Posts filed under 'portugal'

Girls weekend in Porto

Man, it’s tough committing to blogging. I’ve got an injured pony (more on that in another post), an injured body (damn my chronically dislocating shoulder) and a lot going on…but damn it, I’m going to keep trying. If not for anyone else but my mother who persistently asks me where’s my next post.  So here it is…which is some text, yes, but a whole lot of pictures.  That’s what happens when you go on a girls trip with a bunch of photogenic gals, one of which is an actual photographer (Check out Christine Jackson Photography HERE and get excited because we’re having a family shoot in the fall with her).  Needless to say, she wasn’t in most pictures but taking them…but if it’s just a shitty iphone pic it’s mine.  I tried not to steal her gorgeous normal pictures but just ones of me cheesin’.

Yes, these is me cheesin’…but aren’t we adorbs?

 

Can you believe this was my first ever girls trip? If you know me well, that’s actually not too surprising. I’ve never rolled deep with a posse of ladies but rather like to keep my friends separate (I’m an extroverted introvert and groups of people make me feel like I need to perform). We had a group of 6 ladies for a short weekend trip (though slightly adjusted a day because of flights) flying out of Edinburgh to Porto directly on Saturday evening, and getting back late Tuesday night (11pm arrival, and then the 2 hour+ ride home to Aberdeen). It was a good mix of ladies, 3 moms and 3 unspoiled by motherhood (ha!).

This was my second time to Portugal (see first time recap HERE) and I was excited to see another part of the country. I’m actually going for my 3rd trip to Portugal this fall with E and my mother back to Lisbon…there’s just a lot of love about this country so I’m not minding the duplicate trips at all! Porto as a city is just as hilly as Lisbon, and like Lisbon is against water (though the River Douro, not the Atlantic) and maintains a quaint feel with pedestrian only streets and tiled buildings.

 

This trip we had a secret weapon…Lillian, you might know her from The Smalls Abroad, who is actually Portuguese. Born in Canada, but her extended family is in Portugal she holds dual citizenship, and her parents still own a house there, and her fluency was so helpful! It’s just nice to feel like you aren’t getting ripped off for being a tourist when you have a native speaker with you. Which reminds me that this is actually the 2nd time I traveled with a secret weapon native speaker…but the last time I have YET to write about (2 years post)…our trip to Croatia. Alas…

The Smalls Abroad and Hot Dogs to Haggis

 

Porto is obviously known for making Port wine. And while the port wine is made a bit further away from the city centre of Porto, planning in some winery tours is a must. We booked a private tour through EcoTours Portugal for 71 euros a person, which had one poor man drive our gaggle around, hitting up two wineries with lunch in between (lunch wasn’t included in the price but tours and tasting were).  Even if you don’t like Port…you’ll learn a lot and the views are amazing.

Our very lucky tour guide!

 

What a view, huh?

we cheese so well!

I have to say, I wasn’t ever a fan of port before, but the trip changed my mind a bit. I think a combination of trying new things as well as a phenomenal dessert pairing helped. In the end, here’s what port I found I liked.

  • Rose’ port – because I’m totally a #basicbitch. Rose’ and Slay all day!
  • P&T – I’ll never abandon gin, but a white port and tonic is a refreshing drink.
  • Graham’s 20-year port – Was it the dessert I had with it? Was it the 7 bottles of wine before it? We’ll never be sure, but I thought it was delicious.

Diane was also quite fond of Graham’s 20 year

Unfortunately for our little jaunt, we got in late Saturday night and because we didn’t know when we’d be checked in and all that, didn’t have a dinner reservation so unfortunately had to wind up eating at such a tourist trap of a place…. the food wasn’t awful but it was just meat and cheese and over priced sangria. Tip: If you’re in Porto, when go down to the main square on the river, while looking at the river, the places to your right tend to be more authentic (They are up on a ledge from the river) while to the left with their seating at river level are more touristy. Portugal has a great food culture but our only two dinners being on a Sunday and Monday night really limited where we could go eat, as those are the days most restaurants are closed. We even had a difficult time finding a little grocery store that was open on Sunday to get our breakfast essentials.

