Oporto is a place of street art. So much so that it deserves its own post…
Oporto – Portugal’s second biggest city is a bustling place with many tourists, a lot of beautiful street art, wonderful architecture and culinary specialty that really is a special one.
I had found myself a couchsurfing host with a dog. Both of them were really nice and welcoming. In fact I was staying with a celebrity – the youngest coach of a first league women’s volleyball team (you might be able to guess, that means he didn’t have a lot of money). Together with me a heat wave arrived in the city and my stay was accompanied by lovely blue skies and sweltering 38° C. Lucky us we were invited to a friend of my host or rather the parents of his girlfriend who had a massive pool in the backyard. After a short and sweaty visit and look around in the city we went to said friends parents and spent a carefree rest of the day with a goup of interesting and happy people, in the company of 5 dalmatian dogs. Every couple of hours there were some new food and drinks around and I especially didn’t have to worry about anything as they were mostly speaking portuguese and all I had to do was be, eat and drink.
On my second day I went on a trip around the city by myself. I checked out the main sights, walked up a church tower and I learned that 38°C is something that my body really has issues with.
Oporto is home to a very special book store – Livraria Lello. It is almost 130 years old and shows an interesting and strikingly beautiful architecture. That and probably the fact that J.K. Rolling took inspiration for the Hogwarts library in this place make it to a highly frequented sight. You actually have to pay to get in (which you get back if you buy something) and if you come at the wrong time, wait in a very loooong line. I came at the right time and wasn’t mad I payed 4€ for this stunning place.
Before I ventured back to my host I had to try this very special local dish that was signposted everywhere (“we have it here!”) and that my host wanted to bring to the rest of the world. Francesinha is something like a sandwich – two white toasts hold steak, bacon, sausage and Linguiça (Portuguese sausage). All of this gets covered in melted cheese and then all of that gets soaked and covered in a brownish sauce made out of tomatoes and beer. It is pretty much what you think it would be. For me it wasn’t that great of a meal even though a memorable one and I am glad I tried this extraordinary thing. Afterwards it’s hard to move.
Oporto – a busy and lovely place. There is always more to see and experience but after two days I was happy to continue north where a national park was waiting for me.
Driving in Portugal was one of those things where little preparation bit me in the butt. The road map I bought at a street vendor in Lisbon was horrible and streets were not really well signposted. From Lisbon to Porto on the Autostrada is about a three hour drive. So I thought taking a detour along the coast can’t be thaat much longer. Oh boy was I wrong. I wanted to spend two nights out in the hammock on the way to Porto. I didn’t expect to be driving almost all of those two days (including side detours voluntary and involuntary). Looking back I don’t know why I didn’t even ask google on the matter. If I do now, it tells me that those three hours become eight. I don’t have any regrets though. I had reasons for my decisions at any given time and I encountered beautiful places and wonderful people along the way.
The drive on my second day was characterized by beautiful coastal views and many little towns and villages. I had dinner in one of them with the sun in my face, a beautiful view of the Atlantic and a nice chat with two teenagers from the Netherlands. Searching for a good spot for the night wasn’t so easy but in the end I found a quiet dead end in a wealthy people’s neighbourhood that led to cliffs covered in dune and shrub vegitation. There I found a spot between two dune pines that felt really cozy and private. Just as I had set up my camp and was about to check out the beach, I saw some dark clouds coming in. So no beach for me – instead 45 minutes of struggeling with my tarp (for the first time) and strings and finding anchors. After that all urge of exploring was gone and I wrapped myself in my hammock with my book while listening to the ocean.
The next morning I would have been able to see the ocean, only if it wouldn’t have been hiding in a wall of white – low clouds and fog were melting together and gave me another hazy morning. I packed up and left. At a little beach town I stopped for some breakfast and had a nutella banana crêpe, while watching the people at the beach. They didn’t seem to care much about the weather – holidays are holidays, beach is beach. Or maybe they knew it would be better soon. After that and a morning toilete break I hit the road again. Around noon the clouds started burning off, just in time for a road sign telling me about a “lago” (lake). After some frustrations had accumulated – driving a lot, searching for a place for the night, setting up a tarp for the first time, poor weather… – I was in need for balancing out my mood and decided to check out this lake. I found exactly what I needed – the sun just coming out, a beautiful, tranquil, little lake set in the middle of a pine forest, happy locals and a small beach. Everyone was at ease and I enjoyed watching a passionate dad play with his daughters. I went for a short swim – the first in Portugal, read a few pages and fell asleep. When I woke up I felt rejuvenated and energized and was ready to hit the road again.
I continued my way north and stopped where I felt like it. Among the stops: a river mouthing into the sea with giant sand dunes next to it, enjoyed by many and a look out overlooking a lush sea of green. For a short way I picked up two hitch hikers who were travelling with a tent along the coast.
