My trip didn’t get off to a great start. Storm Doris brought travel chaos to England (as any small weather fluctuation usually does) on the day of my flight and all trains to Gatwick were cancelled after a tree fell on the line. So I ended up hopping in a taxi with a Spanish lady and feeling slightly smug about arriving at the airport at the same time I had planned to and only costing a small amount more.
I landed in the evening, so only had time to eat at a lovely vegetarian restaurant on the first night. My friend Andrew found the place and I was surprised to see that we were surrounded by very well rated veggie eateries in such a meat- and fish-loving country.
My first stop was the bakery across the street where I enjoyed a Pastel de Nata, a sweet custard tart that this country is famous for. Delicious and so different to those we get in England! I joined one of the free walking tours to familiarise myself with the place and learn about the history of the city.
The day started off cloudy, but the sun burnt through and in the afternoon the vivid blue sky lifted the playful pastel colours of the city to almost dazzling. I spent most of the afternoon walking around Alfama, Pombalina, Chiado and along the Rio Tejo in the sunshine as it was a beautiful day.
I never really feel comfortable in a new city until I’ve explored it alone and got a little lost. Lisbon is a very easy place to get lost in with sprawling lanes and stairways up each of the seven hills surrounding the centre. But this is often the best way to stumble across the most amazing views 🙂
Cities that can be explored almost entirely by foot are always more appealing to me, particularly now I have a step counter to obsess over. Lisbon provided an excellent workout on that front, although I’ll admit I didn’t take full advantage of the hill rep possibilities.
Bairro Alto is the city’s night life centre, so where better to begin on a Friday night?! Pensão Amor is a popular bar that used to be a brothel and the extravagant décor certainly suggests as much. Many of the other cosy bars that fill the maze of cobbled backstreets used to be people’s living rooms where they’d invite people to try drinks brewed in their bathtub, from a time that alcohol was banned during the dictatorship.
It was carnival weekend in Brazil and many of the locals and Brazilians used that as an excuse to party (as if they need one!) People spilled out into the streets drinking pints of Caipirinha from plastic cups and wearing flamboyant outfits.
Saturday morning began with a visit to the São Jorge Castle which stands proudly on the hill above Alfama with amazing views across the whole city.
We then drove half an hour out to the charming hillside town of Sintra where there are multiple palaces and a castle to visit. The Moorish Castle captured my imagination in its imposing position with spectacular views.
The views would have been even more impressive had it been a clearer day, but the castle itself offered more than enough to explore. The surrounding hills and forests had an eerie fairytale feel to it and I found it easy to imagine what it might have been like when it was first built. The castle appeared to have been engulfed by giant boulders and reclaimed by mother nature in her most beautiful yet unforgiving way.
Had it not been shrouded in mist, the Pena Palace on the adjacent hill would have provided yet another striking vista, but alas, the view was uniquely grey just for me!
I told myself that I couldn’t visit Portugal again without going surfing, but at the beach the following day I soon decided that I could! Costa de Caparica offered miles of uninterrupted sandy beach, perfect for a long run and I couldn’t resist! We ate breakfast looking out to sea and watched the hundreds of surfers trying to catch a wave. Andrew surfed while I ran 6km along the sand to the decidedly sunnier end of the beach and back again.
Feeling satisfied with my 12km effort I happily tucked into a toastie and one of their sumptuous syrupy hot chocolates 🙂