If you have been reading endlessroaming.com you are aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA as well as currently Roaming the globe in 2019. I have based myself in Lagos Portugal for the time being, rather than write about this which I intend to get to I thought Id cover some previous adventures. I have been twice to Portugal in just over two years which is a lot considering how far I am from home in Sydney Australia. As I intend to head to Morocco after my stay here, I thought Id blog about my previous visit to Portugal, Porto and Lisbon in April 2017 and comparing the two cities.
Porto wow what a pretty place, one of Europe’s oldest cities dating back to around 300 BC when built by the Romans, the population is just under 300,000 and is located in the countries northern area. Porto is named after its Port location along the Iberian coast, more importantly though it lends itself to the “Port” wine it famously produces and exports globally, its the basis for the name of the county itself which is all easy to understand.. Id booked myself into a backpacker hostel in the northern area of the city but as all the attractions tend to gravitate towards the river Douro in the city centre. I found myself ascending down a few kilometres towards this area and found myself feeling slightly giddy after a few nights on the Port wine when climbing the steep road back to my hostel.
The city is a maze of buildings in various condition, some falling apart and others freshly painted and brightly coloured which makes quite a contrast, its very easy to get lost walking around the cobbled curved streets that make up the downtown area. If you find yourself hungry there is plenty of opportunity to have a glass of Port and sardines with crackers when attempting to find your bearings. Fortunately you cant really get to lost as most of the tourist attractions are located near the Douro river itself so just walk downhill. Whether its walking across the Dom Luis double deck bridge, riding a cable car that overlooks the city or getting a river cruise on one of the many barges along the river, its easy to get a view of the city.
As I only had two nights, I did all three of these which is a great way to see this very beautiful and brightly coloured river front. The bridge sits top of the city, the cable car is located in the market shopping area and gives a nice view of the riverfront running up to the bridge. The boat ride also does much the same thing as the the river is it sits in a steep basin surround by two tall hills where the city is built so you can see both sides quite clearly. I also toured the Clerigos Tower, a tall clock tower and museum which is located at the top of the city and has an excellent view of the surrounding maze that is Porto below. In the evening mostly I spent my time sampling Port which is available all along the riverfront in restaurants or wine bars, the city was not in peak tourist season so the nightlife was relatively quiet and I engaged in a lot of samling. Unfortunately, my time in Porto was to brief to go into anymore detail and before you know it, I was on the train to Lisbon approximately 3 hours south.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal is located south and has a population of just over 500,000 people, settlements were built by the Phoenicians and Celts dating between 800 to 600 BC though there is history found there going back to Neolithic man, its Western Europe’s oldest city and is also a Port city. It was flattened by an Earthquake in 1755 and rebuilt so he city does not appear as ancient as it actually is. While the majority of the tourist attractions I encountered in Porto were around the Douro river, Lisbon’s attractions are much more spread out and the city area is a much larger area so lot more walking is involved if you want to take it all in. There are plenty of buses and trams available however if feeling lazy there are tram tours of the city which are hugely popular. Lisbon is not as hilly as Porto but there are some steep climbs.
While Porto is a mix of modern and ancient Roman with some buildings in a ruined state, Lisbon is Gothic and the buildings are predominantly are white or creamy yellow in colour with red tiled roofs, the two cities looks very different. Walking though the Chiado, the centre district and main shopping area, are thousands of people shopping, eating in restaurants and taking photos of the 6 story high buildings that overlook the streets This eventually leads you into the Praca do Comercio, a great big open space on the river Tagus. After walking around this large square I continued along the river on a 10km walk to Belem Tower past Padrao dos Descobrimentos. Built in the 1519 the Belem Tower originally sat further away in the river on an island, it was originally a lighthouse that became a fortress to protect trade, after the 1755 earthquake ravaged the city the river expanded and the Tower now sits on the shore rendering its original purpose useless. Its Lisbon’s most famous tourist attraction and the old fortress is fantastic for taking photos, unfortunately I did not go inside as the queue was way too long for my liking. I then headed to the Jeronomis Monastery which largely survived the earthquake intact and was opened in 1495, this had a much shorter queue and was a very interesting tour TIP I have included hyperlinks so if you want to know more about these places just click, if not hope you enjoy the picturesque photos.
