A lofty thought of a solo trip turned into reality late-June when I booked the round trip from Boston to Lisbon.
From Google-translate conversations with Uber drivers to eating pastel de nata every single day to walking 10,000 steps before noon, this trip went way beyond my expectations. However, it took me 2-3 tries to write this post, because the first time came out too diary-like and the second time came out too travel blogger-like. Ideally, this is a mixture of both. Instead of running through each day, I’ll focus on 5-6 highlights of each city.
The 6:20pm Friday night flight set no foundation for a good night’s sleep. With 1.5 hours of snoozing, I landed in Lisbon at 6am with no other choice than to take a 3 hour railway straight to Porto. Upon arrival, I dropped off luggage to my hostel (Porto Lounge) and headed next door for some coffee and carbs.
With no map and very little Porto research, I began wandering around the small city. The Sherry from 2 years ago would’ve had every single thing planned at exact timing with an exact route.
Livararia Lello – the library that supposedly inspired J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter. Since it’s been such a tourist attraction in the recent years, they’ve been charging 4 Euros as an ‘entrance fee’ but you can use the entrance ticket as a voucher if you purchase a book. There was a line of maybe ~50 people in front of me, but the attendant came up to me and asked me if I wanted to skip the line. Odd, so I did. She gave me a little bracelet and told me to wish on it. Upon cutting in line, I spent an hour here, mainly in the cooking and traveling section. It was a nice way to ease into the city.
Port Wine Tour – decided on a whim to do this tour and my hostel was able to point me in the right direction. 20 minutes prior to the start, I headed down to the bridge to meet the group at the ‘bottom’ part of Pont Luis. In our small tour group included a couple from Atlanta, 2 Ecuadorians (friends who met up in Porto), 1 Kentuckian studying abroad in Madrid, and myself. Right off the bat, the group got along quite well. We crossed the bridge to the other side, Villa de Gaia, onto Taylor’s. It was a very extensive self-guided tour with 2 tastings included (dry white and late bottled vintage). Next thing you know, it was 7pm, and we were walking back to Porto for some tapas and additional tastings of Douro wine + vinho verde (green wine). It was advertised as a 3.5 hour tour, but since we liked each other so much, the official tour lasted 5.5 hours. But we all knew that I hadn’t eaten since BRUNCH (11am!!) so four of us went to dinner for the sake of not seeing me in a state they did not need to…
Francesinha experience (Picota) – For something we could not pronounce all night, “frrr, frrrrrr, frrrr…” I was told by many that this was something I needed to try here. Described to me as a wet hamburger and for future reference, it is not healthy to eat a whole francesinha by yourself… naturally, we were smart enough to share. While we waited for the main course, we ordered Portuguese grilled octopus and Portuguese snails. What seemed like 30 minutes turned into over 2 hours of food and tawny wine, and these special folks celebrated into midnight for the ‘official’ birthday.
Serralves Garden – When I got here, I forgot I was in Porto. It’s (just) a little garden, a short 15 min drive west of the city. Nothing crazy happened here – it was just a peaceful, relaxing way to spend a portion of the afternoon.
Foz – where Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This was the second moment I fell in love with Porto. (The first was on our way to Taylor’s, when we stopped on the other side of the river looking from Gaia to Porto) We stopped by the water to have a snack and watch the sunset, also key to freezing because it was quite windy and cold. Something about a beer and ham & cheese toast overlooking the Atlantic… I could’ve stayed in that moment a little close to forever.
Brasao – easily the best meal I had, not only in Porto, but throughout the entire trip. Minus the Pasteis de Belem visit (ha). By then, I was semi-used to the ‘dinner is at 10pm’ deal and it was easy to see why this restaurant is usually booked out until midnight everyday. The best combo – a bottle of Alentejo wine, Portuguese grilled octopus, Alheira (YUM), and a steak to share.
(Not really a highlight but felt the need to write about it) Kizomba/Salsa/Bachata at the Dance Floor – Not a surprised that I had to test out the dance scene, so at 1am, I mustered whatever strength I had running on 1.5 hours of asleep, and I went across the river to Gaia for some dancing. (Very honestly and no sugarcoating, the dance scene was okay. Kizomba > Salsa > Bachata) Upon leaving ‘early,’ I went to bed at 5am.
Monday was a tough day for me. I was planning on getting to Lisbon in the afternoon, which means I had a few hours in the morning to walk through my favorite parts of Porto and get some souvenirs. I sat down for tea and breakfast where the Queen of England has visited, walked the bridge and river, and packed up my things to head to the train station. The 3 hour train ride gave me a chance to recap for myself all that went on in Porto. Fast forward a few hours, I get to Lisbon into my hostel. I FELT INCREDIBLY SAD. The feeling of how I felt when I first moved to Boston from Northwest Arkansas resurfaced, and it was an eerie one. I arrived to Lisbon wishing I never left Porto.
I gave myself the rest of the night to get an attitude adjustment, ate some Mozambique food (not sure I’d recommend), and tried to sleep before 3am-still-jetlagged-time.
Sintra – Debated whether to count this as a separate city…Hernan met me in Lisbon to take the 45-min train to Sintra and we decided to figure it out as we go. From the National Palace of Sintra to the Pena Palace (closest thing to a real life fairytale castle) to the Moorish Castle, we walked so much that my knees started to hurt badly. Afer a day of exploring and walking, we ended the night at Lija do Vinho which was the best part of the day: cured meat, sheep cheese, olive oil, jam, and douro.
Pasteis de Belem – this came up on every research about Lisbon, and as always, food is a huge motivator. Figured out the bus system, and took the 30 min ride to Belem. As expected, there was a crazy 50+ person line and for some reason, I got to cut in line again… This girl had 2 nata + a cup of mocha. That’s all.
Time Out Market – every city needs something like this. Food vendors bordering the interior, from chicken to steak to dessert specialty, anyone can find something here. I had a grilled octopus dish over mashed potatoes and spinach. I wish I had the stomach and time to try more, but off to my next highlight…
Photo Walk Session – I knew I wanted photos taken some time during my trip, so a few weeks before, I started googling for Porto and Lisbon photographers. Emanuele’s website was actually the first to come up in my search. I was then searching on AirBnB in the experiences section, and to my surprise, I found a few photo walk photography sessions and to more surprise, found Emanuele’s listing. Booked a session for my final afternoon in Lisbon and it turned out to be the highlight of my time in Lisbon. Walking through Alfama in the perfect weather can only be fully described through a few of my favorite photos.
Thursday was mainly a travel day with only time for a delightful breakfast at the airport and picking up port wine, jam, and pasteis de nata to bring back for the Boston folks.
Pros of traveling alone:
+ ALL THE PROS. No need to consider someone else’s budget, taste, or energy level.
Cons of traveling alone:
– Can’t try all the foods in one sitting without looking like a pig
– Expenses: that’s the reality of it. Splitting a hotel room or food or anything would drastically cut down costs.
– No one to take your picture for you so you have to selfie it up or be ok with no portraits.
Thanks for the birthday trip of a lifetime, Portugal. I’ll be back soon.