After getting lost and being very confused in Portos traffic, I arrived in this second biggest city of Portugal in the early evening. I was welcomed by my host and his dog…
Praia do Seixo – August 2016
When I think back to it; when I look at the pictures my heart is full of so many emotions it is hard to find words for the memories and pictures, still I will try
I had been driving along the coast, searching for a place to stay for the night. As I wanted to sleep in my hammock, I needed trees and so far there simply had been non. I was getting a bit frustrated but then – just some kilometres behind the little touristic beach town of Santa Cruz, was a little pine forest between the road and the coast. I had a look and found a tent and VW bus parked in the forest as well. This seemed like the spot. I walked up to the guy with the VW and asked him if he was planning to stay for the night – always good to check out the neighbours. He said yes, he was French and seemed nice. I drove down to the end of the road – the coast was right there a beach as well and headed back to the town to get some groceries. On the way out the French guy was waiting for me on the side of the dirt road. He invited me to have dinner with him – lovely. I said yes and went shopping.
After I got back and had set up camp, I went down to the beach… it was nothing short of stunning – beautiful weather, some locals enjoying themselves and I had a blast taking many, many pictures – of waves, rocks, dunes, people…
At the end of the beach I found a local man and his son fishing. He was trying to tell me that I reached the end and I tried to ask him where the path back up the cliffs was. They packed up and accompanied me. The dad was excited to show and explain to me the beauty of our surroundings. The son was slighlty annoyed/embarassed by his chatty dad and having to translate with the little English, school had managed to get into him. They were lovely people, helpful and friendly. The dad seemed excited to have someone who listened and showed me some pictures he had taken.
After that exploring and picture trip and that wonderful encounter, it was time for dinner and I joyned the Frenchman. He had already prepared everything and we had rice, with fresh homegrown tomatoes, some fish and rosé wine which apparently was from his Marseilles property. Everything was deliscious. After we finished he offered really old rum and a joint. The evening was only getting better. We spent some hours drinking, smoking and talking. The guy had seen stuff and a few times I wondered how much of his tale was actually true. In the end it didn’t matter. He was an interesting guy who had had a moved life. He had been a captain and spent 30 years on the oceans of the world. He had worked for Gaddafi who – according to him – had been a good guy. Now he was making money with self storage, living on his whine property in Marseilles and travelling the world. His bus was a new t5 with 4 wheel drive and all the amenities that you could imagine. After his trip through Portugal he wanted to ship it to Australia and go on a road trip there. With rising alcohol level his English got worse and he was starting to get a bit frisky. During a toilete break I noticed that I as well wasn’t quite able to walk straight anymore and decided it was time to go on an adventure. He invited me to sleep in his bus if it would be too cold in my hammock – “I’m a gentleman, I wouldn’t touch you” – I wasn’t so conviced and thanked him for the offer. We agreed to meet for breakfast and off I went.
I was ecstatic – drunk and high I was excited to go on a nighttime adventure in the dunes and on the beach. I spent some time listening to music and to my thoughts, writing some of them down, while sitting in the dunes. Afterwards I spent about two more hours playing around on the beach, walking through the surf and climbing around on the rocks. I was left with a little memory – a bloody toe, which I didn’t notice until the next day.
I had a good sleep between the pine trees, in my hammock until I woke up early in the morning with sprinkles of rain in my face. Grumpy and still tired I hopped to the car while still in my sleeping back and gave a wave to the Frenchman who was already up. I slept for 2 more hours in the back seat. When I woke up my neighbour had already left and the weather was still gnarly. I packed and drove out to the cliffs where I had breakfast, sitting on the cliffs, watching the ocean. Afterwards I made my way down to the beach where I found green glowing, algea covered rocks, exposed through the low tide and locals searching for clams. I had a blast capturing the strange formations and watching the locals. Approximately 100 pictures later the clouds were slowly burnd off by the sun and I felt a deep peace and slumber coming over me. I layed down on the soft sand a quickly fell asleep.
After this trip being in the making for so long, I was really excited to finally get out travelling again. Not just had I been longing to go to Portugal for quite a while, this was also the first time to really hit the road, after exploring the eastcoast of the USA in 2012. My everyday life as a primary school teacher didn’t give me much room to prepare so I left with few plans and some ideas. By now I have come to accept this as a way of travelling for myself: very little preparation but once I get there I am there fully – inhaling the country, the culture, the people and my fellow travellers.
