From Portugal

Natas the dog


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This is Natas, or so we called him, the stubby-legged mutt we befriended on our visit to the Lagoa Sete Cidades in Azores. I’m a dog lover through and through so the second I saw him walking along the empty road we were on, I immediately crouched down and tried to get his attention. To my delight, he was one of the nicest and most affectionate dogs I have ever met while travelling, leaning his head into my hands to get more scratches and pawing at me whenever I stopped. He didn’t have a collar and no one was around so I would usually assume he was a stray, but Sete Ciddades is a very small quiet village and he looked very healthy. So I figured he must have an owner and was just a very free roaming dog. So after giving him a nice long petting session, we had to go and climb a mountain.
So we started walking… and he started following us. For the first few minutes, we thought he had plans of his own and that we were just coincidently going in the same direction. But whenever we stopped and at every turn we took, there he was, strolling along and looking back at us to see where we were going.
At first I was adamant to make him stop following us. Even though I love every single four legged furry friend I see, I knew that if he really was a stray and followed us all day, the minute we would have to get on the bus to go, my heart would be breaking because we’d have to leave him. And then Lena would be stuck on the bus with me bawling my eyes out because I’d be feeling horrible that we “abandoned” him. So there I was, trying to convince a dog to stop following us. Or at least, trying to give him the least bit of attention. Nevertheless, he was always there. So we gave up and just enjoyed his company. That is, until we reached the beginning of our hike up the road to the top of the mountain. Natas ended up meeting some other tourists by the riverbank and stopped following us. So we said a quiet goodbye and started hiking up.

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However, that wouldn’t be the last we see of him. Because after two hours from seeing him last, on our walk back down the mountain, there he was, walking up the road as if to meet us again. By then, I could barely believe it. The hike up was already pretty difficult for us, so seeing that this mutt with his tiny legs managed to walk halfway up the mountain was pretty surprising. At that moment, I couldn’t leave him alone. There were no sidewalks on the road, and cars still drove by rather frequently. So we figured we had to at least get him back to the base of the mountain and off the road for his safety. So we continued to walk down and he followed suit. He made things kinda difficult though when he would go chasing and barking after the cars we were trying to make him avoid.

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Once we got him off the road and back to “safety” (which honestly I don’t think we really kept him safe since this fearless puppy kept running after every car we saw and giving me a heart attack), we explored along the lake and enjoyed the afternoon alongside our friend of the day, Natas the dog.
Natas didn’t always stay right by our side. Sometimes he would run off towards the lagoa to get a better view of the water, run through the tall damp grass, hop onto the stone walls, or stop to say hello to other tourists. Lena and I would just keep walking because we knew that we would eventually have to part ways. Sometimes we would walk far enough to lose sight of him but once we would stop and look back we’d see him running after us. (Cue my heart melting)

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The day was ending and our bus was going to arrive soon. I started to worry again that he would follow us all the way to the bus stop and that we’d have to leave him behind. Thankfully though, our day with Natas ended in the best way. He walked through the openings of a fence into a big open field of grass… and frolicked with some cows. I swear I can’t make this up. We watched him sniff around his bovine friends and walk further away from us. So like we did before, we kept walking on our way. And this time he didn’t follow. Which was for the best because, despite us not knowing if he had an owner or not, we felt quite sure that he is a happy dog in Azores.
So if you ever visit Sete Cidades and you walk by this dog, give him a good scratch under the chin for me and you’ll quickly make a best friend.

