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500 days on the road: Reflections on the last 100 days

globetrottergirls in north america

Each time we sit down and reflect on the last one hundred days, the initial feeling is always a stunned sort of shock at just how much we have seen and done in the last quarter of a year. In our pre-nomadic era, one hundred days could have come and gone without much more changing than a few new purchases, a short city break or two and some crazy nights out with friends. Now, as nomads, we move continents, lifestyle patterns, languages and learn new things almost every day.

500 days Canada Portugal USAIn the last 100 days we have been to (only) three countries, driven well over 4,000 miles in three different rental cars, been on several boats, crossed countless major bridges, tasted dozens of new dishes from a handful of entirely new cuisines, met loads of new, interesting people (and made some great new friends), relaxed in our own personal jacuzzi, stayed at a few exclusive hotels as well as some dingy roach motels, and had the opportunity to tour through the eastern and southern US states to get a feeling for what life in America is like today.

500 days Canada US PortugalWe love Lisbon

One of the best aspects of nomadic lives is that we can cancel or change plans at the last minute. A three-week stay in Lisbon happened randomly when our planned Cross-Canada Road Trip fell through and we were looking for somewhere warm, cheap and European to spend three weeks before beginning our housesit in Ottawa. Lisbon couldn’t have been a better choice. The city has the metropolitan, multicultural feel, casual lifestyle, clear and sunny skies and miles of beaches that come together to be the sort of place we could live in one day.

lisbon portugal

North American car dependency

Instead of just unpacking and staying in the Portuguese capital, we instead flew into Toronto for the beginning of over three months in North America. Just two days after arriving, it was time to pickup a rental car in Buffalo, New York. The sense of freedom we have while traveling in Europe disappears here, as the availability of public transportation is either negligible (United States) or expensive (Canada). In the last months we have gone on to rent two cars for a total of 11 weeks which has been a budget breaker, but totally worth it.

Our Ford Focus at Boone Hall Plantation

Housesitting in Ontario

Six of those weeks were spent housesitting outside of Ottawa. This period of time was the longest we have stayed in one place since before our official GloberotterGirls adventure even began. We enjoyed the peaceful, safe neighborhood, the well-maintained house, making our own food and actually settling in to a routine that was really key to several professional and personal successes. In the end, however, that tingling excitement of our next steps started to slowly envelope us into the cloud of euphoria that hits each time we are about to make our next bold move.

Mailbox Canada

Montreal, Quebec and learning about Canada

After the homeowners returned, we hopped in the car and headed to Montreal and Quebec for a week. By that time we realized just how much we learned about Canada. As most Americans can admit, we don’t learn all that much about the neighbors to the north in school, and  Canada doesn’t make headline news much either. We were there for national celebrations like Canada Day and Colonel By Day, ate national foods like Poutine, Beaver Tails and Tim Hortons (it is practically a national cuisine!), visited cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec and explored the expansive countryside, watched shows like Corner Gas and heard enough people tacking ‘ey’ on to the ends of sentences that it almost slipped out our mouths a couple of times.

canada 2011

From stationary to constantly mobile

And so began our mega road trip, through Montreal and Quebec, down across the border in to Boston, and to Manhattan, NYC, where we started the longest ‘leg’ of our trip: the Great American Road Trip: NYC2NOLA. It was an intense four weeks. Constantly on the go, we took a bus from NYC to Philly, on to DC, rented a car and drove over to Asheville and Charlotte before heading down to Charleston, west to Savannah, up through Atlanta and over to New Orleans. Then we extended the trip up through Memphis to Chicago.

usa 2011 road tripThe road trip has been as enthralling as shocking, a slap in the face of the hardships of life in America right now. Long talks ensued about life here – from the blatant disregard for health and wellness, crumbling infrastructure (Memphis) to the fascinating bits of local culture we discovered throughout the Northeast and the Deep South. I am from Chicago, which is very different to anywhere we just got through visiting, and as I haven’t lived in the US since August 2001, it is a true eye-opener to rediscover post 9/11, post Katrina, post Great Recession, post Bush, post first-election-of-black-president America.

us road trip 2011This was no vacation for us: the whole road trip was about keeping our eyes open all the time, taking everything in, and coming to understand America in a deeper way.  It hasn’t been about confirming or changing stereotypes, but witnessing first hand what each place is like, the feel, the attitude and the people.

Next Stop: South East Asia

After a few weeks of friends, family, rest and relaxation here in Chicago, we are heading to Denver for a few days before flying off to South East Asia! We are ready for a new and even bigger challenge after so long on the road. We have never been to Asia and don’t speak any of the languages like we do in Latin America, Europe and the U.S., so this will be a huge step out of our comfort zone. We couldn’t be more excited to explore an entirely new part of the world in as much detail as we have examined our own!

asian vibes

Thank you

The past 100 days have been so successful only thanks to the people & friends who have helped us make the most of this amazing adventure:

