Why did I pick Portugal?
That’s always a worthwhile question when you are totally free and can basically go anywhere you want. A privilege, folks, and sometimes a dilemma. Friends told me to go to Spain and that would have been easier with my Spanish. But for some reason that actually seemed too civilized. Too easy.
Why Portugal? Because on the Mediterranean Coast of France in the town of Cassis, many years ago, when I could not find the hotel, much less a place to park, a Portuguese man, speaking no English, got in my car and navigated me to both. Kind! So, I thought, Portugal is full of kind people. So, let’s go!
My experiences of Lisbon and Porto have been a collage.
Each city has churches, museums, castles, palaces, Moorish fortresses, monasteries, wall-paintings, meandering medieval streets snaking up hill-sides and views. Each hostel has walking tours that expand on history and customs. Each street has pastries. (And we are not going to mention the hordes of tourists and souvenir shops.)
Here are a few in Lisbon:
The best place to join the crowd with the setting sun. Is this the Golden Gate Bridge? And the statue of Jesus to the left?
And in Porto:
And are the people kind, you may wonder? Was my initial purpose fulfilled?
This welcoming clerk at the wonderful Home Lisbon Hostel poured me a glass of port to celebrate my daughter’s pregnancy announcement (recieved on the bus from the airport.)
Yes, so very kind!
I’ve been told by the Portuguese that they are emotional. Either happy and kind or upset and grouchy. 99% of the time they were so helpful! A hostel guide helping me up and down a beach-side cliff. A young man running after me, after I’d asked him the way to the San Bento train station because it was a land-mark for a certain street, concerned that I wasn’t actually entering the train station. A cleaning lady worried the hurricane might have hit my house. A taxi driver actually refusing to take me to the hostel because it was just around the corner – and walking me to the corner. A waitress in Sintra writing down detailed directions to a bar that could tell me about the pre-Christian customs. A boat-ride ticket-writer, when I lost my ticket, walking over to the ticket-taker and saying I was valid.
Grouchy? Only maybe twice. A train ticket writer who was upset that I asked for a senior rate but didn’t have my passport with me. Can’t remember the other.
Warning you folks that Portugal may seem disorganized.
Especially for me coming from the sane, organized and polite country of Norway. To get into the Lello bookstore, which JK Rowlings had apparently frequented when she taught in Porto, you had to get into a line. But no one told you first you had to buy a ticket somewhere else. And in that somewhere else no one told you you needed to leave your backpack, that is until you got back into line with your ticket and were told to go back and leave your back-pack and lost your place in line !!
Yep, the Lello bookstore does resemble Hogwarts. And this standard garb for University students probably inspired the Harry Potter get-up.
(Re. Disorganization: And in Sintra a very helpful waitress wrote down the directions to a special bar. When I told her the next morning that I couldn’t find the bar after one hour of trudging along a lane with admittedly a great view? A Portuguese shrug. “Well, they don’t have a sign.” Really??? Some things would be nice to know in advance.)
Would I recommend Portugal?
For me, it was a must go. Yes, yes, yes!! But after about three to five days in each city, when the brain is confused by the disconnected collage, by the hodgepodge, I’d recommend to get out of the city. Take the tram from Lisbon to Belem and eat pastry. Get connected to Nature. Go to the sea side. Or a village.To a hill-side of Sintra with its changing light. Schedule a sun-set. Or inland to an Eco-village. Part of the greater collage of life experiences.
And experience them with me in following blogs... stay tuned.