Even though it was over priced, they lit our sausage on fire so points for that.

We ended up eating at Vinhas d’alhos on Sunday night after we had walked past it on Saturday night trying to find anywhere that would take us. Most nights (perhaps every) they do a live Fado. Now what’s Fado? The google tells me it’s popular folk music originated in Portugal. It’s included as a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Fado comes from the Latin word fatum (fate in English). It is most commonly performed over dinner and bounces between love and death and sadness…with silly little songs. A great experience to say the least.

Another reason I would recommend Vinhas d’alhos (specifically if you’re a group of ladies) is it seems they only hire cute male servers. I mean, they’re little men (I am a strict 6’3” or above type of gal) but when you’re sitting down you can’t really tell their height and they are all just so charming and cute. The food was good, not mind blowing, but they made great wine recommendations, you have a view of the river, and we got a welcome drink of Port and tonic.

Our last night we went across the river, which actually isn’t in Porto, but across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. In this area there are a lot of Port Cellars and while we originally planned a tour + tasting…bagged it and just went for the meal. It’s kind of like whisky distillery tours…once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen em all. I have to say, the food here is amazing, and the view is even better as you’re looking over Porto from high above. There is a big patio that hosts some couches for pre-dinner drinks, as well as has a glassed in section with tables for dinner. It got a bit cool at night, but I believe you could open up the doors/windows on a nice night and be practically eating al fresco. And to be fair, the interior it top notch…but since we’re stuck inside Aberdonians, we wanted out! This was a pricey (for Portugal) meal but I thought it was excellent…and even with about 5 bottles of wine, an appetizer, main and dessert (2 desserts for some as previously mentioned), AND port pairing with dessert, AND tip (which isn’t necessary in Portugal but for such good service we went with it) it was £70 a person.

We had perfect weather.

View from Graham’s/Vinum

A much better than my shitty iphone camera skills shot by Christine

And on the subject of food…make sure you try pasteis de nata for breakfast…or snack…or anytime you see them. A flakey shell with a sort of vanilla custard inside…drool.Other traditional foods to try:

Grilled Octopus

Bacalhau (salted cod fish – can be served a 1,000 different ways)

Alheira – a smoked bread and meat sausage, when asked what kind of meats? The response was, “all”

Maybe not traditional, but have you ever seen me so happy? Ice cream for the win!

To me the allure of Portugal is friendly people, warm climate, pretty cities built into hills against bodies of water, good food and wine…. and all that for SUPER CHEAP. I mean, I think I ate more on this trip than any other holiday (some people in our group might have even ordered two desserts on multiple occasions…) and we averaged 7 bottles of wine a day…. AND IT WAS CHEAP AF. And just reiterating, it was really good, fresh, seafood and yummy, local wines. What’s not to like? I’m already looking forward to my next trip.

One more selfie before I go…

Lovely Lisbon

We had our second houseguest arrive, just a few days after we got home from Turkey. I’m going to jump the gun and not talk about her time in Scotland yet, and instead focus on the holiday inside a holiday.

I definitely wanted to get Megan to one other destination on her trip to take advantage of coming across the pond, as well as I was a little worried because Scotland isn’t exactly the first thing people think of for a summer holiday. People want sun and warmth and rooftop cocktails! Scotland isn’t so strong in that department….

Somehow, I got Lisbon in my head. Flights weren’t too bad time wise or price. We both had never been there. I had friends who had gone and enjoyed it. It was warm. There’s beaches. There’s seafood. There’s wine. Done.

