Porto, Portugal

If you loved Lisbon, you’ll be mad about Porto. Porto, or Oporto in Portuguese, is everything you love about Lisbon, but better. More culture, more history, more scenic views, more funky cafes and restaurants, and more beautiful historical architecture. Unlike Lisbon which was decimated in the 1755 earthquake (thus there are hardly any buildings in the city which date prior to this time), Porto did not have such misfortune and many of its streets and buildings have remained intact for centuries. You get this authentic, history and culture rich feeling about Porto, which is somewhat lacking in Lisbon. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Lisbon, but Porto has something more, something special.

Porto is also the place where port wine originated. The vineyards of the Douro Valley are world renown for their exquisite wines, and are connected to Porto via the Douro River. In the past, and even today, the Douro River was an extremely important trading route, taking the wines from the valley to Porto and beyond. Today there are many cellar doors on the southern side of the river, where you can taste and purchase authentic port wine.

Porto1 IMG_9788 IMG_9789 Porto2 IMG_9796 IMG_9811 IMG_9814 IMG_9817 IMG_9818 Porto4 IMG_9833 IMG_9842 IMG_9845 IMG_9846 IMG_9851 Porto5 IMG_9860IMG_9826 Porto6 IMG_9873Essentials:

Getting There:
There is a frequent train and bus services connecting Lisbon and Coimbra to Porto. Ryanair offers cheap flights to and from London, making Porto a desired travel destination for Londoners in recent years. After Porto, I travelled to Madrid and initially considered taking the bus. However, I found a cheap flight with Ryanair, for 20 euros, to Madrid, so always check the flight connections, before enduring a long and tiresome bus trip.

I stayed at an amazing hostel, The Gallery Hostel, located on Rua de Miguel Bombarda, in the arts district of Porto. The hostel was newly and tastefully decorated, spotlessly clean and they even organised an amazing tapas and wine tasting dinner for 15 euros while I was there. The hostel also doubles as an art gallery, exhibiting the works of local artists.

Cafe Majestic: A beautiful, old world cafe located in the centre of Porto. Very ‘belle epoque’, you’ll feel like you are dining at The Ritz. A great place to grab a coffee and a croissant or a pasteis de nata (you are in Portugal of course) and watch the world go by.
Favorita: A cute little restaurant on Rua de Miguel Bombarda, serving a set lunch menu at a great price.
Casa de Pasto Palmeira: Located beside the river, this little restaurant serves traditional Portuguese tapas. Definitely worth a visit.

A Vida Portuguesa: By far my favourite store. Selling traditional Portuguese handcrafts and products, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The building in which the store is situated in on Galeria de Paris, in the beautiful Clerigos neighbourhood, is exquisite, with timber floors, vaulted ceilings and an elegant staircase to the store (The Fernandes Mattos store is located on the ground floor of the building).
Aguas Furtadas Design: A fell in love with this store. Located in a small shopping arcade on Rua Miguel Bombarda, it is one of a handful of art/design stores in the complex. Selling handcrafted items made by local designers and artists, this store supports local crafts in the hope that they do not disappear. I had a great chat to the saleswomen about Portuguese arts and crafts. I purchased a number of items, including a beautiful Portuguese porcelain cabbage plate. If you don’t get the chance to get to Porto, they sell online and ship internationally. Visit their Facebook page for details.
Livraria Lello: I’m mad about books, so my visit to Porto wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this ‘institution’. Open since 1906, there is little wonder why it continues to attract customers. The Art Nouveau facade, the stained glass ceiling and the impressive grand staircase. Not to mention is amazing collection of books! Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed in the store, so I don’t have any images.

Coimbra, Portugal

This city’s claim to fame is its university, which is one of the oldest in the world. Although Coimbra was the nation’s capital during the high middle ages, its importance was superseded by that of Lisbon. There are still however, many important buildings and civil structures, such as the roman aqueduct, which can be found throughout the city.

Coimbra is very much a student’s city –  young people from all over Lisbon, Europe and the world come to study at Coimbra university. The city perhaps isn’t as beautiful as Lisbon or of course Porto (my next post), but it has it own character and charm. It’s cafes and patisseries are full of local delicacies, such as the Pasteis de Santa Clara, shopping along Rue Ferreira Borges in Baixa (the city centre) is a must with all the big labels, as well as some charming boutiques, check out Mercado D. Pedro V for some fresh product, wander through the narrow streets until you reach the famous university and explore, stroll along the river and take in the beautiful views… You might even be lucky enough to stumble along some singing Fado of Coimbra (a tradition singing styles from both Coimbra and Lisbon).

