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Wanderer

Geting Lost in Wander

Day 6 Lisbon

Part 2. Main Lisbon

One of the best views of Lisbon is found at the top of a hill in the lower part of town in the Castelo São Jorge. This Moorish castle can be seen from the main part of town in Praça Rossio, from my hostel window I could see it over the buildings. It’s one of the pain attractions of Lisbon, I strongly suggest to visit the beautiful grounds. There is also the Santa Justa lift in the core of Lisbon that shows off the downtown area as well as the castle.

After Castelo São Jorge, there’s the Torre de Belém which stands on the bank of the Rio Tajo on the outskirts of the downtown area. This watch tower can be reached with tram route 15, which can be bought in any metro. The tower was built very narrowly, so there is only enough room for one in the winding staircase. They allow only 120 people up to the roof at a time to prevent traffic. For a tour of the Mosterio dos Jerónimos—the monastery by the torre—and the tower is 12 Euros; there are other package deals that you can check on their website or in person at the ticket office. Outside of the Torre de Belém is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), this is a place in honour of the numerous discoveries in the past, the monument can also be visited inside.

What is a must visiting Lisbon is going to Pasteis de Belém pastry shop where you can taste one of the best—if not the best—pasteis de nata. A pastel de nata, which is a kind of egg-tart, is a made famous to the Portuguese. Though every shop prepare this delicacy amazingly, the bakery Pasteis de Belém make mouth-watering tarts. Eating them when they are still warm, with added cinnamon or powdered sugar is a treat you need to have!

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Pastel de nata in the Pasteis de Belém bakery

Back in central Lisbon is the Café A Brasileira on rua Garrett. This coffee shop has been opened since early 21st century and has since served delicious pastries and coffee. The bar-styled place still has that old look, decorated with tones of gold and with mirrors on the walls. You can have an espresso at the crowded bar or, if you’re patient, find a seat inside or outside.IMG_6393

If you are on a budget and need to find good food and drinks that are cheap, there is the Mercado da Baixa. Located in the Praça Figueria, this market has many trinkets to sell along with many choices of food. We ate a prosciutto and cheese sandwich that was both cheap and filling, only costing us 5 Euros. They scrape the cheese right off the cheese wheel! Another day we had a platter of cheese, meats, and bread which cost us the same as the sandwich and was as filling. Something else worth trying is a shot of ginjinha out of its customary chocolate cup. This liqueur is made of ginja berries infused in alcohol. It is only 1.50 Euro at the market. Ginjinha has a strong, peculiar taste that at first neither me, my sister, nor my friend liked, but that is our personal taste. I know people who loved ginja, it might just be an acquired taste. If you want to try the flavours of Portugal, this should definitely be on your list.

Day 5 Lisbon and area

Part 1. Sintra

Our centrally located hostel was at the heart of praça Rossio in Lisbon. From there, we were close to the metro, Rossio train station, a Pingo Doce supermarket, and of course, many cafés and restaurants.

If you are visiting Lisbon, I suggest you take a day for Sintra as well. This picturesque town is just an hour or so away, you can take a train there from the Rossio station. Sintra is known for its colourful Palacio da Pena (Feather Palace) which lies atop a mountain surrounded by a very large garden that could take a day—even more—to fully discover. You can hike up through the trees to the towering palace where the view is breathtaking.

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There’s quite a bit to see in Sintra, and all the landmarks are scattered around the area. If you desire to walk it, I’d take more than just a day. If you don’t have time for that, you can do like us and take one of those ‘Hop on, Hop off” red buses—that cost us 18 euros—to take you around. We unfortunately didn’t get to see Cabo da Roca which is at the furthest point of the country where a lighthouse stand over a cliff. The earlier you arrive in Sintra, the more you’ll get to see.

We did get to visit the lovely gardens of Quinta da Regaleira which is famous for its underground tunnels that lead to waterfalls and to the famous wells. If you go through the tunnels, turn on your phone’s flashlight, I went two years ago without one and walked blindly through.