  • Jenne and Marcel for taking care of us so well in Canada
  • Irene for the great advice and taking us out to see a great band in Ottawa
  • Ottawa Tourism for all the advice and bike rentals
  • Jacob, Jenne and Brent for bonfires and Dani’s first-ever s’mores
  • Brad of Brad Sucks for good music and computer advice
  • Dave & Deb from ThePlanetD for the great Toronto recommendations
  • Manuela and Lahcen in Montreal for the hospitality and taking us out for some great Middle Eastern music
  • Bernarda in Toronto for opening her couch to us and letting us use her Lonely Planet
  • Weena and Daniel in Quebec for super sightseeing advice, very comfortable beds, great cheese and a gigantic, delicious chocolate muffin
  • AdventurousKate in Boston for recommending that great Thai place and taking the time to hang on her last night in the U.S.
  • Aaron of Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures in New York for showing us the Highline Park, sheltering us from the rain at Chelsea Market, feeding us great Mexican food and showing us all around his fav. Manhattan neighborhoods
  • The Library Hotel Collection for being excellent hosts while in Manhattan
  • NYCGo for providing CityPasses which helped us to maximise our time in NYC
  • Don Faust for his amazingly thorough and helpful advice about almost everywere on our trip – Philly, New Orleans and Washington, DC
  • Page from AllOverTheMap for the off-the-beaten-track D.C. advice
  • My Costa Rican ‘brother’ Jorge, who I haven’t seen since my exchange year in Costa Rica in 1999-2000 and his wife Emily, who now live in Washington DC and took us to Little Ethiopia for great Ethiopian food
  • Caz and Craig from yTravelBlog for all their road trip recommendations
  • Traci from GoBigOrGoHome for the Philly and Virginia tips
  • Andi from My Beautiful Adventures for a fabulous lunch and girly afternoon and Charleston travel tips while at Cafe Monte in Charlotte
  • Caroline from CarolineInTheCity for the Charleston recommendations
  • Our reader Camella for more fantastic Charleston tips
  • The Charleston Visitors Bureau for top tips and the city pass which allowed us to see so much of the city in such a short period of time.
  • Mike and Juergen from For 91 Days for their in-depth posts on Savannah and putting us in touch with the lovely Erica at the Visitors Bureau who helped to pimp our Labor Day weekend by pumping us full of delicious Craft Brews
  • Alex at the Westin who took on the vegetarian food challenge to cook us up some amazing grits patties
  • Nicole at Visit Atlanta for great advice on vegan restaurants and two CityPasses
  • Nicole, our long lost Georgian friend we know from our time in England at the University of Sussex – it was so great to meet up, drink wine and eat some super yummy southern food at Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Atlanta!
  • We’d also like to thank our reader Ann who sent us through great recommendations on what to see and eat in New Orleans
  • The New Orleans Visitors Bureau for CityPasses
  • InterContinental Hotel New Orleans for providing a lovely room in the heart of Nola
  • Last but not least, we would like to thank everyone who is following our journey!

globetrottergirls in north america

Looking back:

Reflections of 100 days of travel
Reflections of 200 days of travel
Reflections of 300 days of travel
Reflections of 400 days of travel

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500 days on the road: Tops & Flops of the last 100 days

500 days Canada US Portugal

While we were finishing up our five-week, 5,000 miles (8,000km) road trip last week, we used the long hours in the car to reflect on the last 100 days, which we spent in sunny Lisbon, in Canada, where we traveled in Ontario and Quebec, and finally road tripping along the East Coast and through the South of the U.S.

Lisbon to Toronto

north america road tripHere are the Tops and Flops of our last 100 days:

**Top Travel Moments

Beach days in Cascais, Lisbon

One of the best things about the Portuguese capital is the miles and miles of beaches that surround the city and the best part about that is how easy it is to get to these beautiful beaches. The popular beach town of Cascais is an easy 40 minute train ride along the coast (sit on the left of the train for the best views!). There are beaches all along the way to stop at, but we really loved arriving in Cascais, walking up and down the promenade and lazily laying on the sunny Atlantic shores. The town itself is well worth exploring too, with beautiful tiled houses, and plenty of narrow alleys to get lost in. Because we knew that this would probably be our last chance to be a beach bum for the next three months, we made a few train trips out to Cascais, and we discovered several great restaurants of all budget ranges and cuisines.

Read more: 33 Things we love about Lisbon

reflections cascaisCycling through Ottawa

We love renting bikes in almost every city we visit, but what we loved about Ottawa was just how easy it is to cycle in, through and around this Canada’s capital city. Ottawa has over 200 miles of perfectly-maintained cycle paths that can take you from the city center to lakes or farmland within 30 minutes. Our day saw us spend over seven hours on our Ottawa rental bikes exploring and enjoying Ottawa.

Ottawa parliament sunsetNYC2NOLA Great American Road Trip Highlight: Labor Day weekend in Savannah

Our Great American Road trip from New York to New Orleans brought us to Savannah for Labor Day weekend. Our long weekend there was as relaxing as it was active and a major highlight on our road trip! We were very lucky to be able to party hearty at the Craft Brew Fest at the Westin Savannah. We tasted tons of domestic and international craft brews, bellied up to one of the best Sunday brunch spreads we have ever had, and slept in the most comfortable hotel bed since leaving our Ottawa housesit in early August.

african beers at savannah craft brew festNYC2NOLA Great American Road Trip Highlight: New Orleans

Finding the right way to express just how much we enjoyed New Orleans is still a difficult task, as we were just so surprised at the incredible layers of this fine southern city. Of course we knew that New Orleans was much more than Bourbon Street, but had no idea how fantastic this city is – from the Garden District and Magazine Street to Treme, the sculpture garden in City Park and of course the entire deliciously charming French Quarter.

new orleans louisiana picturesArriving to Chicago in time for my birthday

Our 500th day of travel sees us reaching Chicago just in time for my birthday. This is the first time I have been home to celebrate my birthday since 2003, and only the second time since 1998, so it means a lot to be able to spend time with friends and family while we gear up for the next major leg of our travels. One of my bestest besties from back when phones still had cords threw me a birthday bash with my closest friends and I couldn’t have asked for more. After such a long time on the road, it really warms your heart and eases your soul to be surrounded by your friends.

