Exploring Portugal Solo

Exploring Portugal Solo
Today marks my last day in Portugal, and the end of a great experience working in and exploring this beautiful country.
Faro is definitely “Some City”

During my short weeks working at Casa d’Alagoa, I have become great friends with my co-workers, the hostel owners and many of our guests alike. This hostel won “Best Atmosphere” from the renown website HostelBookers last year, and it doesn’t take long to realize why.

Around Faro

As I mentioned in my previous Portugal post, working here has been a great fit for me and an exciting experience in learning more about the “behind the scenes” of this particular industry.

View of the city from atop the Cathedral (Faro)

In my previous months of traveling, I have enjoyed making my way through new countries, regions, and continents at a leisurely pace with nothing but time and my belongings on my back.

After this experience and being able to explore Portugal as the opportunities and days-off presented themselves, I have to admit that having a home while on the road, both physically and emotionally, has been absolutely incredible. As much of a juxtaposition as it is, having a home while traveling has given me a great new perspective on the variety of travel options available.

Faro, as a city, is notoriously laid back.  Located in the heart of the beautiful Algarve region, it’s a popular destination as well as transit city for those on their way to the surrounding national parks, home to endless bird watching and stunning scenery.

Like the rest of the country, the locals in Faro focus on sleeping in, long coffee breaks with local pastries, sarcasm in every possible scenario, succulent home cooked meals, and thirst-quenching libations such as the locally cultivated wines and spirits.  This culture, not surprisingly, agrees with me.

One of the many, many pastries and cakes I have tried during my time in Portugal…YUM!

The Portuguese as a people are open and relaxed, and luckily for me (and you if you’re ever considering Portugal as a destination spot) they speak English very well. From the bus drivers to the shop owners, everyone is kind, helpful and willing to assist you in English.

If you have ‘No Comment’ then you can’t sit on the bench? Around Faro, Portugal

I have been impressed by the kindness of strangers across the globe, but in Portugal it feels like everyone is your personal tour guide and new friend. And who can argue with that?

Lagos, Portugal

During one of my first days off, I decided to take the 5-euro and 2-hour bus to Lagos and explore the city with a friend from the hostel, Sam, who was headed there to work in a hostel. Although the weather alternated between sprinkling and sunny for the duration of the afternoon, the city was relaxing and the beaches were beautiful.

Outside the city walls in Lagos

From the pier, Sam and I could see a pod of dolphins jumping and diving though what we assumed was a school of fish. It could not have been more than 30 meters from our viewpoint, and was really cool to see. At the same moment, a small boat was passing near the pod, and the dolphins followed the boat into deeper waters, I’m sure their view was unbelievable!

When the sun finally decided to come out in Lagos

The beach was stunning and absolutely empty. If I have learned one thing while on the road, off-season is usually a scam concocted by locals to scare off tourists for part of the year. Remember how much Patti, Patrick and I loved Croatia in October? To me, wearing a scarf on the beach beats elbowing selfie-taking tourists for a spot on the sand… Luckily, Lagos was no exception.

Amazing sunset in Faro

During my next set of days off I decided to venture to the capital city of Lisbon, locally called Lisboa.  Like Lagos, the weather was spotty for my first morning there, but cleared up and allowed for an impressive sunset in front of Belem Tower on my first night.

Belem Tower, Lisbon

During my time in Lisbon, I stayed at Home Hostel, which won the award for “Best Medium Hostel in the World” last year and rightfully so. That night, I joined the group there for a homemade dinner and drinks before the hostel’s pub crawl. If there’s one thing Portuguese do well, it’s night life and dancing. I was absolutely exhausted (hungover.) the next day as I boarded the 3 hour train back to Faro.

Discoveries Monument, Lisbon

Lisbon, apart from the exciting night life, is a beautiful and vibrant city. Portuguese are quick to remind visitors, and anyone who will listen, of their rich and influential history, whose legacy can be seen throughout the city.

Impressive Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon; Vasco da Gama’s resting place
Famous ‘Pastel de Nata’ created by the Jeronimo monks, served with espresso

During my time here, I have been schooled on the colonies, explorers, and general historical timeline of the country time and time again. Depending on the level of intoxication of the impromptu history teacher, the intensity of the lesson fluctuates; regardless, the issue of Christopher Columbus’ nationality was always addressed.

