooey, cheesy, meaty sandwich. It’s kind of like if you gave a hungry college student some sandwich ingredients and asked them to make something “unique” after a night out on the town. I would honestly skip it the next time in Portugal… but I wouldn’t skip the green wine we had along with it. I’m already going overboard explaining things, but… green wine is made from really young grapes and it’s everywhere in Portugal. It’s awesome, cold, refreshing, and so easy to split a bottle among friends on a sunny day.

We starred a bunch of landmarks, churches, and places on google maps that had good lookouts over the hilly city and set off! Our final and furthest destination was the garden of the crystal palace, a 19th century landscaped garden area near the Douro river. BUT, before we got there for sunset, we had time to stop for a drink at BASE – a trendy outdoor spot in the Jardim da Cordoaria. There were tons of locals chilling on the grass, playing music, and soaking up the sunshine (foreshadowing!!).

Finally, we grabbed a late dinner at Taberna do Largo, a casual eatery on the same street as our Airbnb. The funny staff gave us a hard time (rightly so!) because at first we walked in, thought we could find something better, walked out, COULDN’T, so we came back 10 mins later. It was funny. We drank wine, shared stories, and had a truly wonderful first meal together in Portugal.

Day 2: Bike, Rain, and Port in Porto (339 words)

Our day started with a midmorning “Bike & Bites” tour hosted by Ester. We rode along the river, from the historic city center out to the beach. We then took a barge across the river to Gaia (the name of the town directly opposite of Porto) where we explored a fishing village. Along the way, we had another pasteis de nata with an espresso (“café e nata”), vinho verde (green wine), mexilhao and patanisca de bacalhau (mussel and fried cod bite). On the way back, we had our first sample of port wine – a ruby (younger) and a tawny (older).

Here’s the other part of the story: when we reached the beach, it started to rain and thunderstorm. Once we took the boat to the other side of the river, our tour guide went in search of rain jackets for a few of us who were unprepared for the conditions (myself included). She returned with trash bags that we wore with pride. It was pretty amusing to ride around town in them!

Later in the day, Katie, Kelly and I reserved a formal tour and tasting at Cockburn Port Lodge. The guide we had there (Philipe I think) was so so so good. He was funny, informative, and a little self-deprecating in a cute way. I definitely have a much bigger appreciation for port than I did before doing the tour… and I’ll say this: if you can get past the initial punch on the tongue, a few sips later, that port is tasting mighty fine! I would highly recommend taking the tour here and sampling a few of the ports at the end (basic level is 15 euros).

That night we had dinner on our street again at a place called Cantina 32. It came recommended by a few people, so we made sure to grab an official reservation the night before. We had amazing seafood and another bottle of the green stuff.

Day 3: Roadddd Tripppp! (607 words, shoot that’s double the limit)

I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t the best travel companion this day because I was doing some work and on the phone quite a bit. We picked up a rental car with a manual transmission and Kelly fearlessly drove us out of Porto towards some small towns.

We stopped in Obidos and walked around for an hour. The highlights include a really cool bookstore, a historic city wall you could walk on top of, and our first taste of this famous cherry liqueur called Ginjinha that they serve in edible chocolate cups. We luckily escaped the rain of Porto and were able to see beautiful meadows and wineries whilst walking along the worn-down wall (alliteration for the W-in).

Ready for lunch, we drove about 20 minutes east towards the ocean and had one of the best meals of our trip at a place called Taberna do Ganhao in a surf town called Peniche. We had squid with a balsamic reduction (AMAZING), clams that were caught 45 mins before we ordered them, and a cornbread-kale-black eyed pea hash. Sitting there looking at the surfers and seafood eaters, I decided that one day I’m going to do a surf trip and try to officially pick up the sport.

The next stop was a little lookout that had one of the craziest rock formations that I’ve seen (not like I’ve seen very many rock formations though… hmm…) It was fun to hop from rock cluster to rock cluster, and it was all right next to a breathtaking cliff/rock/ocean view.

From there we drove to Sintra, which is a large foresty area outside of Lisbon where there’s a famous palace on top of a windy one-way road. We got there too late to explore the castle and palace, but it looked like the perfect place for a day trip. By the looks of the tour map, there’s loads of hiking trails and areas of interest, plus I heard that the castle inspired some of the Disney castles so… there’s that.

And finally, we got to Lisbon! A bit later than planned, but we still had plenty of time to settle into our Airbnb in Alfama (one of the oldest neighborhoods). We walked about 10 feet from our place and grabbed wine, cheese, and meat at a nearby spot with lots of locals (I think). It’s a good thing we had a snack, because it took a while for us to determine where to go for dinner. Ultimately, we ended up at one of Lisbon’s most famous seafood restaurants, Cervezeria Romero.

At first we saw a huge crowd and said, “no way Jose” but then we were like “well, we could get some vinho verde and wait Jose.” We were SO GLAD we decided to stay. Here’s how it works: find the kiosk at the front door, enter your country and how many people are in your party. The machine spits out a ticket with a 4-digit code on it. Go to the bar on the ground floor and order a bottle of wine or beer and walk outside to re-join the crowd. Wait at least 45 minutes for your number to be called… and when it is, discover that the restaurant is actually 3 stories with tons of seating. Sit down and be handed an iPad with the menu… most (all?) of the things are priced by weight. When your waiter comes by, ask for his recommendations and just GO WITH IT. We had spicy shrimp, giant prawns, and crab two ways, along with a ton of crispy buttery bread. OMG. We left very happy and very full!!

