Of all the places I’ve been to so far, Portugal was definitely the hardest to leave. I’ve always wanted to go to Portugal, so when I got to Europe, this was one of the first trips I planned and was really excited for. There are many reasons why, but I can guess it’s probably because I spent part of my childhood in a place with a very prominent Eurasian culture—I was born in Macau, so it was Chinese and Portuguese to be exact. My favorite pastry of all time has always been the Portuguese cream tart, fresh out of the oven. And I’ve always preferred wine to beer (though German beer is pretty good.)
I don’t get nostalgic very often because I left my childhood home when I was very young for Hawaii, which was a very different place that doesn’t remind me of home much. But those feelings came flooding in as I walked on the roads paved with the smooth black and ivory tiles that are so typical of Portuguese urban planning. Our destination was Porto, which produces probably the best wines and dessert wines in the world.
In all respects, we got very unlucky with the weather. The sun rarely shone (but when it did, it was warm and very beautiful), and most of the time, the sky was quite gloomy and one night, we even had to brave hurricane-like weather to get back to our hostel.
But in all honesty, I loved Porto and Portugal in spite of the poor weather. I don’t think I’ve fallen in love with a place so quickly, so completely—especially in such unfavorable conditions. Which says a lot about Portugal, I think.
Our stroke of good weather occurred when we took a day trip to Lisbon by bus for 32 Euros, round trip (three and a half hours, each way). It didn’t hold up by the time we got back to Porto around midnight, which was when we had to fight the typhoon to get back home. So if you’re planning to go to Portugal, might I give fair warning that compact umbrellas are pretty much defenseless. They might survive the rain, but the wind is an entirely different story.
Here are my highlights of Portugal (Porto and Lisbon), in no particular order:
– Visiting Livaria Lello, one of the most famous and beautiful bookstores in the world, about five times. Legend has it that J.K. Rowling got inspiration from this bookstore to create the Hogwarts Library.
And for you serious Potter fans, this cafe is where (again, the legend goes) JK Rowling began writing the first Harry Potter book (HP and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone).
– Amazing, cheap food. My wonderful meal of delicious pork chops and half a bottle (maybe a third) of red wine was only 5.50 Euros. My huge portion of the typical Portuguese Francesinha was only 6 Euros in a restaurant.
– The people. I am still in amazement at how helpful, kind, and content with life the Portuguese are.
– Our hostel. We stayed at Pilot Hostel, which had great facilities that were clean and modern, free tea and coffee 24/7, a kitchen, and wonderful staff. It’s not perfect, but for the quality of our stay, you would not believe it was only 8 Euros per night.
– Going up on the famous elevator in Lisbon and getting a wonderful aerial view of the city.
– Exploring the medieval St. Jorge castle and seeing picture perfect weather in Lisbon.
– Seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on the other side.
– Making footprints in the sand.
*Germany is centrally located, which means it’s obviously landlocked. It’s the farthest from the ocean I’ve ever been. I’ve moved around a bit, but never very far from the coast…*
– Our free wine tasting. Even if you aren’t a wine drinker, I promise you: YOU WILL LOVE PORT WINE.
– Being told I have a good accent when I spoke Portuguese. Which I can’t, by the way. But I made it a point to learn it one day!
Even now, I still wonder what it is about Portugal that makes me want to go back. Like right now. Maybe even live or retire there. I don’t know. I suppose it’s the combination of really little things. Sure, I enjoyed the touristy things, but I think it was something more intrinsic and intangible that makes me so content with life when I am there. Till next time, Portugal!
**Disclaimer: I was not too impressed by the cream tarts in Portugal, to be honest.
I suppose I have been immensely spoiled by the freshly baked and piping hot tarts that I can only get from the little bakery on the island of Coloane in Macau. If you ever get a chance to go to Hong Kong, spend at least a day in Macau. I can blog for ages about that city, but for now, just try the cream tarts.
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