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Quinta da Regaleira

 

Day 4 Coimbra

On our way to Lisbon from Porto, we stopped by Coimbra for the day. After a while of wandering around by bus looking for our hostel, we finally made it up to Grand Hostel Coimbra. With only a full day to visit the city, we were lucky to have a helpful staff member hand us a map and circle all the main spots. We were really impressed with the hostel we chose for our one night. It was cheap and included breakfast (a choice of cereal or toast), and the staff was accommodating and friendly.

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Coimbra is a beautiful city known for its scholastic life with their university being a main attraction. What might not be known is that the whole city consists of steep hills and stairs—meaning that there’s a  lot of climbing! So this is a heads up, bring a good pair of running shoes.

 

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University: museum and clock tower

One of the main monuments to visit is the university that dates back to 1290. This includes, among other things, Joanina library, the Great Hall of Acts, and the S. Miguel Chapel. The maintance of the library books is the same as it was centuries ago. This means that behind the bookshelves live bats that eat the insects that might consume the pages of the old volumes.

Before arriving to Coimbra, my grandfather (who always needs to give his opinion on where to travel in Portugal) insisted I visit Fonte dos Amores (Fountain of Love). Luckily we had time to cross the bridge from the city centre to the outskirts and find the gardens of Quinta das Lágrimas (Estate of Tears) who homes the this magical foutain. My family summarized the tales of the estate for me before I arrived to Coimbra. Surprisingly, this story is not a legend, but is actually part of Portuguese history dating to the medieval ages. During the reign of King Alfonso IV there was Prince Pedro. This prince fell in love with his bride’s lady-in-coming, Ines de Castro. The two had an affair until the king ordered his men to murder her, disapproving of the relationship. When Prince Pedro was king, and his wife died in childbirth, he ordered the men who killed his lover to unearth her body so that he can properly marry her to make her his queen. The story does not end there, no, Prince Pedro demanded the men to place his queen on the throne next to him. He them promptly told them to kneel before her, and kiss his new bride’s hand out of respect. When this was done, he ordered for the murderers to be executed.

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It is said that if you drink from the fountain you will have luck in some aspect of love (being it that you’ll get married, buy a house with your significant other, or the basics: to find romance). Whether it works or not, I can’t tell you yet, but it’s worth a try–at least just to say you did it. As for whether the water is potable or not, well, neither my sister or I was sick, so I’ll say it’s safe to taste!

On our way to the gardens we found the ruins of a monastery that stood in the middle ages. This area isn’t very touristic so we were lucky to not have a horde of people around us. The Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha was abandoned in the 17th century, about 300 years after it was built, due to the frequent floods. Today all that remain are the ruins, which are open to the public.

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Mosteiro da Santa Clara
(The history of the Fonte dos Amores was told to me by some family memebers. But I did have to refresh my memory on certain details with the help of Wikipedia)

Day 3 Porto

If you are a Harry Potter fan, or just a book lover, Livraria Lello is the place to visit. This bookstore has inspired many authors since its opening in 1906, one of them being bestseller J.K. Rolling. The enchanting store really does look like it belongs at Hogwarts! Two years ago, when I first went, I was able to enter for free (though there was only one day a week that costumers were allowed to take pictures). Since then, to minimize the traffic in the small boutique, there is a fee to enter. For 3 euros you can visit the shop for as long as you like, take as many pictures, and discover the many novels. If you do purchase a book, the 3 euros is deducted from its price.

Taking a stroll in the Jardin do Palácio de Cristal (Garden of the Crystal Palace) you will enjoy the beautiful view of the Douro River. You will also be able to spot many peacocks. Either hidden in trees or wooing a peahen, peacocks are very common in this park.

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Ribera Douro

Another park worth visiting is Parque de Cidade which is located on an avenue leading straight to the coast. If you stop by on your way to the beach, it’s a perfect place for a picnic.

If you’re feeling lazy one day, but still want to see the beautiful landscape around the city, you have the option to take a Porto Cruz, “Tomaz do Douro.” This trip includes a train ticket to Regua, the boat ride back to the harbour in Porto, appetizers with Porto wine tasting, and a three course meal. The wine was very strong, its tastes—to my personal opinion—more like a shooter. You can have three professional pictures taken onboard which can be purchased for 15 euros (or 6 euros each).