Now someone had mentioned to me that there was a fairy tale castle on the edge of the city and that it was a must do. Located in the municipality of Sintra the train ride was about an hour from the centre of Lisbon so I figured had to go and see this. I arrived at the station and I joined all the other tourist in the approximate 3km walk through the beautiful mountainside and village area to this castle named Pena Palace….. and my mind was blown, its spectacular. Originally built in 1493 like everything else in the area it was flattened during the earthquake and reconstructed in 1854. The palace is painted in vibrant yellow, grey and the joining clock tower in red. It sits on the top of the mountain looking over the surrounding forest and countryside below, words can’t really describe how impressive and colourful the structure is. The interior was designed for the royal family and the entire complex as well as the park make for an amazing day tour. Not finished I then headed to the Castle of the Moors, more a series of walls than an actual castle, construction was completed in the 9th century and it’s a complex of walls and towers that can be walked upon and like Pena has spectacular views. There is a lot more that can be checked out in Sintra but unfortunately one day is not enough to tour the entire area and I had somewhere I had to be.
Id been told if I want to understand Portuguese and what they’re really enthusiastic about then Id have to go and see football, Lisbon’s own Benfica. Benfica is apparently the most widely supported club in the country and its most successful, football team. Football is considered to be bigger than religion and it brings all different Portuguese people together, I’ve not been to a nation where such a team is universally supported in such a way and Cristiano Ronaldo is hugely popular . Most Portuguese friends Ive made support this team so I figured Id go to a match and see what the deal was. I like football (I am a Chelsea FC supporter which is a much better team than Benfica) so I jumped off the Sintra train and went to the match.
First this involved a few beers outside the stadium and purchasing some supporters gear, talking to a few locals about the game, I’m not sure who the opposition were but whoever it was they appeared to have no support as the entire crowd were dressed in red and white the team colours, I then entered Estadio da Luz. Prior to kick off the team mascot, an eagle, was let loose about 10 rows behind me, it swooped around the crowd who were in a frenzy and then headed back to its handler. Unfortunately, it landed on a crowd member about 4 people over who then freaked out, fortunately the eagle was retrieved by the handler and the poor bugger it landed on whilst appearing traumatised had no visible injuries. The game itself was a shambles but went to script, it ended up in Benfica wining 4 0. This is typical for the club, if you have the best stadium, players, biggest supporter base and most money, you are rarely going to lose.
The nightlife in Lisbon is kind of frantic, crazy and fun, much like football. Typically, people go out at 11pm and this is still considered early. I being an Australian head out usually around 8 (which is late for an Australian), I went to a crowded Irish bar for a few pints and watch some sport, At around 10 I headed to a local bar for some cocktails and complimentary petiscos (tapas in Spanish). The nights I went out I based myself in Rua Nova do Carvalho, Lisbon’s old red light district which has been revitalised, easy to find there is a road is painted pink and is land-marked by a yellow bridge. This is the location of Lisbon’s main dance clubs and restaurants, after a considerable amount of cocktails and complimentary food it was time to enter a few clubs. The entire area was buzzing with a lot of people shouting and dancing, if you are not aware of this already Portugal has decriminalised all forms of drugs so if caught and its for personal use you will be let go.. This is one explanation as to why everything goes on so late into the morning however keep in mind Portuguese like to eat late and may not go to a club till 2am. Personally I like to stick with alcohol.
There are a lot more tourist sites within the city of Lisbon than those that I have briefly covered, however as my time in in Porto my time in Lisbon was fantastic but my three night stay was brief. After visiting both cities, I have the impression that these are very different places. Porto in the north with its historic hillside city, many tours and focus on Port wine and slower pace compared with the larger Lisbon with its newer structures, bustling crowds and almost hedonistic nightlife. There is a lot of history and nightlife to suit everyone in both of these fantastic cities.
As indicated, this is my second visit to Portugal, but as my visit in 2017, I am currently spending most of my time in Lagos on the Algarve in the south of the country. When I have time I’ll blog about Lagos and why I enjoy this area so much. I hope you enjoyed the read and plan to be blogging about 2019 again soon cheers
If you have been reading endlessroaming.com you are aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA as well as currently Roaming the globe in 2019. I have based myself in Lagos Portugal for the time being, rather than write about this which I intend to get to I thought Id cover some previous adventures, starting with Iceland in 2016, fingers crossed I manage to nail the spelling of all the places I visited.
