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.

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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.

Stay:
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.

Eat:
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.

Shop:
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.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is one of my favourite cities in the world (and I’m not only saying that because I meet my boyfriend there). The city really is incredible – the architecture, the food, the quaint little streets, the people, the nightlife, the shopping… There are just so many aspects that make Lisbon a must visit city.

I was extremely lucky during my visit to Lisbon, as I was equipped with an amazing itinerary which was given to me by some friends who are from Cascais (a seaside town located just outside of Lisbon and also the subject of my next post) for a four day stay in Lisbon. I had initially asked for some suggestions as to what I should see and do whilst in Lisbon, and in reply I received a two page essay on how to have an unforgetable four day stay in Lisbon. I’ll have to share with you some of their suggestions for places to eat and things to see and do, from a local’s perspective. I was also lucky to be travelling with a friend, who incidentally bumped into a Portuguese friend of her’s in Chiado on our first day, so we ended up spending the next four nights with him and his friend (now my boyfriend) partying in Bairro Alto or Cais do Sodre until the wee hours of the morning.

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A few things to see in Lisbon:

Alfama: The oldest district in Lisbon and perhaps the most beautiful. Situated on and around a hill, the district is a maze of small narrow, and usually steep, streets, which has its own particular charm. It has always been and still is a lower class district, but it is the richest in culture and history, especially since, unlike the rest of Lisbon, it was not decimated by the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake. From Alfama you can get the best views of Lisbon. The best viewing places are from the Castle Soa Jorge and Miradouro Santa Luzia (which I think is the best).

Lisbon nightlife: Perhaps the best in Europe. If you’re a fan of big nightclubs, head to LUX, Av. Infante D. Henrique Armazém B Loja 8 – it’s the place to be. But don’t arrive until 2 or 3am. If you prefer to bar scene, go to Bairro Alto or Cais do Sodre. The small streets in these districts are littered with bars, but everyone is drinking in the streets. There is such a good atmosphere, you don’t even realise the time going by, until the sun starts to rise.

Portuguese Tarts – The real ones!: Take the tram from downtown Lisbon to Belem – just west of the centre, by the sea. Visit Pasteis de Belem, Rua de Belem nr 84-92. This is the home of the original Portuguese tart. They still use the original secret recipe and there is always a line out the door. But they are worth the wait.

Out Jazz: Every Sunday afternoon, Jardim da Tapada das Necessidades, located in Chiado, is full of beautiful people chilling out in the park and listening to jazz. A nice way to wind down after a crazy weekend partying.

Shopping: Lisbon is a great place to go shopping. Aside from all the big labels, such as Zara, Mango, H & M, etc. There are a few beautiful little boutique stores hidden throughout the city. One of my favourites is A Vida Portuguesa, where you can buy also sorts of traditional Portuguese products, from sardines in a can, the porcelain, textiles, cosmetics, etc. Another store I fell in love with was Santos Oficios Arts, Rua Madalena 87. This shop is filled with Portuguese handicrafts, all created by local artists and art cooperatives. I bought a beautiful patchwork quilted bag. Devine!

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Places to Eat: I was given an exhaustive list of restaurants to eat at in Lisbon. Unfortunately, we only had the chance to try a few of them.
–    Pharmacia: tapas @ Rua Marechal Saldanha, 1 (make reservations +351 213462146)
–    Esperanza: Italian @ Bairro Alto, Rua do Norte nr 95 (makereservations phone: +351 213432027)
–    Buenos Aires Café: Really really AMAZING steaks @ Calçada do Duque 31 B (I suggest that they make reservations for a table outside phone: +351 213420739)
–    Lost In (for evening drinks or brunch/ snacks): Nice terrace with a view. To chill out @ Rua Dom Pedro V 56, Principe Real
–    Enjoy a bottle of wine or have lunch at Chapitô (in Alfama, Costa do Castelo, n.º 1 / 7)
–     Petiscaria Ideal (Delicious tapas @ Rua da Esperança 100, Santos)
–     The Independent Hostel (Rua São Pedro Alcântara 81)
–    Go for brunch at the Kaffehouse (Rua da Anchieta nr 3, Chiado)