Depending on the day you choose, the trip may vary (you can also start with the boat trip and end with the train ride), as well as the price. We did the Porto Cruz on a Monday, and so the trip was a little cheaper than it would have been on the weekend, costing only 60 euros for the day. It was worth it in the end to be able to enjoy the sun and the views by the river.

 

 

Day 2 Açores Legends

The second trip we took was to visit Sete Cidades (Seven Cities), a huge crater that now has two bodies of water. What’s special about these two lakes—divided by a bridge for easy access—is that the larger one is a vibrant blue, while the smaller is a prominent green. A few legends are attached to this place which this entry will look into.

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The first few theories are of the naming of the two lakes. Seven Cities is a questionable title for a crater, but with the knowledge of our tour guide, this is what I got. The first story is that the reason is plainly because there are seven craters inside the caldera. The second, is that when the Açores were attacked by pirates (which, side note, is a fact), seven bishops from seven cities hid in the caldera. The third, but probably not the last theory of the Sete Cidades’ origin, is that a man sent out a letter to the king to inform him of the volcano’s eruption. The king asked him how large the crater was to which the man responded, “It’s so large that it can fit seven cities.”

Now, for my personal favourite, and for the romantics out there, here is the legend of how the two lakes came to be. The myth goes that there was a princess with blue eyes who fell in love with a green-eyed shepherd. Her father, the king, disapproved of this affair for she was to marry a prince and not a commoner. The princess, upon hearing her father’s objection ran to her lover to let him know of their fate. They both cried by the craters at their misfortune until they died. The princess’ tears formed the blue lake, while the shepherd’s tears made the green one. In the middle, a bridge was built with holes to allow the water to mix, finally letting the princess forever be with her shepherd.

Now, if you are more into logics and less in into fairy-tales, here is the truth about the water’s peculiar taint. The green lake is only, approximately, fourteen meters deep with algae. The blue lake is wider and measures around twenty-eight meters deep, reflecting the colour of the sky. This is why going on a day where the hills are free of hovering clouds is best to really see the contrast between these two water-filled craters.

Now, to finish our São Miguel trip we were told, by Ricardo, that in the main praça—near the harbour—if we cross the arches (or the gates) it would mean we would definitely come back. So guess what we did the minute we got back from our tour!

Day 1 São Miguel, Açores

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Sao Miguel, Açores

If nature is something you look for when traveling, the Açores is the place to go. I was lucky to be able to spend two full days in Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel, and it was just breathtaking.

The islands do not have a metro system, and I did not hear of a good bus route either. My suggestion to visit the island is to take a jeep tour with Greenzone. For around 60 euros (may vary depending on the trip chosen or the time of year) you have a guide to show you the main spots (such as Sete Cidade, and Furnas), telling you the lovely legends that come with them, with as well a delicious local meal included.

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Greenzone Jeep tour Açores is known for its many, many cows!

The two trips my sister and I got to do were both with Ricardo. He went beyond the expected. We paid for the main attractions, but at times, if we passed by something interesting, he’d stop the jeep and allow us to explore.

On one of the tours we visited Furnas, known for its underground “calderas.” This is where locals—but mostly restaurants—go early in the morning to bury their caldrons filled with meat, fish, and vegetables in the ground to be cooked by the natural hot vapour. The meal is removed approximately six hours later ready to be devoured.

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The calderas in Furnas. The men are removing the cooked meal from the hot ground.

The Açores are known not only for their amount of cows—they are everywhere!—but for their natural hot springs. They even have natural sparkling water pouring out from the ground that people can taste.

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Natural sparkling water

The winding paths of Terra Nostra Botanical park lead through a forest where various plants and ponds can be discovered. At the centre of the garden—dating back to 1775—is a hot spring. It is extremely relaxing with its gushing water at various ends that can give a free massage. But if you are to go in, you should beware of your blood pressure. The high temperature can be harmful if you have blood problems. The second notice I have is to not wear a white bathing suit. Despite being relaxing and enjoyable, the water stains light colours with an orange tint. It can be mostly washed, but the inside of my bathing suit still has a little reminder of the hot springs.

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