From Travel

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.

La Vida Lisboa


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After our stay in Porto, we took a train and headed down to Lisbon. There was a huge downpour in Porto the day we left, but once we arrived in Lisbon the weather seemed to have made a complete reversal. We arrived at the Lisboa – Oriente train station and was greeted by sunny warm weather. However, we quickly realized that the weather in Lisbon is very temperamental. One moment there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and then all of a sudden we’re running into an alleyway tunnel that smells like trash cause the umbrella we bought broke within 3 days and the rain is so strong that we could get drenched within seconds. Then, as quickly as it came, the rain would stop, and we’d continue with our walk. Yup, that happened fairly often.
The city is very lively but at the same time can be peaceful and relaxing depending on where you go. And even though there’s graffiti and sometimes the streets aren’t very clean, Lisbon certainly has a unique charm to it despite it’s imperfections. Perhaps that’s why it’s popular with young artists. Lisbon felt like the kind of city that can inspire you simply by walking it’s cobblestone streets. Whether it was the architecture, the people, or the street art, there was always something to admire.

Lisbon | tips and recommendations
  • We didn’t visit many attractions but the two we managed to see were Belém Tower and the Praça do Comércio. Since we liked to walk, we barely ever took public transportation to visit the city, however, Belém tower is much too far to walk, so you have to take the train from Cais do Sodré. If you want to actually visit the tower though, get ready for a long lineup. We didn’t bother going up cause we’ve seen enough towers. Praça do Comércio is very easy to get to since it’ straight down towards the ocean from central Lisbon, there’s really no way you can miss it. And while you’re there you can walk along the plaza and admire the booths of local artists.
  • On your way back from Bélem, you can stop by Alcântara Railway Station and have a look at Lisbon’s underground street art and visit the surrounding art district.
  • And if you’re not inspired enough, then you can visit MUDE, the museum of fashion and design right next to Praça do Comércio. And it’s completely free!
  • Once you get back to Cais do Sodré from Bélem make sure to pass by the Mercado da Ribeira, which is right next the station, for some delicious looking food. I say it looks delicious because, honestly, we didn’t actually eat there because we weren’t hungry at the time but now I kinda regret it. This market feels like the ideal hub for Lisbon foodies. This isn’t the kind of market to buy groceries, but more of a fancy food court where you can enjoy a taste of some of Lisbon’s most popular restaurants. Seriously, this is the first time I see people walk around with a food tray and a glass of champagne.
  • Since there are so many hills in Lisbon, a good way to avoid walking up them is to take the trams. Some people believe it is a must to ride the tram because Lisbon is one of the rare cities to still use them. So if you want to ride a tram, the one to look out for would be the famous Tram 28, which is one of the longest routes that travels though many parts of the city. People refer to it as a very cheap sightseeing bus, and I would agree, that is, if you can get a seat. Tram 28 is so popular that the lineups are always long and fellow tourists will line up very early. But what’s unfortunate is that, most likely, other tourists will completely forget the point of queuing and will simply run to the door all at once. We were very lucky and were able to get some seats, but only after waiting nearly half an hour. It’s a nice ride, but if you don’t mind walking, I would suggest simply taking a less popular tram. Whatever the case, just make sure to hold on cause trams go much faster than you’d expect, and when going downhill you’d think you’re on a old school rollercoaster.
  • For some unique shopping, you could pass by Lisbon’s flea market Feira da ladra. This flea market is huge and open most days of the week. Every single outdoor space surrounding the church is occupied by people trying to sell their items. This market, however, is definitely not a vintage market. Don’t go there hoping to find a well curated selection of treasures because honestly, most of it is junk. But if you’re willing to search through it a bit, maybe you’ll find something surprising.
  • If you’re looking for gifts or would simply like to browse interesting Lisbon items, then you must visit A Vida Portuguesa. The main store on Rua Anchieta is room after room of eclectic trinkets and objects that reflect Lisbon’s love for art and it’s culture. I feel like I could spend hours just browsing their notebooks.
  • If you’re tired of the mainstream shopping along Rua da Prata, then go off the main roads and visit some of the vintage shops. During a severe rainstorm we found ourselves in A Outra Face Da Lua, a vintage clothing store that’s also a cafe. We browsed the racks of clothes and enjoyed a coffee while we waited for the rain to stop. Afterwards, we walked across the street to another vintage shop where we found cute turtle candle holders for 1 Euro! Gotta love a good souvenir bargain.
  • In terms of food, some of the places we enjoyed were Nova Pombalina for succulent pork sandwiches, Confeitaria Nacional for various pastries and coffee drinks, and piri piri chicken, which you can find in many restaurants and of which I am guilty of eating more than once. Along with natas, I ate a lot of natas.