Discoveries Monument up close

By addressed, I mean argued completely unopposed usually at a group of open-mouthed tourists trying to figure out when the lighthearted Portuguese sarcasm was replaced by an intense nationalism. As quickly as it appears, it generally dissipates and the conversation drifts back to how attractive Cristiano Ronaldo is, a topic that quite frankly can not be argued by anyone with eye sight. He is so attractive, that I’m sure his looks can even be effectively communicated to those with impaired sight.

After my trip to Lisbon, I wanted visit the northern cultural capital of Porto, or locally called Oporto, home of the famous Port wine.

Pena Palace View, Sintra

On my way there, I stopped off in Sintra, outside of Lisbon, for the afternoon. I hiked to the Pena Palace and Gardens, which was one of the most visited tourist sites last year. Like their website states, the palace “seems to come right out of a fairy tale.”

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

I spent the majority of my afternoon in Sintra exploring the vast palace grounds after I explored the palace itself. Like the palace, the grounds have a fairy tale like quality and were incredibly beautiful and peaceful.  

I even happened upon a small pond with swans. You don’t get much more beautiful and regal than that. Side note: I went to see the Portuguese National Ballet perform Swan Lake with my co-worker Ally in Faro a few days before seeing these swans. They are such beautiful creatures! (Both the swans and the dancers.)

The viewpoints from the palace are stunning and in the distance you can see to the western-most point on continental Europe. It’s incredible to imagine that a few hundred years ago, this is the point where many believed the world simply stopped.  Columbus, regardless of his nationality, was one brave dude.

Pena Palace looking onto the Atlantic in the distance

Pena Palace was beautiful and the perfect weather made the vibrant colors of the structure even more impressive. The city of Sintra itself is quaint. Initially it seemed overrun by tourists, but as the crowds dispersed onto their respective tour buses (ew.) I was left alone walking in complete peace and solitude.

On the way to Pena Palace, Sintra

I didn’t see anyone for about an hour after entering the garden grounds after visiting the palace. The ponds, paths, and dense foliage makes for a wonderful escape from the noises of Lisbon. To be honest, this might have had something to do with my timing; it was a bit after lunch which means the entire Portuguese population was enjoying their daily siesta.

Around Sintra

Later that day I arrived at the incredible Gallery Hostel in Porto. Seriously, Portugal, nicely done on the hostel-front! I met a few new friends (shout out to Ramona and Gerald!) and enjoyed the homemade dinner at the hostel.

More famous than their wine, Porto was home to JK Rowling for a few years while she taught English and spent her days in the numerous cafes and bookshops through the city. As you walk along, you can spot the inspiration behind many themes, characters, and details of her famous Harry Potter series.

Livreria Lello, bookshop that inspired HP’s wand shop scene (Porto)

Being a HUGE Harry Potter fan, these little details were quite fun to point out…much to the dismay of my new friends.

Griffin(dor!) fountain in front of the University of Porto

In addition to the HP clues (!!!), Porto is filled with endless cafes (!!!), art galleries (!!!), bookstores (!!!), bars (!!!), parks (!!!) and restaurants (!!!). I don’t know if you can tell, but I sort of liked Porto…I felt like the city was made just for me.

View over Porto

Gerald, Ramona and I spent a beautiful day lunching next to the Douro river, touring and taste testing in the Porto wine caves, and enjoying the panoramic view of the city from atop the monastery viewpoint. My time in Porto was definitely a highlight of my time in Portugal.

Peacocks roam freely throughout most of the parks (Faro)

Coming back to Faro was like returning home, as strange as that may sound. I had both my bed and my little travel family waiting for me. After crashing for a few hours, I was back to my “new normal” routine.

Wrong turn took me on a tour of the Faro airport

My last few days included exploring more of Faro, saying goodbye to my co-worker Allie, saying olá to new guests and friends, and packing my backpack for my next adventure.

Bones Chapel in Faro

Like always, I don’t know if or when I’ll be back to Faro or Portugal, but I hope it’s one day. My time here has been wonderful and all of the memories will be cherished. Até a próxima vez, Portugal!

My last sunset on the Faro marina