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Essentials:

Getting There:
Lisbon is well connected by air, rail and road. There are good connections between Lisbon and other major cities throughout Europe. Lisbon is well connected by rail to other Portuguese cities – there is now a high-speed train and fares are cheap, making travel around Portugal from Lisbon rather pleasant. Unfortunately, we took the difficult and uncomfortable route on our arrival to Lisbom, taking an overnight bus from Seville, and getting little sleep in the process. Arriving at the bus station in Lisbon at 5am in the morning, having to wait for the metro to start to get to our hostel, and then finally arriving at our hostel and having to wait for a 10am check-in wasn’t the most luxurious of our travel experiences.

Where to stay:
We stayed at Good Morning Hostel, Praça dos Restauradores 65, 1250-188 Lisbon, on the recommendation of a friend who knows the owners. The hostel is extremely well located in the very centre of Lisbon, the staff were friendly and helpful, the rooms and common areas clean and beautifully decorated, and the breakfast of all you can eat and freshly baked waffles didn’t go astray. I have to say it was one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in.

Eat:
There is a list in the main body of this post of some great places to eat in Lisbon. One that I can strongly recommend is The Decadente, at The Independent Hostel. The decor of this restaurant come bistro is fresh and funky and the food is first class. For the quality and flavour of the food, the prices are surprisingly good – you can have a main course and a glass of wine for 15 euros.

Seville, Spain

Before I start, one thing I have to say about Seville is that I recommend, if at all possible, not to visit in the hight of summer. Although such a beautiful city, rich in culture and history, it becomes unbearably hot in July and August. We visited towards the end of August, and apparently we just missed a two week long heatwave. We missed it, meaning that the 35 degree celsius days we were experiencing were cooler than those the previous week. So, if you’re not a fan of hot weather, try visiting Seville in the spring or autumn months.

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Ok, so Seville, known as Sevilla by the Spanish, is the capital of Andalusia. The city was founded in Roman times, during which is was known as Hispalis. It was conquered by the Moors in 712 and became the capital for the kings of the Umayyad Caliphate. In 1248 it was conquered by the Christian King Ferdinand III and continued to developed under the Christian influences.
Today, Seville is a major tourist attraction for visitors of southern Spain and Europe in general. There is a plethora of places to stay, fantastic restaurants to eat in and a myriad of places to visit and explore.

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Places to visit:

The Cathedral of St Mary: This Christian cathedral was built on the foundations of the original Islamic mosque which was located on this site. Containing both Christian and Islamic design and motifs (the Giralda, which was originally a minaret and later converted to a bell tower, is a clear example of the converting and blending of the original Islamic building to a Christian church).

The Alcazar: The former Moorish Palace. A blending of Moorish, Renaissance and English traditions, the rooms and gardens of this palace are impressive and worth the visit.

Plaza de Espana: Set in Maria Luisa Park, this enormous and impressive building was built by the architect Aníbal González for the 1929 Exposicion Ibero-Americana. Today it is full of people enjoying the sunshine, admiring the building and exploring the adjacent park.

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Getting There:
There are regular bus and train services between Seville and other major towns in Andalusia, such as Cordoba and Seville. There are less frequent services to smaller towns and villages, as well as inter-city and international services to and from destinations such as Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.

Stay:
We stayed at the Oasis Palace Hostel. Like others of this chain of hostels, it offers everything you want and more from a hostel – good location, clean rooms, organised activities, complementary breakfast, happy hour and even a roof-top swimming pool. Aside from having continuous problems with a card key to get into our room, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Oasis Palace Seville.

Eat:
Aside from frozen yogurt (the best one is located beneath the Metropol Parasol), all three nights we stayed in Seville was had a tapas dinner at Dos de Mayo, Plaza de la Gavidia 6. This was by far the best tapas we had in all of Spain. The food, the service and the entertainment by the bar/waitstaff was second to none. Try the grilled squid, drizzled with extra virgin oil oil, garlic and parsley, or the eggplant fritters, lightly battered and drizzled with molasses syrup.