Two of my friends from back home, Marie-Josée and Geneviève, had been working in Central Asia for a few months and were taking a few weeks off from the job. We had been planning to meet in the Philippines, but they emailed me and asked if we could slightly modify the plan and meet in Portugal instead. I made the minor adjustment to my itinerary and this is why I have been in Europe for nearly a month now.
The first thing to strike me in Lisbon was a sense of déjà vu. I was certain I had seen this form of wavy paving before (actually the first thing to strike me was several bottles of wine, then the pavement. No, not literally!). Then it came back to me, I had seen it in the former Portuguese colony of Macau (now part of China – right next to Hong Kong).
I pulled out this photo I took in 2004. I guess the pattern was popular with the Portuguese of past centuries. They certainly managed to export the style. I bet I could find it in Angola or Mozambique.
I know my Portuguese friend Ricardo, whom I met in Laos and later Thailand, is anxious for me to write about my travels in Portugal. Unfortunately, I have very little to say. First because we only stayed 5 days, but also because it was more of a vacation trip rather than an exploration trip. Hanging around in cafes, eating good food and drinking great [quantities of] wine, occupied much of our time. This picture of the three of us toasting captures my friend’s first drink after several months spent working in Boringistan.
While the weather was not so great, we certainly walked around Lisbon quite a bit, and sampled its cafes and pedestrian streets. Unlike in Greece, I saw no protests or any other sign of the economic difficulties the country is facing. Of course, since I was with my friends, I also spoke to way fewer people than I would have, had I been travelling alone.
We saw some strange architecture.
Some stranger architecture.
And the strangest architecture!
Lacking any desire to visit museums, we only went to Lisbon’s nice aquarium, were you can see Canadian girls in their natural habitat. Since we followed Ricardo’s good advice and stayed in the party area of Cais de Sodré, we were too tired to do anything else!
Again following Ricardo’s advice, we took a suburban train to the beautiful town of Sintra. While the town itself is nice to walk around in, we decided to hike up to the fortress in the clouds.
Since it rarely rains in Boringistan, my friends were delighted to enjoy the lush, green forest. It was a very pleasant walk, despite the constant drizzle. Unfortunately, when we got to the summit, we realized the visibility was down to a few tens of meters only. Paying 8 euros to go look at the inside of clouds was a bit expensive, so we didn’t actually visit the fortress. We started the walk down, looking forward to a hike as pleasant as the one climbing up, and then the drizzle changed into a torrent.
Finally getting home, soaked (although not as bad as when I got stuck in a torrent in Singapore).
When you only have a few days in a country like Portugal, you have to make choices. For me, it usually involves looking at the various regions of the country and picking where I will go. In this case, I just figured it was only April, so we would head South. As far South as we could. So we rented a car and headed for Algarve, the super popular touristic destination along Portugal’s southern Atlantic coast. Since the high season was still a while away, we were able to rent an apartment with sea view for a very reasonable price. As it turns out, the Algarve coast is magnificent.
We did get one day of beach time, but even when the weather isn’t warm enough for that, the coast offers magnificent walks along the cliffs. That, combined with relatively affordable prices (for Western Europe), makes it easy to understand why the place is so popular.
The coast is relatively small, and it was only an hour’s drive to make it to Sagres, the Southwest-most point in Europe. Many an explorer embarked on dangerous and uncertain journeys from here. Before Columbus discovered the Americas, this point was, for Europeans heading West, the End of the World!
Portugal is hardly a safari destination, but we found some creatures who lived behind our apartment. The hedgehog seemed like it was going to die on the road, but it eventually walked back, slowly, into the woods. The cats were obviously curious, but very careful. The place was actually teeming with cats, who obviously get fed by the tourists, as they hang around the balconies of any occupied cottage/apartment. We fed ours a salmon skin, which had a lot of salmon on it, due to our lack of anything resembling a proper filleting knife. The cat seemed quite satisfied and no traces of food were apparent the next morning.
And that was that. Other than beautiful views and a couple of historical sites, the visit was more vacation than exploration. An odd concept for me, since I haven’t worked a day since July or August 2012, but enjoyable for sure. A highlight of the stay was using the complete kitchen to cook proper meals ourselves. Neither of us had cooked a meal in many months. I guess you crave what you miss.
Getting restless after 5 unusual days of relaxation, we jumped into the car at the crack of dawn and, in the space of about 36 hours, we went to Spain, the U.K., Africa and back to Portugal! Those who know the geography of the region will guess what we did. More in a day or two.