Favorite Places in the last 100 days

Lisbon

We decided to head to Lisbon on a whim back in May, and the city quickly eclipsed almost all other European cities for us. It’s hard to describe the feeling of sunny freedom we felt here, but it was also the cultural diversity, rich history, tiled houses and exotic-sounding language that sits just outside of our Spanish-speaking reach.

lisbon pictures portugal

Montreal

The largest city in French-speaking Canada, Montreal is a healthy balance between all that is good about Europe and all that we love about North America. Montreal is a cycling city, easy to explore by bike, the food is delicious, and the culture incorporates the laid-back coffeehouse culture we love so much abut Europe.

montreal canada

Charleston, SC & Savannah, GA

Putting both these small southern cities on our itinerary put us smack in the center of a long-standing rival between Charleston and Savannah. Which do you like better, nearly everyone asked. What do you prefer about Charleston? Don’t you just love Savannah, it has so much more to offer than Charleston, and so on. So, rather than put our foot in it either way, we’re choosing both cities as some of our favorites in the last 100 days – and there is no compromise being made here as we truly loved both! Savannah is quirky, mystic while Charleston oozes that classic southern charm.

charleston & savannah

New York, New York

Anytime and always, we love New York. This time around we spent most of our time in Manhattan exploring the quintessential New York stops: The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and a trip on Top of the Rock. We padded the pavement north, south, east and west through Central Park early one morning as well as taking long night strolls through Greenwich Village, Times Square and along 5th Avenue. We also explored some areas that we hadn’t been to before, including parts of Brooklyn, Coney Island and the Little Odessa area around Brighton Beach and are already looking forward to our next visit to the Big Apple!

new york new york

Most disappointing places

Atlanta, Georgia

Maybe we built it up too much and were too excited about spending time in Atlanta, but it turns out – we don’t really understand the city at all. We relate Atlanta to hip hop and R&B, but couldn’t find a trace of promotion around this aspect of the city. Sure, we experienced Buckhead, Vinnings, drove past the Governor’s Mansion and we loved the only-in-Atlanta experiences like the CNN studio tour and the World of Coca Cola, but felt no connection at all with the city. Its expansive, suburban set-up was difficult to navigate without a car, and each trip in the car must be destination based – you have to know where you want to go, you never just happen to pass a great bar or restaurant from the six-lane highways and jump off.

CNN studio tour atlanta

Interstate Highways

We traveled over 3,000 miles from NYC to NOLA, and over 5,000 miles on our Canadian and our U.S. road trips combined, so while we wanted to do a lot of back roads driving, much of the time was spent on Eisenhower’s interstate highway system to get from point A to point B. Some of the drives were breathtaking – especially from Washington, DC to Asheville, but otherwise highway life is an unhealthy, uninspired blend of the same fast-food and budget hotel chains. Finding anything fresh or creative on the interstate is like needle hunting in a haystack.

american interstates highways

Memphis

Blues, Soul, Elvis…Memphis has a rich music history, but we had a hard time finding much of anything left. Beale Street, once the beating heart of the blues, now seems like a cheap commercialization of its past, and the downtown area lacks charm. But it is the rust on signs and bridges, falling down signs and city center office buildings sitting completely empty that made us so sad.

memphis beale street

Toronto

Don’t get us wrong – Toronto is a very cool city. Great food, creative street art, very plenty to do, but we didn’t feel the charm of Montreal or Quebec, the ease of Ottawa, and because we had expected to adore the city, we ended up feeling disappointed by Toronto – which doesn’t mean we didn’t like the city, though!

toronto canada

Best food moments

Indian Food in Lisbon

Goa, India was a territory of Portugal until the mid-20th century – a happy discovery for us as we dined at Indian restaurant after Indian restaurant throughout our three weeks in Lisbon. While seafood fans can eat like absolute kings in this port city, vegetarians could have a much harder time finding veggie dining options, but the dozens of affordable, quality Indian restaurants really save the day.

lisbon indian food

La Grande-mere Poule breakfast cafe – Montreal

Cute as a button from the outside, this breakfast cafe offers up hearty but healthy plates of pipping hot pancakes, french toast and enough egg dishes for an entire summer of breakfasts in this fine francophone city.