I unfortunately was a little under the weather on the day which I visited Coimbra, due to too many crazy late nights in Lisbon. I only really had half a day exploring the city, so I felt I didn’t do it the justice it deserves.

Coimbra1IMG_9673 IMG_9681 IMG_9689Coimbra2 IMG_9695 IMG_9697 IMG_9698 IMG_9700 IMG_9707 IMG_9708 IMG_9711Coimbra3 IMG_9720 IMG_9722 IMG_9724 IMG_9729 IMG_9735 IMG_9736IMG_9747Essentials:

Getting There:
There are regular trains going to and from Lisbon and Porto to Coimbra. From both Lisbon Oriente and Porto Sao Bento the travel time is approximately 2 hours and cost 17euros. The inter-city trains arrive at Coimbra B train station. From the train station, take a bus or taxi to the city centre. There are also buses which cover this route, but they take a little longer and the fares are quite similar.

I stayed at Grande Hostel de Coimbra, Rua Antero Quental nº196. The hostel has a very home-like feel to it and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful. It is located in a quite residential area, but is within easy walking distance to the university and town centre.

Coimbra is well-known for its handcrafted pottery. There are many stores in Baixa where you can buy it. Prices and quality do vary.

Cascais + Sintra, Portugal

Just  a quick little post about Cascais and Sintra. During my stay in Lisbon, I took some time out of the city to visit the towns of Cascais and Sintra. Although both a within close distance to Lisbon – about a half hour train trip, they are vastly different in appearance. Cascais, a former fishing village, has become a summer vacation spot for the rich and famous. Located on an L-shaped coastline, it has beautiful beaches on both sides, creating a very summer resort kind of atmosphere. Sintra, on the other hand, is located in the green mountainous hinterland. The town is surrounded by lush green forests and is home to many amazing stately homes and castles. Two which are well worth seeing and are open to the public are Pena National Castle and Quinta da Regaleira (my favourite).

Untitled-1 IMG_9498 IMG_9518 Untitled-2 IMG_9503 Untitled IMG_9540 IMG_9552 Untitled-3 IMG_9570 Port1 IMG_9592 IMG_9595 IMG_9590 IMG_9598 IMG_9600 Port2 IMG_9638 IMG_9645 Port3


Getting There:
Cascais – from Lisbon take the train from Cais do Sodre train station. Trains leave every half an hour or so for Estoril/Cascais. Cascais is the final stop, so you shouldn’t get lost. The train take 30 minutes to Cascais and the train station is located in the centre of town.
Sintra – from Lisbon take the train from Rossio train station. Again, the trains to Sintra are very frequent and the trip takes about half an hour. Sintra is the last station on the line.

In Cascais, don’t forget to have ice-cream from Santini. This ice-cream parlour has been in business since 1949 and is an institution in Cascais. They have perhaps the best ice-cream I have tried with some of the most amazing flavours.

Tasmania, Australia

Last weekend my boyfriend and I headed down to Tasmania for four days to explore this southern most state of Australia. I have never been to Tasmania, or Tassie as we Australians affectionately call it, but had heard many great things about it, so was eager to visit and discover what everyone was raving about.

We flew into Hobart on  Thursday morning, hired a car and set out on our four-day whirlwind trip around the state. We preplanned our route, focusing mainly on the eastern coastline of Tasmania, including visits to Port Arthur, Freycinet National Park, Tha Bay of Fires and Cradle Mountain.
IMG_2068Untitled-1 Untitled-2

Port Arthur: In the 1830s, this small town on the Tasman Peninsula became a penal colony for British and Irish convicts, most of which were hard criminals with a series of offences. Port Arthur was a highly undesirable place to be sent to, due to the hard labour which the prisoners endured and the punishment systems, which ranged from corporal punishment to the ‘silent system’. Being on a peninsular, it was extremely difficult to escape, as there is only a very narrow way at Eaglehawk Neck (which is worth a quick visit to see the Tessellated Pavement – above). Unfortunately, there isn’t much left of the original settlement. It is believed that only about 30% remains, due to the site being plundered and ravished by bushfires. However, the site is very beautiful, located right on the Tasman Sea and surrounded by lush forest, it seems like some sort of strange paradise. I was although a little disappointed with the site – I was expecting more ruins and more of an insight into how the convicts lived here. But I guess it is worth the visit, if only to learn a bit more about Australia’s convict past.