Close to paradise


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Azores. The highlight of this whole trip. To be honest, I didn’t even know Azores existed before planning this trip. The only Portuguese city I knew I had to visit was Lisbon, cause obviously it was the capital. That was all my knowledge of Portuguese geography at the time. However, after officially deciding that we would we be travelling to the land of pastel de natas, a quick google search lead me to an incredible image of the Lagoa de Santiago. Basically, that’s all I needed to see to convince me that I needed to do whatever it takes to go there.
I’ve got to admit though, when you only have two weeks to travel and you’re trying to see as much as possible in two different countries, you end up having to keep your visits rather short, which was the case for our stay in Azores. Despite it being 2 hours off the coast of Portgual by plane, we simply could not pass up our opportunity to visit those picturesque lagoons. So we planned out two days in our trip for Azores, and frankly, we barely scratched the surface. Especially cause the Azores is actually a cluster of nine islands, yet we only visited one.
We spent our two days on the main island of São Miguel and resided in it’s largest city of Ponta Delgada. Knowing we had such a short amount of time to visit and that we would only be visiting one island, we still managed to accomplish everything we had set out to do, which involved the iron hot springs of Furnas and the dual coloured lagoa of Sete Cidades.
Despite having barely spent 48 hours in Azores, I was completely overwhelmed by it’s beauty and peacefulness. Which is why I will most definitely return to these islands in the future. I mean, breathtaking landscapes are really my thing and Azores is just that and more.

Azores, São Miguel | tips and recommendations
  • Since I didn’t do much, I don’t have that many recommendations. However, here are my tips for visiting São Miguel island. First things first, once you arrive in Ponta Delgada and are settled in your accommodation, go down to the pier and visit the tourism office. Our first morning in Azores, I barely had 5 hours of sleep, but spent my first 2 hours awake lying in bed with tourist guides and unreliable wifi reception trying to find information on how to get to the thermal baths or Sete Cidades. Everything we wanted to do was on the island of São Miguel, however, was not in the city of Ponta Delgada. So we had to figure out the easiest means of transportation to get there. But I could barely find any on my own. But with one quick visit to the tourism office, we spoke with a very welcoming guide who offered us pamphlets with bus timetables and clear instructions on where to go, which bus to take, and at what time we should take it. The tourism office doesn’t have a website but I’ve linked their location. The main form of public transportation in São Miguel is a system of buses that travels in between all of the villages on the island. You buy the ticket on the bus and it’s price depends on your destination. And there are quite a few buses, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking the right one. Which is why I suggest visiting the tourism office to get accurate information on the times and locations of the bus stops, because it’s complicated to figure out on your own even by researching online.
  • Once we had the right bus information, we headed for Furnas, a small village about an hour and a half away by bus from Ponta Delgada. Our only reason for visiting Furnas was for it’s iron thermal baths. Since we were nearing the end of our 2 week trip, we decided to go and relax in some hot springs to compensate for all the hectic travelling we had been doing. We chose to visit the Poca Da Dona Beija thermal baths. At only 3 euros for an all day entry, how could I not take this opportunity to pamper myself in hot springs. But what makes them so special though, is that they are coloured orange because of the iron sediments in the water. When you bathe in the hot springs you can practically see the tiny bits of iron floating around. And yup, all of that orange along the walls of the baths is iron too. Apparently it’s good for the skin. Is it true? No idea. But whether it is or not, I’m still gonna spend an hour soaking in that water. Last tip though, don’t wear white.
  • My last and most important recommendation is the Lagoa das Sete Cidades. This, for me, was the whole reason for this trip and what I was looking forward to the most. But unfortunately, mother nature wasn’t being very cooperative and kept us covered in thick clouds that hid the top of the mountains, and constant drizzles that forced us to wear our not so stylish rain ponchos. Despite the weather, it was amazing. What luck we did not have when it came to the weather, we had in terms of peacefulness. At times, we would be walking along the water and, other than the sound of birds, it felt like we were the only people there. Our bus to Sete Cidades barely had 10 people on it and, once we arrived, everyone seemed to head off in different directions. Granted, the bus kinda drops you off in the middle of nowhere. Don’t panic though, just follow other people or walk towards the water and you’ll find your way. We had no idea where we were headed, we just knew we wanted to hike up to get a good view of the lagoon’s green and blue waters. So we walked around for quite some time, had a staring contest with some cows (which there are many in Azores), was given a map and vague portuguese directions by some very kind cafe workers, befriended a dog (whom I will introduce in my next post) and finally found our route to the top of the mountains. Or actually, we found a road for cars, but as long as it goes up it was all the same for us. After hiking for about 2 hours along the road we found the view we were waiting for and it was worth everything. The sky even cleared up and gave us a few moments of sunshine to fully appreciate the landscape. In that quiet moment, surrounded by such vibrant green scenery, the sun peaking through the clouds, I couldn’t help but feel like this, to me, is the closest I have ever been to paradise.