breakfast montreal

Eggplant Parmesan pizza in New York

We have a must-eat dish in many cities we visit often. In Leon, Nicaragua, we would make a beeline for Desayunazo’s gallo pinto, in Germany it’s pretzel rolls, and in New York City it’s eggplant Parmesan sandwiches…until now. Rarely do vegetarians get to cram an entire baguette of heavy, meaty, saucy Italian deliciousness into their mouths, so eggplant parm sandwiches really used to hit the spot. Until this time. We found this great place off Wall Street that puts thin slices of eggplant Parmesan on pizza. Not eggplant cubes or anything we’ve had infinite times in infinite places. We mean an entire layer of thinly breaded eggplant parm slices on top of delicious New York style pizza with cheese and sauce on top. We now have a favorite New York food, ladies and gentlemen.

eggplant pizza

Mary Mac’s Tea Room – Atlanta, Georgia

If you’re looking for down-home southern cooking with a smile and you happen to be in Atlanta – make sure to eat in one of the six tea rooms at Mary Mac’s. The menu is about as traditional as southern cookin’ can get – drink Mint Julip or Peach Iced Tea to wash down Chicken and Dumplin’s, Crawfish, fried green tomatoes, mac-n-cheese, broccoli-cheese souffle or fried breaded okra. For dessert, we sampled the banana pudding and peach cobbler.

Mary Macs tea room vegetable platter

Travel recommendations

Couchsurfing

We did not spend one cent on accommodation throughout our time in Canada. This was primarily accomplished through our five-week housesit outside of Ottawa, but in the last 100 days we’ve also really gotten involved with couchsurfing (finally!). We were hosted in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec, and couldn’t be more pleased with how it went, having met interesting locals who gave us tips and showed us around town in a way we never could have otherwise seen those two cities. Not only does couchsurfing save us a lot of money on accommodation, but we also appreciate getting to know areas outside of the downtown hotel areas and getting insider tips from people who live in the towns we visit.

couchsurfingHotwire.com

Hotwire.com is one of the booking websites that offers great mystery deals, whereby if you give up your right to know exactly which hotel you will stay in until after booking, you can choose an approximate area of the city and how many stars the hotel has, and get up to a 60% discount on rooms. We used Hotwire quite a lot on our U.S. road trip, as the site has great deals in many cities allowing us to remain within our comfortable budget range, but stay in hotels that would normally be out of reach for us. We were never disappointed, and stayed in some great hotels thanks to Hotwire in the last 100 days.

hotwire.com

Worst travel moments

Movie tour in Savannah

Savannah is famous for both the book and the film version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, as well as the setting for much of Forest Gump, so we thought a movie tour would be an interesting addition in our touring of this city. We were excited to watch the film clips as the bus went from location to location. Unfortunately, and for the first time ever, we actually recommend our readers NOT to take part in something – avoid the Savannah movie tours. The information was shallow, not knowledgable, there was little passion involved on the part of the guide, and at one point, he offered for everyone to get off the bus and eat ice cream at a well-known ice-cream parlor (aka tourist trap). This was the only tour we had to book a day in advance for, but don’t waste your time or money – these tours are not worth it!

Laptop burn-out

Over 500 days ago we purchased our little Asus Netbooks and loved them as family until one day, Dani’s netbook crashed. Luckily Dani is good at backing up and so didn’t lose everything, but she did lose loads of recent documents and downloads, and we had a heck of time transfering data and getting back up and running on a new computer (a brand-new Apple Macbook Air). The second netbook is on its last leg and also about to crash as well, so we are on the hunt for a new laptop for the next big stop on our trip – Asia!

Dani with her Asus Netbook

Travel mishaps

No Map, No Hotel Room in Boston

Luckily, we have no major mishaps to report in the last 100 days, but we have to admit to one mishap which should not have happened to the well-traveled globetrotting people we claim to be. It was a long, hot drive from Quebec City, across the border (with some hassle to get Dani back into the U.S. which caused a two-hour delay) and into Boston. When we arrived in the dark of night, we were focused only on making it to a bar to meet Adventurous Kate before she left for Europe. We had booked no room in Boston, had no map of the city, and didn’t leave the bar til around 11pm. We headed over to the hostel which was conveniently just around the corner from the bar where we had met, but was completely booked.

We were so ridiculously relaxed about the whole ordeal until it was 2:30am, we had driven for over three hours, couldn’t find an affordable hotel or motel that didn’t have roaches, and, without really saying it out loud, had decided that checking into a hotel wasn’t really worth it anymore, since we had planned an early start on the next day. So we headed over to Cambridge because we knew that sleeping in the car would be safer in Good Will Hunting’s academic stomping grounds. Yes, we slept in the car off of a quiet little side street just around the corner from Harvard University. Oops…

harvard book store in cambridgeIf you enjoyed that, check out more of our Tops and Flops:

Our Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel: Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain
Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

read more

Have we been here before? San Francisco vs Lisbon

lisbon bicycle path to belem

On the look out for a cheap place to base ourselves for a month, we wanted was sun, sand and good wi-fi. Our search brought us to Lisbon, and we quickly discovered we had been there before…kind of! Because the Lisbon San Francisco similarities are uncanny!

Lisbon San Francisco similarities

The more we walked around and got our bearings, we realized that Lisbon has a lot in common with one of our other favorite cities in the world – San Francisco.