I started my trip in the iconic capital – Lisboa, or Lisbon, Lissabon…
I had booked a dorm bed in hostel in the old part of town called Alfama. To get there I had to carry my slightly heavy and bulky bag up some nice steep hills. Drenched in sweat I got to Alfama patio hostel. I was welcomed and checked in by very friendly staff and moved in to my very own bunk bed. I had booked a dorm with an ensuit bathroom which left me wondering how anyone taller than me was able to sit on that toilette. The rest of the hostel was very cozy, with hammocks and bean bags to hang out in and a roof space with a wonderful view. The inhabitants were very invting and I quickly found interesting and very friendly people to chat with – two Germans who had been travelling the coast in a tent, a girl from Australia who was enjoying her last days in Europe and some American girls who I ended up spending the evening with. Before I had a great three course dinner though that was served for everyone who wanted for something like 3€.
A group of 5 we left the hostel and visited a nearby lookout point were we enjoyed the sunset views and some wine – classy straight from the bottle. Afterwards we took an Über (my first time ever, how exciting) and went to the part of town were the action. Restaurant next to bar, next to restaurant this place was truely bustling with everything you could imagine – Portuguese food, Brazilian drinks, Jazz music… We hopped a few locations, having a drink and short dance in a Brazilian bar, another drink at a Jazz bar accompanied by some life music. In the meantime I learned some things about my companions – strong, independent women, passionate and keen. Good times. At some point we had a pizza stop and soon after we ran into a bar crawl organized from a different hostel. We talked to some of the people, shared a few more drinks. But after travelling, arriving, meeting many people I was getting tired and the others weren’t that energetic anymore either. In the end we all went back together and I had a wonderful sleep in my bunk bed.
The next morning I wanted to go on a walking tour offered by the hostel. Only, being me, I didn’t leave in time, didn’t quite go into the right direction and missed the tour. Oh well, I had my lonely planet and maybe it was nice to explore by myself instead of more people and many informations.
Lisbon showed me its beauty – a bustling place with a nice breeze and wonderful sunshine. As most every capital there are lots of tourists swarming around the main attractions. For example the old tram line 28 seems so attractive that people que up for a ride in a way that makes you think they are giving out free ice cream. For me it was enough to take a picture of said que and the tram. After walking around the inner city, I made it to a big, green and peaceful park – Parque Eduardo VII. I found a little coffee and food place called Central Parque that soon turned out to be favoured by the locals. I overheard a man and woman speaking English and asked if I could join them. In tow they had a little boy. It turned out to be one of the most memorable encounters of my travels.
Their names were Gwen, Philip and Simon. Gwen and Philip had met a long time ago in Mexico and since been friends. Gwen didn’t own a cellphone, Philip told me. He would get a call out of the blue from an unknown number and hear Gwen’s voice “I’m coming to visit.” Gwen was from San Francisco where she was living on a boat. Now retired she had been a doctor, working in the emergency room. She was a free spirit. She loved Mexico and was there for several months every year. She would also go into the South American rainforest and give medical support to the indigenous people. They were living on oil rich land and apparently the oil companies weren’t aloud to go in as long as tribes were living there – solution: get rid of them with bullets shot from helicopters. Philip also told me that Gwen was a healer and very gifted. I asked her about my cracking jaw and she told me it stems from the anger towards my dad. I said that I felt like I wasn’t angry at my dad anymore and she answered it was already leaving me and at age 32 would be gone completely.
Philip was part of the royal Portuguese family and musician. He put his CD on in the coffee place – instrumental music with wonderful vibes from instruments he had made with his own hands.
We talked about life, magic, ayuahska, politics…
Simon was a sweet and gentle kid who loved football.
I gave my number to Gwen. She wanted to be in Berlin soon, visiting and staying with some South American DJs whom she wanted to introduce me to “You’ll like each other.” I never received that call, maybe I will some day. I tried to find out more about the three but the information I had were too little. (However there are information on the exploitation of indigenous people in South America over oil and the situation is horendous.)
In either way I am greatful I met those inspiring people and for a fantastic meal (at first I only had ice cream but when I saw the salad with fish they got, I had to get one too) and a beautiful spot.
Lisboa… a beautiful place with many things to give – beautiful locals, interesting travellers, small artisan stores, great food and steap, steap hills to train it off afterwards.
I left the city by an Über drive to the airport to pick up my rental. The guy was incredibly nice who gave me his card and told me to call if I ever needed help while in Portugal. Another first glimpse of the wonderful spirit of the Portuguese people.
I woke up to little sprinkles of rain on my face. In my sleeping bag, I hopped into the car, where I slept for another hour. The weather stayed pretty gnarly with 80+% humidity, low visibility and low, white clouds. I had breakfast on the cliffs and went down to the beach on the little hiking path, that I found watching the locals. The tide was out and exposed were green-glowing, algea-covered boulders.
In the surf were local men, collecting clams from the rocks. One had a playing puppy jumping around him; another one had a wife sitting peacefully on a rock and a son playing.
I found a lot of fun, rock collecting and taking pictures of the strange formations.
It was very serene and gave me a feeling of calmness and peace. The sun started peaking out after a little while and I fell asleep on the beach.