Gal Pals in PortuGal

Hola a tod@s! (that’s a cool new morphological Spanish term I’ve learned, which is basically ‘todo/as’ but more gender non-specific than the more neutral ‘todos’. It’s only used in writing and I love it. I love how language changes and develops! And now I’m off-topic so I’ll get back to the update…) The last weekend of February (also my last weekend free from dissertation work until May) was our trip to Portugal!

Ella and I found a reasonably priced travel company to book a coach ride to Lisbon, hotels in Lisbon and Porto, and a coach ride back to Madrid, not to mention the wine tasting (which I’ll get to later) and the amazing buffet breakfast we got both mornings. Now, for those of you who don’t know me very well let me explain how I work at a buffet breakfast: I spend at least an hour eating everything. And I mean everything. I had at least 4 plates of food in the morning and I am not ashamed to admit that. Actually, I’m proud. I had so much food that I wasn’t hungry until dinner and, really, that’s the best way to travel, isn’t it? Full of food and content, even in the rain.

Oh yeah, that was the downside of the weekend; it rained the whole time. And I, unprepared as ever, didn’t have an umbrella.

So we started the trip around 1am, curled up on the coach and attempting to sleep, which wasn’t actually too difficult because most people were doing the same, unlike the nefarious ‘PartyBus’ with ESN (I love them really, but PartyBus is something I will never be able to do so early in the morning.). after a couple of stops en route for bathroom breaks and breakfast, we finally arrived in Libsoa, Portugal at the Jeronimos Monastery. After a short, delicious, café breakfast, we made our way back to the monastery in the pouring rain and were finally allowed inside for the tour. Something has to be said for going to visit new places in the rain, especially when they’re still so beautiful. When I went to visit Southampton University it was typical British weather, drizzling in the middle of Summer, but I still loved the campuses and the city so much that I made it my first choice. Having been there in the sun I can definitely say it only gets better. But the calmness and serenity of the monastery compared to the storm outside made me feel two things; lucky to be inside and fairly warm, and really at peace.

After the monastery it was back on the bus to visit the Tower, climbing up numerous wet, slippery steps for a very cloudy, foggy view of a stormy ocean. I imagine that’s a lot prettier in the sun, when it’s calm and blue, but for us it was just a fierce game of run and find some shelter to hide under. From what I remember understanding, the tower was a sort of fort, a defence against incoming enemy ships. Probably.

It was about lunch time after we finished our visit to the tower, and we were soon dropped off at the hotel. First impressions? Fantastic. The room was just lovely, but of course it would be, being a proper 4 star hotel in the middle of a capital city. And our travel reps had bought us all tartas de nata which are basically little custard tarts in a flaky pastry, but better than any custard tart I’ve ever had (Ella and I had about three each over the course of the weekend). After a quick lunch, not satisfied with just custard tarts, Ella and I decided to buy some amazing éclairs before heading off to the walking tour. We left the cakes in the room, so looking forward to coming back for them…

The walking tour was super interesting, with our highly competent guides telling us all about the history of Lisbon; the earthquake which destroyed the city, the French architect who built it up again to look Parisian, the peaceful revolution against the dictatorship. As we learned more about the city, one of the guides in Lisboa revealed herself to be quite the hidden talent; at fado. Fado is a style of singing, common in Portugal, and is regarded as something pretty prestigious these days, women who sing their sorrows and make you feel it too. And she made you feel it. And though it was a long tour, lasting into the early hours of the evening when it was dark and cold, it was full of history and culture, two things that really make a city break.

When in Portugal, pizza is the correct thing to eat right? Either way, that’s what we dined on. Pizza, cocktails and a bottle of Don Simon sangria to top the night off. We were originally planning on going out to some bars, but the call of our warm, dry hotel room, comfy beds, and Shakespeare In Love (the only thing I could find on the telly) was too much for us to resist… Sleep called and we answered. The next morning we were traveling to Oporto, so after a four course breakfast (I wasn’t kidding) and a quick trip to the Castle of S. Jorge (which also had a little archaeological part for us to explore) in the rain, we bought another tart each and headed onto the bus, pleased with our purchase, and excited about our next destination.

The walking tour in Oporto started pretty late, so it really ended up being a ‘see the city by night’ kind of tour, but that was still beautiful. The city hadn’t been demolished to the extent of Lisboa in the earthquake, but still enough that the same French architect decided to revamp half the city. Another beautiful European city with gorgeous gothic churches and hospitals, but Portugal also had traces of the dictatorship in its buildings, with totalitarian styled buildings dispersed throughout the city.

When we got down to the river, we were told the story of why the houses by the river are painted yellows and pinks; to bring back happiness to those who lost their husbands and brothers and fathers and sons (or really any man in their life) as they went sailing down the river, and never returned. They decided to cheer us up afterwards with literally the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had in my life. Literally. The best. Baked by a little old lady out of the back of her house, the company, allegedly, had an exclusive deal with her and we got to buy cakes a lot cheaper than they sell in the restaurants.

Perhaps the most interesting and exciting thing, for me at least, was the Livraria Lello, a bookshop which, allegedly, inspired JK Rowling for parts of the Harry Potter series. It was closed the day we got there, but the following morning Ella and I had and early breakfast and went exploring before the coach left, climbing up the Clerigos tower in the main square for a beautiful view of Oporto, and exploring the bookshop with its beautiful woodwork.

Before heading back to Madrid, there was one last stop on the list; wine-tasting. Ella and I met a small group of girls at the tasting, and nothing brings a group of strangers together like good wine, right? So we all sat and chatted over our three glasses of port wine, each more aged than the next, and decided to have lunch together; Italian food yet again! It only seemed right to start and finish our trip with the same cuisine. But soon it was time to go back to Spain, and after a quick pit stop in Salamanca for dinner, we were on the final stretch of the journey, and home sweet home at last.

I know this entry got a little long but thanks so much for sticking around to the end!

Besos

xxx

Featured image by Ella

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