Lisbon and San Francisco have so much in common, in fact, that it goes beyond the geography and infrastructure and extends to transportation, culture and lifestyle. Here are some Lisbon San Francisco similarities we discovered:

Lisbon San Francisco similarities
Left: San Francisco; Right: Lisbon

Between a bay and the ocean

When we think of the ‘west coast’, California is what first pops into our minds, but Portugal rightfully markets itself as Europe’s West Coast and the images of sun, sand and beach inspired by that idea are spot on. Lisbon is primarily located on the Tagus River just as it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, which means the city is surrounded by so much water, it boasts long stretches of waterfront property and miles of sandy beaches just beyond the city limits.

view over lisbon and 25 de abril bridge
View over Lisbon and the 25 de Abril Bridge

Similarly, the San Francisco peninsula sits between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. West Coast. The city’s Ocean Beach is comparable to Lisbon’s Costa Caparica, which are both known for big waves and key surf spots. San Francisco, too, has miles of waterfront and beaches – although not quite the same relaxed beach culture as Lisbon.

san francisco bay view
San Francisco Bay View

Built upon seven hills

Another Lisbon San Francisco similarity: Lisbon and San Francisco are both built atop exactly seven steep hills and because both of us prefer to tour as pedestrians putting miles of pavement behind us on foot, we can attest to the quad-burning workout in both cities. Climbing those hills is worth it, however, as the seven peaks of Lisbon and San Francisco both offer incredible views out over the city and and the ocean.

Lisbon San Francisco similarities
Left: Lisbon; Right: San Francisco

Our favorite hill view in San Francisco was from the Telegraph Hill, and in Lisbon, we loved the views from the Colina de São Vicente, the hill on which the Alfama neighborhood is located.

Historic cable cars & street cars

When people think of San Francisco, a vision of the old-time yellow cable cars most certainly come to mind – and it turns out that Lisbon also has cable cars, and they are yellow. To get even more specific, both San Francisco and Lisbon have cable cars and street cars, all of which began to run in the early 19th century.  Cable cars can climb the hills, while street cars run best on flat terrain. In Lisbon, there are five working trams, called eléctricos (find out how to ride the tram in Lisbon), which were imported from the U.S and originally called ‘americanos‘. While in Lisbon, these bright yellow electricos are still fully-integrated as a major part of the mass transit system, San Francisco now runs only two operating cable car lines (the oldest manually operated cable car system in the world) and one street car line which runs from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Castro.

Lisbon San Francisco similarities
Top Left, Bottom Right: Lisbon Streetcar & Tram, Bottom Left, Top Right: San Fran Tram & Streetcar

A bright orange suspension bridge

Early on into our Lisbon residence we walked down to the shore and, upon looking to our right, spotted a bridge so out of place, we did a double take. Is that the Golden Gate Bridge in Lisbon? You can’t talk about Lisbon San Francisco similarities without mentioning their very similar bridges!

Although it is called the Ponte de 25 Abril, this Lisbon suspension bridge – the longest of its type in Europe – looks almost identical to San Francisco’s iconic symbol. The two bridges are even close in size, as well, with the Golden Gate Bridge spanning 2,737m in length and the Ponte de 25 Abril reaching 2,277m across the Tagus River. The twin city feeling deepens here, as the  Lisbon version was actually designed by the San Francisco architect who designed San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge has held the record for the tallest suspension towers as well as the longest suspension span for decades, and the Ponte de 25 Abril, which held the record for the longest suspension span in Continental Europe for years, still holds the record for the deepest bridge foundations.

golden gate bridge san francisco & lisbons 25 abril bridge
Top left, Bottom Right : Lisbon, Top Right, Bottom Left: San Francisco

A history of severe earthquakes

Both cities have been leveled by severe earthquakes. Lisbon was hit by several severe earthquakes throughout the centuries, but the worst one hit in 1755 and destroyed 85% of the city. Over 150 years later, in 1906, San Francisco was hit with its hardest earthquake almost completely destroying the city and leaving over 400,000 people homeless.

The Climate – minus the summer months

They say that Lisbon and San Francisco share a similar climate and when we arrived in early June, the weather was chilly and cloudy, like a typical San Fran June day. However, as the days and weeks moved on, Lisbon revealed itself to be a hot and sunny Iberian beach spot more similar to southern Spain than San Francisco. The summers are night and day, but  the winters in both cities are said to be similarly moist and chilly.

Lisbon San Francisco similarities
Left: Lisbon; Right: San Francisco

World Class Wine

This might seem obvious, but too important to forget. San Francisco is the gateway to the wine region of Napa Valley for an afternoon wine-tasting of the ultimate relaxing boozy weekend, and Portgual is not only known for its sweet Port wine from Porto, but also its delicious Vinho Verde, or ‘green wine’, which is really more like a very crisp, refreshing bottle of white. At $8 in restaurants and even less in stores, Portugal is a wine-lover and bargain-hunter’s dream when it comes to wine.

Coffee Shop Culture

Both Lisbon and San Francisco have a thriving coffee culture scene, but they truly are worlds apart.  Lisbon, like the rest of Portugal, is full of smaller coffee shops called ‘Pastelerias’, where locals dip in for a cheap 55 cent espresso and a sugary, creamy pastry all throughout the day. There are a couple of Starbucks locations downtown, but the Lisbonians head to their local pasteleria for a pick-me-up caffeine jolt, and spend ten or twenty minutes chatting away to the other regulars. San Francisco, and its neighboring Silicon Valley are both home to a well-developed cafe culture that couldn’t be more different to Lisbon. Here, locals frequent Starbucks, Blue Bottle or Peet’s Coffee and Tea, open their Macbooks and stick in their headphones for a day of location-independent working.