Iceland is a place that I knew little about, easily accessible from Europe I thought it would be a good time to take it in while I was traveling in 2016. Id heard that it was an amazing place to visit so I figured Id go and see what the fuss was all about. Id planned a five-day adventure across the country, being an experienced solo traveler, I figured it would be best to do this on my own than some sort of organised tour. Tip do it on your own, don’t got on a tour, as I found out there is essentially one road or the Ring Road that goes around the country, there is not much traffic and it’s a great way to do it at your own pace. You can always book day tours for the more difficult adventures when you arrive.
As I was landing at a relatively reasonable time early afternoon rather than visiting the capital of Reykjavik I thought I would venture out further towards the town of Vik which was 225km away. I started the car, put on some Icelandic music and headed out, the landscape was a lot of green hills and no trees and after a few hours later I reached my first stop, the amazing Seljalandsfoss falls. After parking the car I followed a small pathway heading towards the 65-metre waterfall, the most famous in Iceland. I followed the pathway behind the waterfall and had the rather spectacular sight of flowing water viewing the barren Iceland landscape in the distance. Be prepared to get saturated Tip think ahead unlike myself and wear a raincoat. As daylight was running out, I jumped back into the car and continued my drive to Vik.
The town itself is quite small, has a few restaurants, houses and hotels with a church overlooking the town, there was not much in the way of nightlife. I headed to one of the restaurants, had myself a meal and then went back to the hostel for a rest hoping to see the Northern Lights, unfortunately, there was cloud cover and I couldn’t see them. Tip its actually quite difficult to plan a trip to see the Northern Lights, due to cloud cover being unpredictable you can’t really anticipate it, the longer you spend in Iceland however more likely you will see them, unfortunately my five days were not enough.
As the sun sets for roughly 3 hours in the month of September, Id gone to bed quite early and was awake at the crack of dawn. I drove down to Reynisfjara beach to watch the sun come up, it was quite cold I decided to continue my drive west instead of exploring further, Id be coming back this way and would visit the beach at a more opportune time. The landscape was slowly changing from green grass to rocks and more mountains and for the most part driving near the coastline. As it was early in the morning there was little traffic and I was zoning out…. AND THEN SOMETHING SPECTACULAR, Id arrived at Glacier Lagoon. I was aware that I would be seeing this but reading about it had not prepared me for seeing this amazing sight and words cant do it justice. The weather was heating up into a nice sunny day and there I was on a crystal blue lake staring at glaciers floating on the water. It was like watching huge sky-blue ice cubes floating on a sky-blue lake. I walked the left-hand side of the lake and then down to the beach, the sand jet black and rocky with large ice blocks intermittently spread across the coast line, I found it very surreal, the first time Id been to the beach with ice cubes.
I continued my drive to the fishing village of Hofn which was 270km distance from Vik and had some lunch. The drive itself was quite spectacular, endless mountains, waterfalls and greenery with some abandoned buildings and churches scattered about in the landscape. I took a few photos and then turned back, unfortunately 5 days in Iceland would not be near enough to do the entire island, driving distance roughly 1300km so I turned around and headed back to Reynisfjara beach. On the way I stopped past Skaftafell Glacier but as I had no time I only looked at is from a distance, it was typically spectacular, a huge volcano with a river of snow running towards where I was standing. Shortly after I arrived at beach I looked at jet black sand and stared at the free standing sea stacks just off the beach head. I then explored the massive arched cave which was great for making spectacular photo opportunities of the coast line. The beach has been used for scenes from Game of Thrones, Star Trek and Star Wars and being typically Icelandic is spectacular.
I finished up and then headed to my next destination the town of Selfoss for a couple of nights, but of course on the way was another waterfall, Skogafoss. The walk to the fall from the car park is roughly a kilometre and the waterfall is roughly 60 metre in height. As you approach it water spray starts to envelope you from distance and you can get drenched when up close. I was also climbed to the top of the fall as there is a pathway to the right which takes a bit of effort but is well worth it for the view of the fall and the land below. Another waterfall completed I headed to my hostel. Selfoss is a town of 7500 people or so its claim to fame being the home of American chess champion Bobby Fischer where is grave is located. While I have a passing interest in chess, I was more interested in the great outdoors so I headed straight to the local pub for a few beers but like Vik the town was quiet so back to the hostel for another early night.