Apparently Lisboa {as the locals say} is known for its tiled buildings. I actually knew nothing about this prior to but that didn’t stop me from selfie-ing it up once I discovered all these gorgeous prints along the road,  Their sidewalks are also all tiled, though not as magnificent.  IMG_0076 IMG_0072 IMG_0105 IMG_0106 IMG_0145

I will say what I never saw posted about Lisbon anywhere is it is incredibly hilly. Like so hilly, Scotland looks flat. The weather was delightful though, we never saw a cloud in the sky – swear. And even though it’s warm, there’s no humidity so it wasn’t stifling and the evening always had a cool breeze.

We arrived at about 2pm on Monday afternoon and walked the long empty halls of the Lisbon airport to clear customs {add in time each way for a hold up}. Once out of the airport it was easy to find the green line metro station that we transferred to the red line taking us almost exactly to our door. It’s easy to buy a reusable metro card {costs 50¢} but make sure you have cash as the machine wouldn’t take any of my US or UK cards. All the buses, metros, electric busses, train lines, and I think even ferries out of the city use this metro card. Top it off like you would any city and it will deduct as you go.

We ended up at the wrong hostel {whoops} but were directed to the correct one. Really not the best start of a trip…walking up an epically intense hill to get to said wrong hostel, but we ended up walking that hill twice a day anyway…though it’s better without luggage and long sleeves from Scotland. We then just strolled around and got a feel of the city. We chatted up some G-Star Raw employees {had to show Megan euro jeans} and they gave us a dinner recommendation that we decided to trust- unfortunately when we got there it was closed and we were starving. We were by the Largo Camoes square and we opted for whatever place was close, looked moderately busy, and had outdoor seating. The latter ended up not mattering because it got windy and a little chilly so we had moved inside. This was the worst meal of our trip and we learned the valuable lesson of always check reviews/get recommendations in Lisbon. Luckily, we shall live to see another day and another meal. We then walked in circles awhile trying to find a bar the NYTimes 36 Hours in Lisbon recommended – Pensão Amor. We found said bar, had pretty awful service, for pretty overpriced drinks. Not so good. Although the feel of the place was definitely cool. Despite bad dining experiences and an extra trek up the hill, the weather was nice, people were chatty, and Lisbon had a cool vibe. It was a good day.

Tuesday was reserved for exploring more of Lisbon. We walked from our hostel up to a great park/overlook of the city {Miradouro S. Pedro Le Alcantara} where we stopped for a light refreshment {12:30 is basically 5 o’clock on holiday} and continued on to walk to Avenida Da Liberdade {which is basically their mag mile but not as good and not worth the visit- although the Hard Rock Café did provide a clean, free bathroom}. IMG_0101 IMG_0100 IMG_0098We then took a bus over to the Mercado de Campo de Ourique. This has been a market around since 1934 and in recent years expanded beyond a market to a type of cafeteria where you can get all kinds of food from different stalls as well as wine or gin. I went to the Bar de Gin stall {of course} where they had over 60 kinds of gin and each gin n’ tonic had it’s own little flourish based on the gin. Didn’t grab a pic and can’t recall the gin I had….but it was damn good. Especially for my second drink before 2pm. For lunch Megan got a couple empanadas and I seafood binged on sautéed shrimp and crab pate which I dipped crab claws in to devour. We took the electric bus {like an old school street car} home which had it’s windows down and ricketted it’s way up and down the hills slowly to let us soak in the sights. It was fun and a little terrifying; it genuinely felt like we were on a roller coaster- but definitely take a bus that has an E in front of the number for electric bus aka streetcar/tram.IMG_0111

Electric Bus!

Electric Bus!