West Coast Street Art

San Francisco, and especially its Mission District, are well known for its unique murals and street art graffiti. During our time in San Fran we spotted a fresh Banksy in fact! The world’s most creative street artists leave their mark here on the West Coast of the U.S., but not any people realize the incredible street art scene happening over on Europe’s West Coast! For street art junkies like ourselves, Lisbon boasts colorful social commentary across many of its buildings and public spaces. Take a stroll through the Bairro Alto, practically a public art museum with incredible graffiti.

Lisbon San Francisco similarities
Top left, Bottom Right: Lisbon, Top Right, Bottom Left: San Francisco

Have you been to both cities? Did you also feel such a resemblance? Did we miss any other similarities between the two cities? We’d love for you to let us know about anything we missed in the comments below!

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Lisbon, sweet Lisbon: Our favorite breakfasts in Portugal

pastry selection & cafe lisbon

**Warning: This post contains an outrageously high amount of calories and the meals talked about in this post should in no way considered as a healthy diet.**

I shot out of bed each and every morning in Lisbon, not because of the clear blue skies or gorgeous summer weather – it was all about the pastries! Like a match made in heaven, I’ve got a super sweet tooth and Portugal is famous for its delicious pastries. It was amazing to us just how many bakeries, or ‘pastelerias’ there are in Lisbon. In fact, just within 2 minutes walking from our guest house there were no less than SIX different bakeries, all filled with dozens of chocolate eclairs, Portuguese-style doughnuts, cakes, cookies, and  last but not least pasteis de nata, the signature pastry of Portugal. Breakfast in Portugal meant indulging in mouthwatering sweets!

Pastelerias are perfect for grabbing a quick espresso and a piece of cake when the tummy starts rumbling mid-afternoon, but they are the most packed first thing in the morning: Office workers, street cleaners, housewives, grandmothers, mothers with children – in short, the entire bustle of the city streets burst out of the bakeries while everyone in Portugal seems to have breakfast here before work or school.

And in Portugal, breakfast means sweets. Pastries!

I couldn’t believe my luck – a country where it is practically mandatory to eat sweets for breakfast! What could be better than starting each day with sugary or chocolatey or creamy doughnuts? Over the years I’ve gotten Jess to like all kinds of sweets, which didn’t interest her in the least before she met me, but sweets for breakfast are still not really her thing, unless it’s granola or yogurt with fruit.

So we set off to find a bakery that also offered yogurt for breakfast, and after seven or eight bakeries, we were finally lucky – this is what we found:

meia de leite yogurt & pastry portugalI’ll admit that her Greek yogurt with berries was delicious, but I was happy with my giant sugar-topped custard pastry, and we both had a Portuguese cappuccino called ‘meia de leite’.

Healthy options are few and far between, however, and the next morning both of us ordered something sweet. So, instead we ordered a small sampling of a variety of pastries to get an overview of Portuguese baked goods:

Portugal breakfastSugar overload! My favorite pastry was the one on the top right, which was similar to a the national pastry – pastel de nata. The pasteis de nata are small round flaky pastries filled with vanilla custard and topped with a mix of cinnamon and sugar. The flavor is unique, distinct and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. This is what they look like:

pasteis de nataOnly one single bakery in Portugal, in Lisbon’s Belem neighborhood, still uses the original recipe, appropriately called Pastéis de Belém. Now juggling its reputation as both a tourist attraction and a legitimate local’s spot, there is usually a long line of people outside the bakery at all times of the day. However, all the other bakeries also make excellent pasteis de nata and some modify them a little bit and fill them with apple or almond sauce instead of custard or use powdered sugar:

Portugal breakfast

Doesn’t this flaky dough crust look delicious?! My favorite pasteis de nata are still the original ones though. If you visit Portugal, you have to try them!

After a few days, we grew tired of the same ol’ sweet breakfasts and just wanted some granola or a hearty breakfast. Not to be found though. Instead we’re  another sweet start into our day…

pastries & meia de leiteThis was actually a very good breakfast and the pastry with the sugar icing and chocolate sauce on top was one of my favorites of all the ones I ate my way through, and Jess also thought that her strudel was delicious.

The next morning, we got breakfast served along with 30 Seconds to Mars sugar… sweet 🙂 !

cafe & pastryYou may be seeing a pattern develop here. Morning after morning, pastry after pastry, with every day we spent in Lisbon, our pants got tighter and tighter, despite our daily hour-long eight-mile exploration walks through Lisbon… Of course we did not eat pastries for the entire three weeks in Portugal – even I got a bit tired of the sweet breakfasts, and at some point we switched them for fresh fruit in the morning.