Day 4: Shopping and Rooftops (575 words)

I really enjoyed this day, it just brought a smile to my face looking at my bullet points of what to cover. Ok, so I woke up hella full from the seafood chow-down at Cervezeria Romero. I decided to go for a run for the endorphins and whatnot – 10k later I had looped along the (flat) riverfront to the Golden Gate Bridge lookalike. By the way, have I mentioned that both Porto and Lisbon are **extremely** hilly?? Talk about a workout!

After showering and eating some fresh fruit (ok and another pasteis de nata!!) that Katie grabbed at a nearby market, we were ready to explore Lisbon during the daylight. Our first stop was an iconic gelato parlour called Santini (established in 1949). I ordered the hazelnut and marabunta, which is their version of stracciatella and translates to “swarm of ants.” The two were such a great combo and kind of reminded me of Baskin Robbins.

Ok, next up… one of my favorite things we did while in Lisbon… we visited a pottery shop called Cerâmicas na Linha. We spent a good amount of time perusing the shelves and deciding what to bring home with us. I picked two chipped items that were only 1 euro each and some other items for a few friends. I’m going to use one of my items as a cereal bowl I cannot waiiiit.

Sorry, I’m getting wordy. 6 things in 6 sentences:

  1. We stopped at a trendy, healthy restaurant that is totally ‘gram-able called Nicolau for a late lunch and shared an acai bowl, veggie burger, and chicken bowl with cappuccinos.
  2. After dropping off the heavy bags of pottery at our place, we tried to go to the touristy castle on the hill… however we realized it costs a bunch of euros just to get to the lookout point – so we bailed.
  3. We then stumbled upon an awesome tile shop called Cortiço & Netos, where we spent almost an hour looking through their boxes of tiles before picking a few to take home with us.
  4. Then we went to a seemingly random rooftop bar called Topo where we were bamboozled into drinks we didn’t want to drink that were covered in candy (I’ll spare you the details) – the view was lovely though!
  5. Just when Katie was saying “I wish we could have had the Aperol Spritzes like I’d ordered,” we stumbled upon an Aperol Spritz pop-up stand! Serendipitous!
  6. Also, Kelly introduced me to a really fun mobile app (drinking) game called Picolo, which we played while at Topo and in a plaza near one of the only churches that survived the 1755 earthquake/fire/tsunami.

Almost done with the Day 4 recap! Two *key* things to highlight about our evening: PARK bar and Time Out Market. The first (PARK bar) is a lively rooftop bar that’s literally on top of a parking garage. We watched the sunset over the river, had some drinks, and decided to get tattoos. It was so neat! Second, Time Out Market is a massive, buzzing food hall with so many options! We decided to make a game out of deciding on dinner – we each went in search of something the group would enjoy and reconvened to split everything. It was nice to be surprised by the decisions Katie and Kelly made.

Despite walking to the “going out” area, by the time we finished dinner we decided to just call it a night and headed home.

Day 5: Street Art and Tattoos! (330 words)

Our final day in Lisbon can be summed up quickly: coffee, LXFactory, street art tour, LXFactory, tattoos.

JK I’ll explain more 😉

First up, coffee at one of Lisbon’s best – Copenhagen Coffee Lab (yea, ironic right?). We shared a cinnamon bun, tomato focaccia, and Denmark’s take on a pain au chocolat. Then, we went to the other side of town to make an appointment at one of the only tattoo places open in Lisbon on Sunday, the Queen of Hearts Tattoos. It is conveniently located in the uber cool LXFactory, described by Google as a “historical industrial complex that houses an array of artsy retailers & unique restaurants.”

After walking around and checking out said retailers, we grabbed a sandwich-and-salad type lunch at Café na Fabrica. We were in a bit of a rush to get back into town for a street art tour organized by Sightseeing Lisbon, a sustainable tourism company led by two really cool ladies. The tour was one of the best parts of our trip – we learned a lot about the history and culture of the city, as well as the street art styles of various Portuguese national artists. We “left our mark” by spray-painting on the city-sanctioned graffiti walls.

When the tour ended at LXFactory, we walked straight over to the tattoo shop and met Julien, who inked each of us up with an ampersand tattoo. I’ll also mention that we shared a piece of the “world’s best chocolate cake” from Landeau Chocolate before getting the tats and it was probably the best decision ever. That cake was incredible!!

Afterwards, we celebrated with margaritas and (not so great) Mexican food at a place called Mez Cais LX. (Technically we had reservations at a place called Damas that was highly recommended and featured in all sorts of places, but we didn’t feel like rushing out of the LXFactory.)

And that was it! We went back and packed and slept for a few hours before heading home!

I may have rambled a little… but there truly was a lot to cover! My biggest takeaways are:

(1) I want to return to Portugal and explore south of Lisbon (surf trip?)
(2) I also need to visit Lisbon again for their huge festival on June 12-13th and just to explore more of it
(3) Katie and Kelly are awesome travel partners – we walked, we biked, we ate, we drank, we played games, we saw the sights, we did it all!
(4) Port is actually pretty good and the history behind it is very interesting
(5) Pay closer attention to street art! Our guide had really interesting stories about art of all sizes and media.
(6) Eat more gelato.


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