After we cleaned up {and/or cooled down} we headed back up the hill to the Largo Camoes area to check out the restaurant that had been recommended to us the day before. It was STILL closed. I think in the end we decided they were closed for the week due to holiday. {It’s called Salgadeiras incase you want to try it and are in town.} This time, we went and got our selves a liter of sangria {the man kept insisting we wanted a half-liter…no sir, we want a full!} and explored nearby options. We found two; the first Taberna da Rua das Flores had a two-hour wait. We couldn’t handle that and opted to come back on Wednesday earlier. Our next pick {via Tripadvisor} was Primavera do Jeronimo which had a table for two open {there were only about 9 tables total}. Oh my god. Loved it. We both had the traditional Portuguese soup with cabbage and potatoes that was made fresh. I then asked for a recommendation and was delighted to eat Bacalhau a’ Bra’s – like egg fried rice {except shoestring potatoes pieces instead of rice} with salted cod {cod is the main entrée in Portugal}. So freaking good. It’s a family owned restaurant, our server’s mother was one of the two women cooking…and everyone there was just delightful. Seriously, you should go. We also met a solo traveling expat {James} who currently lives in Geneva. Exchanged numbers with him to meet up at a bar a later night. Expats are such a friendly bunch, no?

On Wednesday we took a day trip to Sintra. If you go to Lisbon, GO TO SINTRA. It’s a 40-minute journey on the train (uses the same metro card) from Rossio station. I actually had never heard of Sintra, but on our trip to Turkey, two different people told me about it (one in Istanbul {a Lisbon native}, and one in Cappadocia {a gal who just loved it}}. The latter had said, “I’m sure you’re feeling pretty palace’d and castled out…but trust me, you’ll want to go to this one.” She was so right. When you get off the train you can elect to walk the loop of highlights or take a bus…obviously we went the bus route. And I am so glad we did. Sintra is even hillier than Lisbon somehow. I may be able to run a marathon, but I would not have made the walk. First, the Castle of Moors, a vast, expanding ruin of a castle built into the hillside. Oh and just because you got the bus up, don’t think you won’t get a workout in. Wear your trainers people! You get a lot of gorgeous views of the countryside and feel like you’re sitting atop of Portugal. But you’re not!IMG_0131

Pena Palace in the background

Pena Palace in the background

IMG_0265 (1)

You will then go up even further to the Pena National Palace. All I can say is it’s like Willy Wonka made a Little Mermaid themed Palace. It was amazing. I have never enjoyed a royal dwelling as much.IMG_0168 IMG_0141IMG_0166 IMG_0151
IMG_0144

After we made it down to the town of Sintra for a liter of sangria and some ice cream before heading back into Lisbon. Priorities.

Liter of Sangria

Liter of Sangria

We got back and immediately went to Taberna da Rua das Flores where there was no wait! But we weren’t really hungry and were pretty disgusting. So we headed home for a shower and returned an hour later where we had an hour wait. It was all-good though because we ordered some wine and sat outside on a stoop waiting for our table. We were offered “the stairs” to sit at inside which we passed on. Big mistake. Go here, eat here, and say you’ll sit on the stairs. Trust me. Skip the wait and comfier seats than the chairs. This restaurant had smaller plates {dare we say Portuguese tapas} for sharing. We had 4 dishes {2 fish, 1 veal ribs, 1 veg} and a dessert that I remember being good but don’t totally remember.

Oh and Portugal is wine country…so wine is cheap and you should just cut to the chase and order a bottle at every meal like we did. It also is a country really into gin, but that comes at a much bigger price. For one gin cocktail, you can get an entire bottle of wine without a doubt at every restaurant – no matter how fancy. But I get it…warm summer nights…sometimes you just have to have some gin…and so I did.

