Weeknote 16 🇵🇹
Last minute booking to Porto and Lisbon
I rarely book trips at such short notice within a week or two, but that's exactly what I did for this month's small adventure to the land of Vino Verde and calorie heavy Francesinha sandwiches – Portugal.
Time and budget constraints deterred me from taking my favoured zero-flights option to Portugal entirely by train. My friend James and his wife did try this option a few years ago by taking a Eurostar, TGV and sleeper train as written about in his series of posts. Reluctantly, I took easyJet instead. This was my first flight experience in almost three years and my goodness it was a hectic and crowded experience at little old Gatwick with so many queues for everything!
Arrival at Porto was on time and I swiftly passed through border control waving my Irish passport whilst the Brits queued up for their Brexit souvenir EU admission stamps. Travel in to Porto city centre on the metro was just 2 Euros for a half hour journey! My stay at the Hotel Ibis in São Bento was up to the usual standards: quiet and comfortably air-conditioned. My only criticism is that their Wi-Fi wasn't great, which precluded me from catching up much with Le Tour highlights.
The first night I spent some time exploring the Jardim do Morro beside the River Douro and iconic Luís I Bridge. I wasn't too hungry that night, but did make room for a veggie version of their steak sandwich at a fairly casual restaurant called Venham Mais 5. The meat alternative was a sloppy mess of cheese and roasted seitan.
The following morning I came across one of Porto's seemingly most hidden but popular breakfast/brunch cafés, Do Norte. There'd I'd a generous portion of their cheese and spinach filled pancakes, including yoghurt and a spicy fruit sauce.
For my first full day in Porto I came across a free (pay what you like) walking tour by Fiel from Porto Walkers. The 3-hour tour began with a visit to the spectacular São Bento train station, decorated throughout with 20,000 azulejo tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history.
We proceeded up and down Porto's steep, and often very narrow streets, taking in the views over Douro and Ribeira river front. All in all a great tour and I'd highly recommend it for your first visit to Porto!
Not every shop or restaurant is open on Sundays and Mondays in Porto, so on my last day in Porto I made a beeline to the popular but very small Taberna Santo António. There I joined a couple of German tourists who I met in the queue and offered to share a table with them. We shared a couple of the local specialities from the simple, but cheap menu of stews and speciality meats.
I also had the great pleasure of meeting someone in-person from the IndieWeb community whilst on my trip. Paulo kindly invited me to visit his hometown, Guimarães, where I was given a personal guided tour of the town listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
The small town was an unexpected pleasure to see for an evening out of Porto, and definitely somewhere I'd like to revisit with a full day or two.
Paulo and I enjoyed a large meal in the main square of Guimarães at Restaurante Buxa including a main of baked cod and maize bread gratin.
For the second part of my trip I took the pendolino train from Porto to Lisbon which took about 3 hours and cost just 27 Euros in comfort class! Arrival was perfectly on time and just 15 minutes from my Airbnb guest house right in the heart of Alfama next to many bars, restaurants, and Lisbon cathedral. It was a cheap, clean room without air conditioning or an en suite, but good enough on my budget for this short trip.
On my first morning in Lisbon I explored Alfama, taking in a visit to Pastelaria Alfama Doce for at least one Pastéis de Nata and a selection of other sweet pastries washed down by a strong long espresso. After that, I visited Lisbon's beautiful Romanesque style Cathedral just as it had opened at 10am, so I'd the place pretty much to myself.
To burn off some calories I then explored the main vantage points looking over Alfama including Miradouro das Portas do Sol. Then further up the hill I visited Torre da Igreja, the bell tower, where 5 Euros gets you access to a great vantage point high above Alfama, plus a glass of Vino Verde, or soft drink of your choice.
For lunch, I opted for a contemporary vegan restaurant at The Green Affair. There I'd a stunningly presented starter of green gyoza and a delicious main of katsu curry with tofu and courgettes and in a crispy breadcrumb coating.
In the afternoon I joined an Airbnb booked experience with Free Tours Lisbon (not free) for a 4-hour tour taking in plenty of Lisbon's top attractions including: Lx Factory, Time Out Market and Pink Street, the iconic Vasco da Gama Bridge, Jerónimos Monastery, and finally Belém for yet more delicious Pastel de Nata.
The second afternoon of my Lisbon visit, I joined another Airbnb booked experience, this time taking in the best restaurants of Alfama to try a range of different tapas dishes. These dishes included locally caught sardines, octopus, Chouriço à Bombeiro (a flame grilled chorizo), pastries, plus a selection of Portuguese wines.
On the final evening of my trip, I enjoyed the best meal of it all at Solar 31 Alafama. This included freshly prepared clams in a garlic dressing and then a mains dish of grilled octopus with roasted potatoes, washed down with a glass, or two, of Vino Verde.
On my return journey, I briefly explored Lisbon's spectacular Oriente train station before proceeding to the nearby airport.
Unfortunately, anyone flying with easyJet or Ryanair to the UK is in for a big disappointment! Neither seem to use the main terminal much, but instead passengers are bussed over to a supermarket-sized annexe on the other side of the runway with just a handful of facilities.
Until next time...
I left Portugal feeling like I could have spent at least a month there, with so much to experience. The wine, food, the scenery and the overall vibe of its cities combine to make this one of my favourite corners of the world to visit. I anticipate my return there soon to experience more!