This is a LONG post so … settle in! :)
If there’s a such thing as a travel bug – I have definitely been bitten! I have had such an urge to travel in the last year or so especially and I’ve done a bit of traveling around the US (thanks to having lots of friends in far away states!), but what I really craved was getting out of the comfort zone and into a truly new (to me) place and culture! So when it turned out that the kids I nanny were taking a few extra days for their already week-long spring break I decided (rather last minutely) to figure out a plan and get my butt to anywhere but the United States!
So the next step was calling up my Mom. Because we have been trying to make a family trip or a “girls trip” (sans my dad and brother) to Europe happen for years. And Because my original idea was to do a 5 day hike to Machu Picchu and my mom walks like 8 miles a day, so I was pretty confident she could do it! She was totally on board for a trip and after some discussions about logistics we – rather randomly – landed on taking a trip to Portugal!!!
Our reasons for choosing it were basically that my mom suggested a Spain/Portugal trip at first as we were throwing out ideas (after we nixed Machu Picchu for a couple reasons) and I knew I wasn’t super interested in Spain (not that I’m not, just that I have lots of other places I want to see before I get to Spain on the list.) so I looked up Portugal because I realized I knew basically NOTHING about it. Within about 30 minutes I was totally hooked on the idea of Portugal! 1) It’s small enough that we could see a fair amount of it (although we saw not nearly enough still!) and could travel fairly easily and quickly within it. 2) It has the history we both love about Europe. 3) It’s not a super popular destination (at least, for Americans) so it felt kind of unique to me. 4) it seemed to have fairly decent weather for late March, early April, which was a big one for me as I didn’t want to be somewhere totally freezing and rainy like Spring in the States can be. So we decided – PORTUGAL!
The next thing we (or at least I) did was to kind of freak out about knowing what to do next. I have only been out of the country a few times and every time they’ve been entirely planned by someone else (a teacher, a coach, my parents) so I was rather overwhelmed. And I fell into the internet one day as I was searching about Portugal and found an amazing travel blog of a woman named Margo. I read months and months of her posts and decided to send her a message and see if she could help us plan our trip or give us any tips or anything! Turns out she was just getting started as a travel advisor of sorts where she can help someone plan a specific trip or she has some already set up itineraries for some popular trips and she has just TONS of info on her site. She was SUCH an awesome tool for us in helping us figure out what the heck we were even doing traveling to a foreign country and she helped us find some of the BEST BEST things we did/saw/ate while we were there! Check her out if you’re planning a trip pretty much anywhere in Europe especially!
So enough really about how we got prepared and lets get to the trip itself!! And more importantly, the pictures!! We flew into Lisbon, landing early in the morning. Our amazing Airbnb hosts couldn’t let us into our place until the afternoon, but they so kindly let us drop alllll our bags at their restaurant so we could explore the city until we could get into our place. Even better for us, the restaurant was really close to the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which was high on our must-see list. So off we walked to check it out! The day was pretty rainy and gloomy, which was a bummer, but we were just so excited to be there we didn’t mind a little drizzle and clouds! And it wasn’t too cold so it was all good!
The castle has an AMAZING view of the city and we were blown away getting a birds eye view of what we were going to explore the next few days:
Our first selfie on Portuguese soil! :)
So. The castle is home to a bunch of peacocks. Which was surprising to say the least. But they were SO cool!!
So many peacocks.
I knew going into the trip that Lisbon was a pretty colorful city. It was just so much more beautiful in real life. I couldn’t get enough!
After we left the castle we had some time to walk around and grab lunch before grabbing our bags again and getting an uber (side note, holy crap uber was so glorious and cheap and useful for us while there!) to our Airbnb apartment. Here is where I tell you that I we had our one and only bad meal in Portugal. Which is unfortunate on one hand because I was a little worried I would hate all Portuguese food. But on the other hand, it was nice to get that out of the way and then have AMAZING food from there on out. We just had bad luck walking into a place with no idea what anything was or if it was a good place and we picked some less-appetizing options. After that meal, all the Portuguese food was fantastic! This was also where I started to really fall in love with this city. Just walking around with no real plan or place we had to be was the best. The buildings in Lisbon were seriously so gorgeous. And I loved watching the famous tram 28 rattle up and down the narrow cobblestone streets!
We wandered all around Alfama (the old historic area of Lisbon) which is all tiny narrow streets and lots of steep hills and stair cases and I just LOVED it.
We finally got to our apartment and our amazing hosts left us Portuguese cheese and sausage (which my mom and I – being the Wisconsinites we are – had a good laugh about coming all the way to Portugal and being greeted with the same thing we put out for guests in Wisconsin) and Portuguese wine and a basket of amazing Portuguese baked treats. Including our first taste of the pastel pastries which are famous to Portugal and SO SO SO good. Our apartment also had a KILLLER view. We were on top of a big hill overlooking the whole city and our apartment had a cute little porch with a hammock and basically I could have spent my 3 days in Lisbon right there!
You could see the monastery to the left and the Castelo de Sao Jorge we had been on earlier that day straight ahead. I have lots of shots of this view throughout this post!
Such a pretty city!!
We were pretty darn tired, but we knew we needed to have a good dinner to make up for our less-than-good lunch, and we knew it was best to stay up as late as we could into the evening before crashing. So we decided to head back to our Airbnb hosts restaurant and grab dinner. And of course we walked because that’s really the best way to see everything!
