Have to admit that Portugal was my proper solo travel after the big break from travel sickness where I didn’t want to see my backpack anywhere near. I have heard about Portugal from friends and travel sites, and was overwhelmed with the amount of information I got so I decided to do what you shouldn’t when people recommend you places – I’ve ignored it and went my own way. So without a plan as per usual, I have landed in Porto to visit a friend and spent some time there.
Few things Porto has to offer, considering its a touristic and business city:
- The amazing Livraria Lello, where you can get highly overpriced books and enjoy amazing architecture by F.X. Esteves. Truly worth waiting in the line to see the inside beauty of those wooden stairs and get collection books of Harry Potter.
- Contemporary art museum Serralves. The museum itself did not surprise or interested me that much. Apart from a few great pieces by Amish Kapoor, I found it to be alright, but then I realised that the museum owns a private garden. And don’t be misled by the word garden because it’s one huge park with wonderful paths, rivers, horses and all you could dream of for a lovely afternoon walk in the sun.
Besides those sights Porto is about its old town, getting lost between houses that have blue tiles all over it, eating Pastel de Nata’s and indulging in hipster/ fashion culture that Porto has to offer. It didn’t have much expectation for this trip but I knew that I want to see nature so a few days later I have moved towards the South.
Few train stops later I have arrived in Coimbra. The town where you can be proud to go to the university because it looks like a castle, and the town where people have strong legs since you have to walk steep hilly areas to get to uni. I have visited this ridiculously huge university which has a chapel that’s still in use and the jail which is not in use, but I’m pretty sure if you don’t turn up to lectures, tutors joke about putting you there.
After the short trip to Coimbra and stuffing couple ( or more) pastries, I have sat on another train down south to Caldas da Rainha, from where I have gone to see this tiny village Obidos, where houses painted in blue reminded me of Cheouen in Marocco. There seem to be no locals living there daily, since the streets are filled with tiny souvenir stores that try to sell all kinds of traditional stuff to the tourist. Besides the main street with touristic noises, it is a pretty nice place to escape the city and enjoy the rising sun and have a stroll around the old castle and panoramic view. You probably only need an hour to see it and appreciate it so its definitely worth a trip if you touring south’ish.
In Obidos I have found a cosy book store where they sell second-hand books, and I got myself a copy of History of Portugal, which accompanied me through the rest of the trip, and was a good excuse to sit down and enjoy the weather and of course rest my dying leg muscles. My next stop is Sintra. And all I can tell you about Sintra is that no one talked about it as much as it deserves, and maybe it’s good because this place is as close to the paradise land as I have ever visited.
I think I found my passion to backpack and do random travels again when I came to Sintra. It makes me so happy to even remember it now after months have passed. Sintra is half an hour train ride from Lisoa and it is basically a big forests and gardens area with the old town and very fancy houses where Holywood stars and musicians go to hide when they get tired of paparazzi. In the summer its fool of tour buses that are too big for the streets and tourist running around with cameras like crazy trying to capture every leaf on the trees. But low-season time its the place to be. Ride a mountain bike to the park, read a book, enjoy the sun, and stuff yourself with amazing pastries. Is there anything more you need to feel happy? Well for me it was enough to walk in those streets of this tiny town with so much space to run and bike with no people around you. Therefore I decided to spend all the remaining time here and explore all my legs can handle. First things first – Regaleira! If you ever thought of magical gardens that Regaleira. A park/gardens especially built for gods and symbolism. It takes you to the well that you enter through the rock then you go down hundreds of stairs and you are under the ground in the caves, but then you go further and you realise that you are back above the ground.
It tricks your mind and doesn’t let you skip one thing. Fountains and statues, flowers and fish pools. Everything you could think of is there to play with your imagination and make you feel like you are walking inside your dream.
Turns out that Regaleira is just one of the bunch such gardens in Sintra. Monserrate Palace is another wonderland place where you can get lost in ruins and waterfalls and then enjoy the beautiful royal palace as well.
Besides these parks, Sintra is famous for its two castles ( which is a pity because they are less than half amazing than the gardens) but at least they drive all the tourist there so you can enjoy the gardens alone. Two palaces on the top of the hill Moorish and Pena Palace. While Pena palace is an odd coloured palace with posh kitchens and separate rooms for music, dance and reading, the Moorish castle is the opposite. Grey and dark castle were used for protection from enemies coming from both: sea and land, the castle was structured to not only see both sides of the country but also was built high enough too see other castles there royals lived through the wars.
I have stayed in this amazing small hostel with its owner Antonio, who lives in Sintra all his life, and you can see in his eyes that he lives such a happy and full life, where he can enjoy and be quite in the nature and if he wants to go out he just rides to Lisbon in 20 min. This perfect life balance surrounded by beautiful houses, warm weather all year around made me feel like I might want to live there one day when I’m older and tired of office hours. The place is also located by the sea where Cabo da Roca is a viewpoint area on the cliffs which is the most western point of Europe. Locals and tourists go there to enjoy the sun setting into the horizon of the sea, and of course eat some roasted chestnuts from an old local guy, who sees that sun setting every single night.
In this 6 day trip, I had some time to visit Lisbon, but I was enjoying the nature and calmness of Sintra so much that I couldn’t be bothered to explore busy and full of tourist Lisbon. So I walked the streets, got to see the vibe and main touristic areas but I left it for later and stayed in this happy state of mind for the rest of the trip. When they say travel sets you free, it ain’t a lie, you just have to find the right place to feel comfortable and free. Till the next time my lovely Portugal.