Freycinet National Park: Located on the east coast of Tasmania, this is one national park which may have the best views in Australia. Freycinet National Park contains bays with sapphire blue waters and white sandy beaches, surrounded by knuckled of granite mountains. The most spectacular view is perhaps the one you are welcomed with when driving into Freycinet – the dramatic peaks of The Hazards. We arrived in the late afternoon, so the golden hue of the setting sun amplified the colours of the eroded granite. We had just enough time before the sun set to walk to the lighthouse and the Wineglass Bay lookout, which just blew us away.

Bay of Fires: Although the unfortunately little visited northern east coast of Tasmania is the Bay of Fires. It’s clear azure waters, sandy white beaches and rocky outcrops covered in red algae create one of the most stunning landscapes. We visited Binalong Bay and spent the morning walking along the beach and exploring the collections of boulders. I original thought that the Bay of Fires was named as such, because of the fire red algae growing on the boulders which frame the beaches along the bay. But rather, it has a historical foundation, dating from 1773 when Captain Tobias Furneaux noticed fires along the bay, signalling that the coast was inhabited by the native Aborigines.

Cradle Mountain National Park: Perhaps one of the most famous parts of Tasmania is Cradle Mountain, which can be found in the very heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness. There are many walks to do around the national park, ranging in length and difficulty. We decided to do the Dove Lake walk, which is a 6km walk around Dove Lake, located at the base of Cradle Mountain. The walk takes approximately 2 hours, and due to the microclimate around Cradle Mountain, it is usually completed in the rain. We were lucky enough that the sun shone for about a third of our walk, but we were still very wet once we returned to the car. Despite the rain, the walk was spectacular – the rain added an eerie, yet beautiful, atmosphere to the landscape, as you can see by some of the photographs.

Untitled-3 IMG_2101 IMG_2103 IMG_2126 IMG_2148 IMG_2160 IMG_2159 IMG_2205 Tassie1 IMG_2218 IMG_2221 IMG_2217 IMG_2222 IMG_2255 Tassie3 IMG_2266 Tassie4 IMG_2283 IMG_2288 Untitled-5 IMG_2316 Tassie6 Tassie7 IMG_2345 Tassie8 IMG_2335 IMG_2360 Tassie10 IMG_2375 IMG_2384 Tassie11 IMG_2392 Tassie2 Tassie9 Tassie12 Tassie13 Tassie14 IMG_2480Tassie15 IMG_2508 Tassie 16 Tassie17 IMG_2534 Tassie18 Tassie19 IMG_2555 Tassie20 Tassie21 Tassie22 IMG_2585 IMG_2587 IMG_2588 IMG_2591 Tassie23 IMG_2622 Tassie24 IMG_2624 Tassie25 IMG_2635 IMG_2638 Tassie26 IMG_2648 Tassie27 IMG_2673 Tassie28 IMG_2678 Tassie29 Tassie30 IMG_2689


Getting There:
Virgin and Jet Star fly to both Hobart and Launceston from most capital cities in Australia. If you book far enough in advance, the flights are reasonably cheap. We purchased flights Sydney to Hobart, Hobart to Launceston for about AU$200. The Spirit of Tasmania ferry services still operate between Melbourne and Davenport. The trip takes about 9 hours and fares vary depending on your travel itinerary. Check their website for details. Tasmania is best explored by car, so if you don’t bring your own on the ferry, it is best to hire one from either Hobart or Launceston airport. There are a number of different hire car companies, such as Europcar and Budget.

Pay a little extra and upgrade from budget accommodation. Unlike hostels in Europe and South America, the standard of hostels in Tassie was shockingly low. We unfortunately didn’t have the best experiences in hostels, so I’m not going to recommend any of them. But like anywhere, prices and standards vary. Looking back, we probably should have stayed in small towns, such as Evendale near Launceston (which we stumbled across accidentally when we missed the turn off to the airport – it was such a pretty town), rather than in the cities.

Hobart – Jackman and McRoss Cafe: Located in Battery Point, this quaint little cafe/bakery/patisserie has an old world English charm about it. The cakes, breads and pastries are absolutely stunning. So well presented and they taste even better. And not to mention their granola, which is to die for. Highly recommended for breakfast, lunch, snacks. Unfortunately they don’t do dinner.
St Helens – The Blue Shed: We spent the night in St Helens and had dinner at this restaurant which came highly recommended. Everything was lovely and the service was fantastic. From the pumpkin sourdough starters to the Blue Eyed Cod or Pork Belly and finally the Creme Brulee  finished off with Bay of Fires Pinot Gris, a delightful dinner.