Last month, I got the chance to visit Portugal, the nice country which is sandwiched between Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. The moment my friends and I decided on Lisbon as this year’s venue for our traditional class reunion, I already made up my mind that I wasn’t gonna limit my trip to Lisbon only but rather I was gonna make a whole Portugal tour starting from Porto.

During the whole trip, my friends and I were counting on our hosts from Portugal to give us a great tour of their country, guiding us to the nicest places where we could get the most out of the landscape, the culture and the cuisine. Of course they did not let us down and we left Portugal with great memories.

In this very first travel article of my blog, I will try to share my experiences about my Portugal trip. I’ll write about the cities I’ve been to, culture I’ve interacted with and the food I’ve eaten. So let’s start with the cities.

Porto

Porto is the city which gave Portugal its name but surprisingly it has never been the capital. The most widely known landmark of the city is without a doubt the Douro river which flows into the Atlantic. The city was built alongside both coasts of the river and both sides are connected by several bridges.

River Douro flowing through the beautiful Porto.

What struck me the most about Porto was its really unique geography and the interesting architecture with many narrow streets and an authentic mixture of old and modern buildings. Any visitor should walk through these narrow streets, check out the little stores, eat and drink at the tiny restaurants and pubs other than visiting the famous buildings and the wineries alongside the river. It’s also quite possible to encounter a small and traditional street market where locals sell their handcrafted items. The city has a nice public transit system with buses, trams and even a funicular going up to the city center from the river coast. However, in my opinion you would enjoy the city at its best if you just walk all around Porto. The city offers a nice gastronomy with a sea food rich cuisine and a huge selection of Port wines (Vinho do Porto). You should definitely have a nice lunch or dinner by the river and your order should include a Francesinha, a typical Portuguese dish originally from Porto. I also enjoyed having the delicious sea food from Portugal accompanied by some good “Vinho Verde”.

Some buildings are really old in Porto and they contribute to the unique character of the city.

In Porto, it is of course possible to visit the old wineries which have been producing the traditional Port wines for centuries. You could sign up for a tour which also includes wine tasting in one of the famous wineries.  As my time in the city was rather limited, I had to spare the winery tour and the wine tasting activity for my next Porto trip.

Lisbon

After Porto, Lisbon felt quite different. It’s more like a big European capital with much more energy and enthusiasm compared to the calmness and serenity of Porto. As our friends had arranged accommodation for us on the south side of the river, in Almada, I crossed the 25 de Abril Bridge every single day I was in Lisbon and to be honest it made me feel like crossing the Bosphorus every single time. I wasn’t much like a classic tourist in Lisbon and haven’t done many touristy things such as going to Belém, climbing up the castle, taking the famous Number 28 tram. Rather I was hanging out with my friends, enjoying the sunny days walking around the city, eating and drinking at nice places. But the most important and unforgettable day in Lisbon was the eve of Santo António where the city goes “crazy” to describe it with one word.

25 de Abril Bridge connecting Lisbon and Almada

The day is celebrated on 12th of June every year and the whole city turns into a huge party venue where people eat, drink and dance on the historical streets of Lisbon. If you wanna find out more about Santo António day and about Lisbon, visit The Lisbon Connection Blog at http://www.thelisbonconnection.com/. And if you ever plan to go to Lisbon, make sure your trip dates include the Santo António day…

Sesimbra

As we told our Portuguese hosts Silvia and Raquel that we wanted to go enjoy a day at the beach, Sesimbra was the little city they came up with. About half an hour away from Lisbon by car, Sesimbra offers a nice atmosphere with the beautiful sand beach and the crystal clear but freezing cold (in June!) Atlantic water.

Crystal blue water of the Atlantic in Sesimbra.

There is a number of nice hotels and restaurants lined up alongside the coast. It’s a place where you can enjoy a full day at the beach and have a nice dinner at the end of the day. The little place reminded me of some Mediterranean beach town atmosphere in Turkey. Of course the water would be much warmer then!

Sintra

Sintra is about an hour away from the capital by car and the little city is visited by a lot of tourists. The main reason behind this is that Sintra was an important city during the monarchy era as the summer palace of the royal family was located here.

Beautiful old mansions downtown Sintra

After a short walk in downtown and having lunch at a small restaurant, we got the chance to visit the palace (Palácio Nacional da Pena) which is located on the top of a hill. It takes about 20 minutes to climb up there from the spot you can park your car. The walk uphill is a bit tiring but quite enjoyable going through a beautiful park. Once you’re at the castle, the view is great and on a clear day, it is possible to see as far as Lisbon. The castle has an interesting style influenced by different architectural trends including Neo-Gothic and Islamic. The other attraction we could visit within the national park was Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). If you like castles, it’s a must visit for you!

Pena National Palace photographed from Castle of the Moors.

Pena National Palace photographed from Castle of the Moors.

Coimbra

My last stop in Portugal was Coimbra, home town of my friend Rodrigo. It took us about 2 hours to get there from Lisbon by car. Although my time in Coimbra was limited to a mere 5 hours, I still get the chance to see the historical university which is one of the oldest in the world. University of Coimbra is located on the top of a hill, looking at the city and the river from a good height.

University of Coimbra campus.

University of Coimbra campus.

Its famous clock tower is one of the landmarks of the city. Once you’re at the university campus, you already start to feel all the history those books, classrooms have witnessed. We could have a nice walk through the buildings, seeing some libraries and classrooms. Must really feel special, being a student of University of Coimbra, I thought during my visit to the campus. In our limited time, we also got the chance to have a real good lunch in a tiny little restaurant on a narrow street downtown.

Famous stairs leading up to the university campus. As a student, you're not supposed to trip and fall, otherwise you'll fail that year!