Palaces and a tower in the ground


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Day trips are great cause depending on where you go, it can give you a completely different feeling from the city you’re actually staying at. And the number one day trip destination from Lisbon is definitely Sintra. Not that I’ve gone on many day trips around Lisbon, but considering the amount of tourists there was in Sintra, I can assume that it is.
Less than an hour away by train, it’s a very easy day trip. The price of the train ticket is also very nice on the wallet cause it costs less than 5 euros for a round-trip ticket. However, the money you save on travel, you end up spending once you get to Sintra. Why? Well… castles aren’t cheap.
Yes, Sintra is a town renowned for it’s palaces and 19th century architecture. And you can walk for hours within their estates and beautiful parks. So since we like to walk around and see pretty things, Lena and I felt like we had to go. But actually, the castles weren’t what convinced us in the first place. What we felt we really needed to see… was a hole. An inverted tower, to be more precise.

Sintra | tips and recommendations
  • To get to Sintra, you need to go to the Rossio railway station in Lisbon which is conveniently located in the center of the city. You may want to check the train schedules ahead of time, but even if you don’t, you probably won’t have to wait more than 20 minutes for a train to arrive since there’s about 3 or 4 an hour. And don’t worry about the need to purchase tickets in advance, unless there’s a really long lineup, it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes at the ticket booth.
  • Once you arrive at the train station in Sintra, you’ll realize that you’re still quite a bit away from the historical center and the palaces. Thankfully, there’s a tourist bus, number 434, that goes to the major attractions. We bought a loop ticket which gives you 2 rides on the bus and decided to use it to go to Pena palace, which is one of the most difficult to get to by foot because it’s high up the mountain. Remember when I said travelling to Sintra is cheap but once you get there is a different story? Well this is where it begins.
  • There are over a dozen monuments and estates that you can see in Sintra, and believe me when I say, it’s impossible to see them all. Also the major estates, which are the castles/palaces, all have separate entry fees. So I suggest to some research ahead of time to figure out which ones you want to visit. Despite spending a whole day there, we only had time to visit 2 estates. The first one being Pena Palace, which is considered the most popular and the overall poster image of Sintra. Pena palace has different entry fees depending on how much you want to see. We ended up purchasing the most expensive option which gave access to the palace exterior, the interior, as well as Pena park. But in my opinion, you can skip entering the palace. It gets very crowded so it’s slow to walk through, and there’s not much to see. However, walking around the outside of the palace gives amazing views since you’re at the top of the mountain. And make sure to take a stroll around the immense Pena park, which feels like a whimsical forest.
  • After visiting Pena palace, we took the 434 bus back to town to have lunch. Then we were ready to head to second estate: Quinta da Regaleira. It’s an easy walk to Quinta da Regaleira, so we didn’t bother buying another bus fare. Once we arrived at the estate we had to wait in line again to get our entree ticket, which I believe had only one option. Once you enter the estate, you can visit the palace and it’s intricate detailed architecture, but for me, the highlight is the grounds around the palace. The exterior grounds consists of a huge park area where you can find statues, a chapel, fountains, towers, a waterfall, tunnels… Basically there is a lot to see and you can easily spend hours walking around. Make sure to grab a map cause the winding roads can make it difficult to find your way back, or figure out where you want to go. And our number one must-do on our list in Sintra was that hole: the inverted tower. There are actually two inverted towers in the park. We initially found the shorter tower and walked down through the tunnels to eventually find our way to the bottom of the main inverted tower. If you have a flashlight, it will be very useful because there is absolutely no light in the tunnels and at the bottom of the towers. It’s quite a unique feeling looking up through the darkness at the only light in the tower. Feels almost spiritual. That is until you hear the camera shutters of all the fellow tourists. Still, it’s quite a sight to see.