My next destination for the day was partially driving around the Golden Circle, a looped road inland that covers around 300km in distance. I entered Þingvellir national park which is made up of mountains, rivers, lakes, volcanic fissures and small towns that can be explored as indicated its very handy having a rental car for this purpose. After exploring some of the park I headed to the Geysir Hot Spring, a series of hot springs around 3km square in size with a series of geysers shooting water up into the air. The most spectacular being Strokkur spring which sprays water up to 30 metres and is boiling hot, so best not to stand to close. Nearby is Gulfoss falls, standing out 32 metres in height the water pours into a crevasse and the river flows with so much power that its like standing in the rain even though you can only look from above it. The waterfall is in two stages and forms a natural triangle, best explained in the photo attached.
Another night in Selfoss and it was then onto Reykjavik for a few nights, Id only heard good things about Icelandic hospitality so was looking forward to a few nights out after my previous early nights. Being Iceland however there were a few more places I had left to explore so after checking into my hostel I jumped back into the car and headed north to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Very different to the south coast and not as many tourists, the highlight was the coastline with a lot of strange and creepy looking rock formations and abandoned buildings which made for almost creepy experience, it was dark, windy and beautiful to explore. Located there is Kirkjufell mountain, an old volcano standing isolated which can be climed and stands tall looking over the coastline, springs, creeks and waterfalls below. Essentially everywhere you looked was a postcard moment. The trip north took about 2 hours there and 2 hours back, I stopped past a few small towns, all consisting of churches, and then headed past Kirkjufell mountain with and the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall, yet more spectacular scenery.
Reykjavik nightlife I could tell was full of potential, however I had the unfortunate experience of being in the city whilst Justin Bieber was on tour. The population of Iceland is approximately 340,000 and 20% of the population was at the stadium both nights watching Bieber whilst I stayed there. Iceland has a fantastic live music scene and some really good bands come from there, Bjork, Sigur Ross and Monsters of Men come to mind so I found it quite frustrating that the city was quieter than usual. That’s not to say I didn’t have two good nights out, I certainly did. The town centre has a vibrant and bright bar scene, plenty of beer, good food and not covers of Bieber music fortunately. One thing that I did find particularly hilarious was Icelandic locals have an Incest Dating App. As the population is low and two thirds of people live in Reykjavik the app was developed to ensure if you meet someone you like you can check if they are to closely related by connecting your phones together, whether or the potential couple agrees is up to them.
The city itself has many attractions, probably the most famous is Hallgrimskirkja Church, there are 350 Lutheran Churches in Iceland and this is the largest and overlooks the city, it is made up of basalt rock and is open to the public. The city itself is made up of various outdoor parks, buildings and has more of a village feel then a bustling city. It didn’t take me long to explore so one more trip I headed out to of town for half an hour to the most famous attraction in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon. Tip the Blue Lagoon is actually a spa, its not natural and was constructed in 1976, though obviously the thermal water comes from the springs below it. You need to purchase tickets days if not weeks in advance and if you don’t you won’t get entry to the spring. I didn’t book this in advance so instead explored around the spring which is still a worthwhile doing. The reason the water is blue is the geothermal plant that is next door providing the compounds that turn the water to the bright blue colour. It’s all perfectly healthy and is reputed to have great healing properties.
So that was my trip to Iceland, a country full of volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, icebergs, mountain ranges and beaches. Its an outdoor adventurers dream, however if like me you more inclined to drive than hike its an easy and comfortable place to travel. In saying that some of the photos I took did take some effort so I wasn’t sitting on my butt all of the time. There were a few things I wish Id done differently, planned more time to explore the north of the island, seen the Northern Lights, gone to the Ice Cave, see a Puffin bird up close but lastly and most of all not been in Reykjavik during a Bieber concert. There aren’t many people to meet once you leave Reykjavik, mainly other tourists, however the Icelandic people I did meet were friendly, hospitable and I really enjoyed my time there. I hope you enjoyed the read.