Please find an array of delicious Portuguese breakfast pastries below:

breakfast portugalA sugar doughnut filled with custard, and a chocolate-covered vanilla custard dream… The Portuguese really love their custard!

portugal breakfastAnother custard-filled doughnut, a custard-filled eclair with sugar frosting, and a selection of cookies – glorious!

portuguese breakfastI couldn’t leave Portugal without one last sweet breakfast, so on our last day, I went to the bakery and got the mini versions of my favorite pastries. Heaven on a plate! Of course I finished them all and I can’t wait to go back to Portugal for more…

What about you – are you a fan of sweet breakfasts? Where in the world have you had the best breakfast? Share in the comments…

 

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Lisbon on Wheels – Get Out and Ride!

yellow tram lisbon portugal

Portugal’s capital city took us completely by surprise when, after booking a three-week stay on a whim, we ended up enamored by Lisbon’s allure. Unlike other European capitals, Lisbon balances its role as a cosmopolitan capital and once-commanding role in global maritime history with endless stretches of sandy beach and cool ocean breeze for relaxing days at the seaside.

Lisbon view rossio squareThe only way to experience all of these charming facets of the city is by imbibing it from as many perspectives as possible. Climb the city’s seven steep hills for sweeping views of the city and beyond to see where the mighty Tagus river estuary to the south empties into the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Or, just get out and ride – whether that be in a car, on a bike or a more adventurous form of three-wheeled transport.

gocar lisbon dani & jess

Rent a car – Lisbon on four wheels

Cruising around downtown can help visitors to get their bearings, but we’ll save city center exploration for a set of fewer wheels below. We rented a car to explore the surrounding areas outside of Lisbon, starting in Sintra, an enchanting little city and UNESCO World Heritage Site 25km outside Lisbon.

sintra houses portugalLuckily we pulled into town just before 10am, early enough to find parking and have the town’s 9th century Moorish castle almost entirely to ourselves. Day-trippers flock to Sintra and its fabulously ornate 19th century Pena Palace, so beat the crowds here and then leave Sintra and loop over to Praia Grande, ‘big beach’, a popular surfing beach and Praia Adraga, a much smaller version of the big beach on your way to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Europe. During our visit, it was chilly and wet, so when we discovered the six kilometer hike from Adraga Beach to the Cabo da Roca, we had to turn it down and drive instead.

portugal cabo da roca western most point of continental europe After imagining life for Portuguese sailors using the lighthouse as a guide centuries ago, we left Cabo da Roca, and, as we rounded the curve to the coast of Cascais, the rain stopped and sunny Lisbon life returned as quickly as the clouds had suddenly rolled in. Cascais is a not-so-small beach town that retains heaps of charm, and a spot we decided to actually stay in next time we come to Lisbon. The calm waters of the Atlantic are perfect for swimming, restaurants are varied offering anything from Indian to British to Portuguese fare. People here (and there are many, many people here during the summer) are all about relaxing on the beach, so even though we were far from the deserted beaches in Costa Rica we loved so much, and just a few feet from the nearest beachgoers, we just immersed ourselves in a book and enjoyed the sun.

cascais beach lisbon

The late afternoon cruise back to Lisbon along the Avenida Marginal de Cascais made us really realize what a fabulous destination Lisbon really is. The 20km drive along this beach promenade is dotted with beach town after beach town, each with its own patch of wide sandy beach, restaurants, bars and hotels. Everything here is geared toward one thing: the beach. fThere are no ridiculous monstrosities obstructing the view, no theme parks, aquariums, or museums that act as tourist traps on this road. The town of Cascais itself has a surprisingly rich cultural calendar, but along the promenade all the way to Lisbon, the beach remains the main attraction.

cascais promenade lisbon portugalA second day trip option with a rental car in Lisbon is to head south to the Costa de Caparica, over and past two world famous monuments you never knew existed in Lisbon. Cross the Ponte de 25 Abril bridge, which is the spitting image of the more famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and at the end you’ll pass directly under the shadow of the Cristo-Rei (Jesus Christ) statue, which bears more than a slight resemblance to the famous Cristo Redentor statue in Rio De Janeiro.  From there, it is just another 15 minutes across the peninsula before there are over 40 miles of non-stop beaches to choose from to spend a relaxing day at the beach. Stop off to eat at any of the beach side cabanas or pack a picnic for the beach.

Lisbon street and bridge 25 de abril

GoCar Tours – Lisbon on three wheels

Back in the city, one way to gain unique access to Lisbon’s smaller streets comes on three wheels with GoCar Tours, which we found ourselves doing one sunny Wednesday morning.

jess cocar lisbonWe turned into a narrow side street near the imposing Lisbon City Gate to find yellow go-carts all lined up in a row. The staff inside could not have been more friendly or helpful, giving us tips on what to see in Lisbon as well as in the surrounding areas. After a quick how-to session, we were given helmets and headed off to explore the Lisbon city streets. We set off and  were immediately welcomed by the English-speaking GPS guide, who not only gives driving instructions, but also explains the history of several attractions and locations throughout the tour.

gocar lisbonWe zipped around town for just under an hour in these speedy yellow three-wheeled machines, but some people rent GoCars in Lisbon for the entire day and even drive it down to Cascais.

One of the things we loved about the GoCars is the access to the side streets unavailable to cars. Lisbon has countless hilly side streets only no wider than two horses, and these narrow streets offer up some of the best glimpses into true Portuguese neighborhoods.

lisbon alleyIt was great to be able to shoot up and down these hills and hear about the history of these local gems, albeit catching some stares from the bewildered residents peeking down from their windowsills above. As we drove, we always made sure to give fellow GoCars a friendly wave, as well as the dozens of tourists who turned their cameras on us as we tooled by – when you rent a GoCar, you become a tourist attraction yourself!

