It's been exactly a month since I boarded a plane to meet up with my bro-in-law Steve Rombough in Lisbon, Portugal for a week of exploring, laughing, eating drinking and relaxing. It's always nice to have some time before reflection on a trip like this because you're not clouded by the recency affect and don't have a good sense of how it compares to real life until you've distanced yourself from the experience.
So what on Earth did we do in Portugal for seven nights, having no plan once we landed other than the two cities we were planning on exploring? Well, we made it up as we went, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
During nights one and two, we explored Lisbon. It's a beautiful city built on a giant river and featuring a replica of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and a replica of Rio de Janiero's Christ the Redeemer. The city features some ridiculous slopes and steep hills that make San Francisco look like a prairie, so we certainly earned our beers and green wine from all of the walking we did on steep cobblestone streets.
We checked out pink street - a 30 metre alley with probably 10 or 15 bars including cool cafes and unique experiences. Some highlights of that area: a one hundred-year-old brothel turned cocktail lounge, and a cafe serving beer, wine, and hundreds of "brands" of sardines - a Portuguese specialty; An entire wall in that place was filled with tins of the tiny fish, all with slightly different flavours and seasonings.
We checked out Time Out Market - an enormous food hall featuring over 50 vendors of the best restaurants in Lisbon - and walked along the water to get some tasty golden hour pictures.
Finally in Lisbon we experienced Fado after a traditional Portuguese dinner. Fado is a popular form of Portuguese music featuring mournful tunes and lyrics, almost opera-like. They usually hold Fado in restaurants during or after dinner service where guests are served Vino Verde (green wine) and desert. Seemingly everyone in the restaurant knew the words except these two white guys from Canada, but we still enjoyed the cultural experience, and the wine!
Then we were off to Lagos, a beach town on the south coast (called the Algarve) of Portugal. We took two trains down to the coast and arrived at our Air BnB. Lagos was incredibly beautiful with yellow cliffs, crystal blue water, and very friendly locals. We took a boat tour, hit all of the local spots, went on a couple hikes, and took a food tour which was a great source for finding some friends for the next two days.
Because it was low season and tourism drives Lagos, Steve and I fit in like locals. We met a bunch of the town drunks at an English Pub in the town square on the first night. When we took our new-found Oregon-based friends (a husband and wife we met on our food tour) to the same pub the next night, we were welcomed loudly by all of the same people and our new friends were pleasantly confused at our celebrity status in the town!
We shipped it back to Lisbon for our last day, took part in a walking tour through some of the narrow streets and local neighbourhoods, before enjoying another wine and beer on our balcony to laugh about our week-long shenanigans.
Why this trip was awesome:
We had the same goals - we were both looking for fun, relaxation, and didn't care about churches or museums
We napped. Because you obviously have to order a Sagres (equivalent of Budweiser in Portugal) at lunch, you get the curse of the one beer and you get tired after all of the walking. We fell into the pattern of afternoon naps on day one, mostly driven by jet lag, and that stayed with us the rest of the way. Because we were on the same page, this kept us energized and ready to entertain the town locals each night!
The Portuguese culture. Europe is the best and we were continually impressed with how people casually spill out of cafes and onto the streets/alleys with coffees or beers to just enjoy life, chat and drink
Similar budgets - we wanted to enjoy the experience without paying 50 euros for every meal and whenever you're on the same page as your travel buddy, everything becomes easier
We met people. While we continued to have laughs and good chats the entire week, it's nice to pull some new characters into the story you're building. We met people pretty much every night - both tourists and locals, and it made for future laughs as we imagined their life stories and often ran into them again. In Lagos, I think we saw every person in the town the first night, then saw them in completely different roles the next day. Guitar player at a bar turned shop owner. Restaurant owner one night turned into the town drunk the next night. Like I said, made for many laughts
Easy-going yet spontaneous. Steve is super chill, and we were both able to run a fly-by-our-seat itinerary becasue we didn't really care about the consequences. Miss a tour? Who cares. Restaurant filled up and we can't get a reservation? No problem, we'll just go to the next one.
Best of all, I returned back to New York very relaxed which was essential. We came home on Saturday - another huge win to have the SUnday to get life in order, - and it was especially helpful to be rested since I was heading into a vicious travel run.
I would highly recommend Portugal, particularly Lisbon to people who are looking for a small, quaint town with beautiful scenary and friendly people. It also includes one of the best beaches in the world - voted as of 2012, so if you don't have as pale of a pigment as Steve, you can hit up Lagos in the summer and soak up the sun.
Thanks for reading,