Blue tiles and a blue ocean


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After our stay in Barcelona, the next city on our list was in Spain’s neighbouring country of Portugal. Since airfare within Europe is so cheap, we took a budget friendly plane to Porto! Cathedrals, beautiful old architecture, and incredibly detailed blue tiles. And I thought I had seen my fare share of tiles from my previous trips in Greece and Morocco, but nope, I can never get enough nice tilling.
Unfortunately, some of the clouds and rain seemed to have followed us from Barcelona. It can be rather troublesome since there’s very little public transportation within the historic area of Porto where the majority of the sightseeing is. So you’re best option is simply to walk everywhere, which is very pleasant when it’s warm and sunny. But when there was a heavy downpour of rain, we had to either find a place for shelter to keep dry while we waited for the rain to stop, or we just braved the wet weather and continued walking. Thank goodness our hostel offered umbrellas.

Porto | tips and recommendations
  • The Dom Luís I Bridge is probably the most well known and most noticeable attraction of Porto. This metal arch bridge is easily accessible by walking and offers great views across the Douro river. Just a warning though, if you’re near the water and want to get on the bridge, get ready for a some steep stairs, lots of stairs. But if you have some money to spare, you can take the funicular which is next to the Fernandina wall.
  • Expect lots of uphill walking in general. The most interesting part of Porto is it’s historic area, which is also recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. And the whole area is built on a hillside. So the streets are steep, and stairs are plentiful. You’ll get a great workout while visiting the attractions, I can promise you that.
  • If you want to see blue tiles then go… literally anywhere. There are blue tiles on almost every street and sometimes whole buildings are covered in blue tiles. But the most famous blue tiles are probably the ones found in the São Bento railway station. It’s definitely a place to visit, but if you’re travelling to any other Portuguese city during your trip, then you are very likely to pass by the trains station anyway.
  • Porto is known for it’s beautiful architecture and the Livraria Lello & Irmão is a perfect example of that. At nearly 150 years old, this bookstore is still serving it’s purpose selling books of all kinds even though the majority of the people in the store are tourists trying to take pictures of it’s intricate staircase.
  • Since Lena was my travel buddy we made sure to visit cafes, and when we heard Porto had a cafe which was supposedly one of the top 10 most beautiful cafes in the world (whose list though I’m not sure), well we simply had visit. And Majestic Cafe surely did not disappoint. This cafe’s interior is gorgeous and definitely fancier than your typical expresso joints. I mean, they serve afternoon tea and you’re greeted by a maître d’ when you enter. But it’s ok to enjoy some high-class from time to time while on vacation. Plus this is where I had my first portuguese pastel de nata.
  • If you’re fed up with the crowds then I highly suggest you take a stroll in the Crystal palace, a park not too far from the historic center. We managed to easily walk there, but the entrance to the park was a bit confusing for us to find at first. If you follow the walls along the park you’ll find you’re way in eventually. I’m not sure if we were lucky, but there was very few people in the park. There’s a side of the park that overlooks the Douro river that offers some nice views as well as some charming garden landscaping. It was very calm and serene and just a nice way to spend a few hours in semi-nature. We also kinda befriended some peacocks.
  • And finally, just like in Barcelona, I highly suggest you bike. Not up the hills though, unless you’re up for it. Along the harbour, near the bridge, there are stores (some very well hidden, so look out for signs) where you can rent a bike and ride along the river. And in half an hour, you can reach Porto’s Praia do Carneiro and watch some fishermen along the pier towards the lighthouse. We had no choice but to go while it was cloudy and a bit drizzling. Despite the gloomy weather, I really enjoyed visiting the lighthouse cause we could watch the waves come alive and foretell the storm that was on it’s way. The ocean is fascinating… and scary sometimes.