Thursday was a chill day. I slept in while Megan ran. We then went to another cafeteria-esqu market hall to eat an early lunch {Mercado da Ribera|. That ended up being a mid-day lunch, as the food I wanted wasn’t served until noon. I forget what Megan had, but she had finished by the time I got my duck and Portuguese sausage rice with asparagus. YUM. Also, iced coffee….with a lemon? When in Rome.IMG_0195

Iced coffee ala Lisbon

Iced coffee ala Lisbon

We then took another train {40 min} from our Metro stop to CasCasis to get some sun and salt water. We went to the first beach off the train, which has to be the tiniest beach in all the land. We got there quite late {about 2} and all the lounge chairs were rented for the day so we ruffed it on the sand until twice rouge waves came and took us and our dry towels out. There is a story about my father encountering a rouge wave from Lake Michigan that took his Nook…I deeply sympathized and I lunged to save my book in Lisbon. The tide was rising by the minute and the beach was somehow getting smaller. Additionally, the water was hella cold. This was no Turkish Coast Mediterranean. Regardless, it was nice to get some sun and rest the leggies but we cut out about 4:30.IMG_0272

We returned to the city, cleaned up and headed to our early {7pm} dinner at Cantinho do Avilez- which was a recommendation from our hostel people. BEST FOOD OF THE WEEK….best food of the year for me! The chef has about 5 different concepts all in a row and one has a Michelin star or two and…well you can tell. Amazing dinner.IMG_0202

Gin cocktail

Gin cocktail

Truffle butter, olives, and tomato/oil dip.  So good

Truffle butter, olives, and tomato/oil dip. So good

We then decided to give the NYTimes 36 Hours in… another chance and hit up Roof- a rooftop bar on top of a parking garage. I didn’t really expect much until I got there, got a seat, got a great gin drink, and had an amazing perfect view. It was pricey as hell, but hey…last night. Our old friend James met us up for a drink and then told us about these Portuguese street-ish parties that are going on all June for a celebration of St. Anthony.IMG_0278

So St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, and even though we missed the massive celebration on the eve of his day {June 13} this city celebrates all month long. There are basically pop-up “bars” all over the city, and you just wander the streets until you see some streamers ahead. Then you find who’s serving the drinks and/or seafood snacks and get in on it. The whole trip we heard all about sardines, sardines, sardines…but they weren’t on any menus because it’s kind of just a St. Anthony thing. But then we found ‘em…on the street!IMG_0279IMG_0223

A little history about sardines and St. Anthony:

St. Anthony was born in Lisbon, the child of local nobles. He went on to become a Franciscan friar, and legend says that after a particularly frustrating day of preaching to heretics, he went to a river and began preaching to the fish. The fish gathered around to hear him, raising their heads above the water until he finished. It is a fitting story for the city’s patron saint, who today presides over an all-night fête that takes place in a smoky haze produced by thousands of grilled sardines.

Yes, that woman is using her blow dryer to speed up the cooking.  They were delish.

You don't eat the head....

You don’t eat the head….

Of course during the street fest we met some new friends, who took us to some bar, and when that closed to some club, and when that closed we walked outside and the sun was up. Holy hell it was after 6am, we stumbled home to the hostel to pack and head right off to the airport. Who says I’m turning 30 in a couple months? Who am I kidding, I was miserable and laid down on every tram, bus, and cool surface I could find up until I got in the car in Aberdeen and laid down in the back seat. Looking like hell does not begin to cover in.

LB’s Lisbon Tips

  • Go!
  • Pack clothes/shoes appropriate to walk vertically all day, all over the city.
  • Figure out public transit like a local.
  • Make dinner reservations and do your foodie research.
  • Drink lots of wine!
  • Go to Sintra.
  • Go in the month of June for sardines, street fests, and these cute little bushes that smell like basil and have a flower in them with a poem tied to it. June is the month men give these to their ladyloves.

    St. Anthony basil plant with flower and poem

    St. Anthony basil plant with flower and poem

  • Definitely hold your skirt when you walk over grates. I had a Marilyn moment that would make even Marilyn blush…because it sure as hell made me blush and all 20 people sitting outside at the café as my maxi skirt blew straight up around my head and I couldn’t get control of it for a solid 5 seconds. No pictures of that one that I know of….thank you jebus.
Sardine corpse cheers for Lisboa!

Sardine corpse cheers for Lisboa!