Famous stairs leading up to the university campus. As a student, you’re not supposed to trip and fall, otherwise you’ll fail that year!

With good fish and wine at an amazingly reasonable price, no wonder why these little restaurants are the choice of the university students for lunch time. After walking through the city a bit, visiting the famous Santa Cruz monastery and the historical aqueduct, unfortunately it was already time to catch my train to Porto toward the end of my great Portugal trip.

Portuguese Cuisine

Considering Portugal’s geographical position, it is not a big surprise to see that the Portuguese cuisine is dominated by fish and other sea food. During my 8-day visit, I ate sea food every single day and I simply loved it. Independent of location or the city you’re in, it is always possible to find fresh and delicious sea food in Portugal. Meals are usually accompanied by a glass of good Portuguese wine which is not that hard to find or expensive to get. And wine is not the only thing which is reasonably priced for a good meal! You could get a sea food variation plate full of jumbo shrimps, a giant lobster, crabs and mussels for as cheap as 8-9 euros. No doubt you’d have to pay a fortune for such a plate in Germany or elsewhere! Although sea food makes up a large portion of it, the cuisine is not limited to it. It’s always possible to order a nice juicy steak or a tasty vegetarian option prepared with fresh vegetables. In fact you can be sure that anything you’d get in Portugal would be pretty fresh! It’s common to serve some cheese and other appetizers before the main dish in most of the restaurants. Although the appetizer menu is not as rich as a tapas menu would be in Spain, it’s still possible to enjoy some chouriço or olives whilst waiting for your main dish. Along with some photos I’ve taken, now I’ll describe the most typical food I’ve tried in Portugal.

sardınes

Sardines being grilled on the street in Lisbon.

Sardines being grilled on the street in Lisbon.

Sardines are probably the most consumed type of fish in Portugal (if not Bacalhau or cod). Unlike mediterranean sardines, Atlantic sardines caught in Portugal are quite big. The taste is very similar though. Just like the small ones, it is common to grill them, so sardinhas assadas as Portuguese call them. They can be your main dish at a nice restaurant or you can have a sardines sandwich as a snack during your lunch break. Make sure you try some!

Grilled sardines.

Grilled sardines.

Caracóis

Or snails! It’s a really common snack to accompany your beer. Kinda like potato chips or peanuts.  Usually served boiled. Believe it or not, they’re not that bad.

pastel de nata

So typical for breakfast or anytime during the day all over Portugal. It’s basically a sweet pastry with some sort of custard in the middle. I guess I had one everyday for breakfast with a cup of coffee.

 Feijoada de choco

Feijoada de choco or beans with squid was what Silvia’s mom cooked for us during the great lunch at their place just outside Lisbon. It’s a bean dish prepared in a huge pot and as far as I can guess, beans get cooked with squid. Delicious !!! I can compare it to something we have in Turkey, in fact pretty much the same but instead of squid or sea food, we cook the beans with meat.

Other than the stuff I described above, I got the chance to try several other dishes including more sea food (Don’t forget Bacalhau or cod fish! They say they got more than 100 ways of cooking it) and pastries. And there is Francesinha, a special dish originally from Porto.

About drinks, the two local beer brands are Sagres and Super Bock. I’m not much of a beer expert but I can say I liked Super Bock more. Of course the specialty of Portugal is not beer but rather wine. You have to make sure you try some Port wine, some Vinho Verde and various others in Portugal. Oh, I also had white sangria for the first time! Yeah it’s basically prepared with white wine instead of the usual red.

Portuguese Culture

Having spent 8 days in this nice country, I also got the chance to interact with local people and learn about their culture a bit. First of all, I should say that the Portuguese people are the most friendly folks I’ve ever met. They are always nice, polite and helpful toward you and do their best to help you if you’re in some sort of trouble, looking for an address, trying to communicate with a street vendor who only speaks Portuguese or asking for restaurant or pub suggestions for the day.

To be honest, at some point I even found Portuguese people too nice! One of the things I’ll never forget in my life happened on the morning after Santo Antonio festival in Lisbon as we were trying to find a cab to get to our place in Almada. After finding out that we had to wait in the longest line ever to get a cab downtown Lisbon we started seeing all these line cutters amazingly achieving their goals and stealing taxis from the people in the line. Funny thing for me was that the majority of the people don’t even react to the situation and just accept their destiny. I was then telling my friends, “OK, this is too nice! You can’t let these bullies do this to so many people, you gotta react people!”. As Portuguese folks were just not reacting to these line cutters, at some point my friends and I had to do the job and shout at these bullies. What happens? They piss off :) It was nice to see that Portuguese people also kinda started reacting after that, showing some self respect.

Other than that, I can say that Portuguese know how to enjoy life like the rest of the Latin people. Good food, good wine, good music and most importantly always a good mood! I can tell you with 100% certainty that you’ll enjoy your time in Portugal no matter how long your stay would be. Couple of days, a week, a month or even a semester for a university exchange. Go for it!!!


Category: Travel

4 Responses to Eight days in Portugal

  1. hatice turker says:

    Thank you very much your opinion about Portogal

  2. Anonymous says:

    We also enjoyed very much our time in South Portugal… Algarve region… pretty much where you didn’t go! Yes, I agree… Super Bock over Sagres… but let’s talk about wine, not beer!
    Theo

  3. Rodrigo says:

    AHAH! Great article,was quie nice to read it. Looking forward for the next articles, i believe you will have a lot of plenty time for it.
    Hope everything is ok.
    Waiting for a longer visit in Coimbra and maybe a trip to the South of Portugal.

    Peace

    Rodrigo

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the nice article – just reading makes me remember the great time and want to come back again and discover of this country.

    I vote for Sagres – their promotion Sardine hats were just too good!

    Bodo

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