Luckily our dinner was AMAZING and we promptly realized we just had a bad experience and Portuguese food is actually phenomenal! I don’t really have any good pics of it, but I do have a killer shot of our view at night with the city lit up and that I took when we got home and right before I fell dead asleep!
The next morning we were up early for a full day tour to some of the nearby little cities outside of Lisbon – Sintra and Cascais. We did a tour with Lisbon Riders and the owner, Nuno, was our tour guide and he was AWESOME. Such a cool guy. We were also very happy to see it was nice and sunny and warm out so I got my wish of not having a rainy cold vacation! :)
After walking around the village of Sintra we headed WAYYY up the hill (it reminded me of driving in the mountains in CO!) to the Pena Palace. Which is basically exactly what my own personal castle would look like if I had the means to build myself one!
I LOVED how colorful and big and over the top it was!
Look at those colors!
The palace is build WAYYYY up high so from their big porches and verandas and walkways you can see for miles and miles all the way to the ocean and the towns and you can see even an old defense castle on a nearby hill!
Talk about a view. When your castle has a view of a castle!
How amazing is this place. Built right into the rocky hillside. LOVE.
Then we were off to see the ocean. Which is one of the reasons I loved the idea of Portugal. I love the Ocean. I love the smell and the sights and the seafood! It was obviously too cold for us to go INTO the water, though I love to swim in the ocean too. But check out this VIEW! What an amazing little town.
The upside of a tour is that we had people readily available to take real photos for us and not selfies!
We then went to a nearby family-owned restaurant for lunch. It was a very Portuguese place. As in, we were the ONLY people who spoke english there. It was packed full of Portuguese people. Which is how I knew I was about to eat some EXCELLENT food. My mom and I shared a fresh sea bass. Which you get as a whole fish – bones and head and tail and all! – and was SO SO SO good I had that same meal like 4 more times during my stay and various places. Also the grandma is the one out at the big grill cooking up the meats for everyone. And she was ADORABLE. She saw me hovering nearby clearly wanting to peek and what she was doing and take a photo, but not wanting to disrupt her. And she waved me over with a big smile on her face and using basic hand gesture sign language she showed me all the things she was grilling up and let me take some photos and I used my VERY minimal Portuguese to tell her the meal was “muito bom” which means “very good” and she just was the cutest lady. I love her. And she was so indicative of the kinds of people we met all over Portugal. They were the NICEST people. They loved talking with us about our home in American and our trip to Portugal and they’re so proud of their country and were so excited to show it all off to us!
Then we headed out to the western most point of continental Europe, known as Cabo da Roca. It was gorgeous and a pretty cool thing to know you were at the far end of the continent!
We could not get over the size of the waves on the coast. They were HUUUGE and they were so cool crashing against the rocks!
This photo does not do the massiveness of these waves justice. They were HUGE.
After a very full day of touring and eating we were back at your apartment just in time for this AMAZING sunset view from our balcony. Holy moly it was a stunner!
After watching the sun set for a bit we walked down back into Alfama to wander around in the nice weather and beautiful dusk before dinner. All over the city they have these Miradouros which are basically view points but we were told they translate more directly as “golden views” and every one we stopped at was amazing! This was my personal favorite one and I loved it especially at this time of day when the sun was nearly set and it was so colorful and beautiful.
This is going to be blown up on my wall as soon as possible!!
The next day we woke up bright and early (thats not true. we both slept in and lounged around a bit before hitting up a nearby pastry shop for breakfast ;)) and went off to check out the river front neighborhood of Belem. Sadly, it was a day when none of the museum and monuments and public places down there weren’t open for us to go into, but we could still see them all from the outside so we made do! Starting with the Presidents house! We even saw a guard change!
All over Lisbon they use white limestone mined in Portugal combined with black cobble stoned to make patterns on the sidewalks. My Mom especially loved them (she has probably 25 different patterns photographed in her phone) but I had to grab at least a few shots with them!
The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos was the one thing I was the most sad wasn’t open that day because it looked SO cool form the outside!
Then there was the huge monument to the discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos) which was far more impressive in real life than any of the pictures I had seen online! And from the monument you could see a great view of the April 25th Bridge which is just like San Francisco’s golden gate bridge!
There was also the Torre de Belem which was really cool!
Belem’s streets were a little more wide open than where we were staying and had previously been in Lisbon, but it definitely wasn’t lacking color or character!!
Love these little streets!
Then we had lunch at Time Out Market which had been highly recommended to us by the family that had been on our tour the day before. It’s half an open air market where you can buy local fresh food and fish and meat and the other half is a big room of stalls for local restaurants where you can get pretty much anything and everything you could ever want!! We didn’t branch too far out of our comfort zone here (mostly because I was really overwhelmed and really hungry haha) so we just got Pizza from one stall and burgers from another. BUT! They were some of the best pizza and burgers we’ve had EVER! We were talking about how we’d heard from so many Portuguese people already how much they love food and take great pride in their food so even though pizza and burgers were very normal american things for us, they made them SO well compared to a lot of what we can get here in the states. Also – especially with their burgers – they really branch out with their ideas. So I had burgers with Portuguese cheese on them and they have unique flavors and sauces and breads – they were definitely not just burgers with american cheese and ketchup!
We spent the afternoon walking around some other new neighborhoods of Lisbon soaking it all up
We rested up that night then before and early train trip to the south of Portugal! Part 2 coming tomorrow!! -Katie