Back at work after three weeks away. I recently spent four days in Portugal and what an experience it was. My friend Annabel and I had decided to go over Easter because it would be ‘free leave’. Little did I know that I had botched my dates and had over booked myself so I had two weeks in South Africa, followed closely by this holiday in Portugal which required me to take unpaid leave so in the end that idea didn’t work out so well. Therefore we were on a strict shoe-string budget. Lisbon can be VERY cheap but the minute you want to be all touristy the prices climb. Transport is not cheap there. It is however, very easy to access and easy to understand and get around.
So the holiday started off really well with me forgetting my UK pin code for my bank card. (After all the swiping in SA I dinkum went and forgot my pin code for my UK card). Therefore, Annabel was the wallet the whole trip which suited me well as she kept a firm handle on the amount of money we spent. The first 2 days we spent a lot of money on transport so the third day we decided to just go to the beach … but wait, let me give a blow by blow account of each day of which there were sadly only 3 full ones.
We arrived around 7:30 in the evening and managed to find our way to the underground (Metro) easily – probably because it was just outside the airport building, heavily signposted. 🙂 We decided to go to the ticket seller to find out the best way to purchase tickets because the ticket dispenser was confusing – yes, even in English! Anyway, as we get to the counter, the guy puts the ‘closed’ sign up! Annabel lost her shit and stormed off! The guy got such a fright he pretended that he was only going to close after us – likely story. Anyway, we got our tickets and set back off. We got slightly lost on arriving but only because the directions we were given were inaccurate. This of course we only figured out the next day when we got our bearings. So by the time we got to the apartment we were late, tired and hungry. The lady who met us gave us some suggestions of where to eat so we just put our bags down and went down in search of food. The first place we happened upon was just down the road and looked very fancy. So in we went. Only to be told that all the empty tables were reserved. I thought nothing of until Annabel suggested that he said that because of how we looked. And I guess she must have been right. It was 9:30 at night in an empty restaurant and we looked like hobos. How funny! Anyway, it was fine because he suggested another restaurant down the way which was SO cheap, eat as much as you can Japanese food which was absolutely amazing and just what we needed to fill our weary bodies.
We got up bright and early on our first day and set off for Tram 28. This tram is not a tourist tram but used by residents to get around. However, it’s cheap and takes you to the same places as a tour would take you. Well, apparently we didn’t get up early enough. The queue for this tram was about 500m down the road. The road was teeming with tuk-tuks (rickshaws with motors basically) all trying to get tourists to ride with them rather. We almost succumbed because the queue was so long but when we were told the ‘very good out of season price’ we were happy to wait in the queue. That experience really reminded me of a South African scene in that after waiting in the queue for about an hour a tram came on a different line and the driver started gesticulating that people must go over to his side and catch his tram. So half the queue did – but not the front people as they had not seen the driver do this. So half the people who went to the other side got on and jumped the queue and the rest had to wait for goodness knows how long. We didn’t mind though because it helped us and made our queue shorter and soon we were on! It was meant to be a hop on / hop off affair to stop and check out various touristy things along the way, but the trams were SO full that it was best to stay put. Best idea because it gave us such a good idea of where we were in relation to the town. Eventually we had to get off as it was the end of the tram line so we walked a bit and ended up by the harbour, then we had some lunch (clams, pork and potatoes in a juis) and beers, lots of beer, watching all the traffic jams caused by trams, tuk-tuks and cars all trying to get around. However it was all done in a very chilled, relaxed way, at no point did I fear that someone would take out a gun or a knife to get their way, which was rather nice. After that we walked some more, then caught a taxi to the city centre and had a drink there and then caught the metro home. Lots and lots and lots of walking. So by the time we got home all we wanted was to find a nice little Portuguese place to eat. Do you think we could find one in the centre of Lisbon, no! Japanese, Chinese, seafood, Indian, everything but. So we settled on a divine little Italian place which was actually magnificent. The food was amazing and the waiters very attentive. We even got a shot of the local Ginjinha which looks and tastes similar to Jagermeister, on the house!
The next day we went to Sintra. I was led to believe Sintra was a palace that was stunning and a tourist attraction. I was very wrong. Sintra is the town and the palace and the fortress are separate attractions there. This is a definite must see but also a definite whole day mission. We thought we could do it in 3 hours but there is no way. Once there you need to be driven by tuk-tuk or taxi up this long and windy road which on its own takes the best part of an hour. Once at the top you quickly realise that if you actually want to get a proper look at the palace, you have to pay another EUR14 plus walk 200m up the steepest hill in the world. The castle/fortress only costs EUR8 and I think a better bet in terms of walking around. It’s massive and seeped in history. It was built in the 10th century and was actually built to protect the city and the people. We managed to sneak in and so saw a little bit of it but it is definitely something I would spend a whole day on exploring. By the time we had done all this it was already mid afternoon and by the time we got to the middle where all the restaurants were and had a bite to eat and of course some lovely Super Bock beer and then back down and then back on the train and then the Metro it was early evening already. We discovered a Lidl just down the road – super cheap – so we bought some supplies and Annabel made a divine chicken and chirizo salad for supper which was amazing.
The next day was our beach day to the seaside resort of CaisCais. Also a bit of a mission. First Metro, then train. But the view was amazing and most of the train trip was along the coast. It reminded me of being on a train between Fish Hoek and Muizenberg. All I can say is that if we had more time in Portugal I would definitely have done the beach day again. It was awesome. The weather was great, the sea was the most perfect temperature. Cold but not so cold so you could actually swim for ages. And so crystal clear. The vibe was good and the beers were cold – only if you drank them VERY fast though. So we did! 🙂 Eventually at around 4pm we couldn’t hold out any longer and went in search of food. We were really hoping to get some proper Portuguese fare this time but alas, alack, the menu did not contain the peri-peri chicken Annabel so desperately wanted. It did however have my sardines but I also wanted the squid so I ordered both. Needless to say, eyes bigger than stomach and 5 big sardines for a meal is a lot by anyones standards. Definitely something to be shared in the future. I love sardines but that was pushing it! Because we could not find a decent Portuguese restaurant close to us and because we were tired and also knew how much it would cost to go out to eat if we still had to get there we stayed in again that night. I don’t think I even ate supper, just collapsed. Sunning oneself all day is very hard work!
The next day was our last day so it was a day of rest. Trying to do anything on that day would have just been too stressful. The only thing we did before heading to the Metro for the airport was find some custard tarts (and beer of course) and sat in the sun in the busy bustling city one last time. Custard tarts are a must in Portugal and I can taste why. Crumbling pastry filled with the sweetest custard cream, glad we only discovered them as we were leaving else I fear I would have come back even porkier than I did.
Awesome few days … if I had to do it again or recommend it to someone else thinking about going, I would definitely suggest a longer stay if at all possible, especially if you love the beach vibe. Touristy holidays can be extremely tiring and I would recommend at least 2 beach days out of 5 to complement the busier ones. Portugal is beautiful with so much history and vibe – I definitely want to go back. Amsterdam next though! Woohoo!!! Oh wait, might even be Wales next – watch this space!