Tram reflection gocar lisbon

There are a few things to keep in mind if considering a GoCar rental. First of all, you should be looking for a bit of adventure. Weaving in and out of traffic among cars, trucks streetcars, bicycles, buses and pedestrians is an adrenaline rush, especially if you, like us, are not accustomed to go-carting. Also, it is a bumpy ride at times. Lisbon is covered in cobble stones, and you’ll be bumping along very low to the ground for much of any tour through the inner city. If this is a concern, scoot straight over to the Belem area. Not only are many of the famous tourist attractions located here, but this is a flat area right on the shore with paved roads and pathways. If it sounds like fun, but you’re not looking for too much adventure, Lisbon GoCar Tours do make a small set of golf cart-like vehicles available, which are easier to drive and might be more familiar to some users.

lisbon belem monastery

Rent a bicycle – Lisbon on two wheels

For a liberating day out with sun, sand and shoreline, the best thing to do is rent a bike in Lisbon. We started off from Lisbon Hub, right downtown a block from the train station and pedaled the seven kilometers along the bank of the Tagus River.

lisbon tagus river viewThe clearly marked cycle path is popular both with Lisbon’s fit, athletic types out running and cycling and the city’s fisherman, who set up their fishing rods early each morning. Along the way, we passed sexy sunset lounge bars and clusters of slightly upscale waterside restaurants serving up primarily Italian, Portuguese and Spanish cuisine. Once in Belem, we locked up the bikes and headed to sample Pasteis de Nata, Portugal’s most famous pastry, at the renowned Pasteis de Belem, where only three chefs know the recipe for what are considered the best Pasteis de Nata in the world. After filling up on these creamy, sugary delights, we spent the afternoon at the popular tourist sites here like the Belem Tower, Jeronimo Monastery and the Museu Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art before our ride back to the heart of Lisbon.

pasteis de nata lisbon

Cycling this expansive area of the coast in its entirety is too much for one day if you want to catch the ferry back in time to return the bike to Bike Iberia, so just cycle along, stopping off at whatever stretch of beach strikes your fancy for a few hours and then head on to the next.costa caparica waves

Take the bike on the coastal train

Another option is to take the bike right into the train station and hop on one of the coastal trains out to Cascais where the cycleways are perfect for peaceful riding along the shoreline or take the ferry across the Tagus to the Alameida and ride 20 minutes to the wide, sandy beaches of the Costa da Caparica.

Join a guided bicycle tour

If you aren’t entirely comfortable on a bike and feel safer navigating Lisbon with a guide, there are plenty of bicycle tours available in Lisbon. And if you feel like cycling is too hard (which, admittedly, on a hot summer day it sure can be!), there are also e-bike tours and e-bike rentals which make getting around Lisbon a whole lotta easier on your legs.

 

While we loved the freedom we felt with our bikes in Lisbon, those seven steep hills in the center are too much for us mere mortals to attack on two wheels. This means that city center exploration up and down the character-building hills must be done on your own two feet, or you can hop on to one of the many streetcars in town which again evoke pleasant memories of San Francisco.

lisbon tram 28

Lisbon on one wheel…

Exploring Lisbon on a unicycle? Honestly, we haven’t done that…yet? Maybe we will save this on for next time!

Either way, the more time you take to explore Lisbon, the more the city unfolds to reveal the depths of its charming character. Each city side street hides little secrets – a beautifully-tiled building, a centuries-old basement gin joint, tiny art galleries, or a pasteleria overflowing with good-natured Portuguese locals at all times of day, and with the sun and the sand so nearby, we found ourselves as cheerful as ever! Taking the time to explore the city on four, three and two wheels is what made us fall head over heels for Lisbon.

lisbon bike ponte 25 abril

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Polaroid of the week: Beautiful Lisbon, Portugal

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polaroid of the week portugal lisbon

We just spent a little over three weeks in Portugal’s capital, and this city became one of our favorite in Europe. We took our time to explore all the diverse neighborhoods, climbed up to the top of the city’s seven hills, sampled dozens of the famous ‘Pasteles de nata’, Lisbon’s trademark pastries and enjoyed lazy days at the nearby beaches. We loved the typical tiled houses, the classic yellow trams that continue to climb up and down the steep hills, the countless mom-n-pop restaurants (and lack of chains), and narrow alleyways in the Alfama neighborhood. We could have easily spent another three weeks in Lisbon and can’t wait to get back to what we consider Europe’s most laid-back and beautiful capital.

 

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33 Things We Love About Lisbon

lisbon portugal

Lisbon turned out to be one of our favorite places so far on our travels, so after three weeks in the Portuguese capital, finding thirty-three things to shout out over the rooftops was easy! Read on for some of the things and places we absolutely love about Portugal’s capital, some random observations about Lisbon, as well as some Lisbon fun facts you may not know (yet!)

33 Things we love about Lisbon:

1. The yellow trams

Similar both in look and feel to the San Francisco trams, these beautiful yellow trams serve as a very useful public transportation system spanning the central city area. The older street car trolleys continue to connect the coastal areas to the high up hilltop neighborhoods, while the trams travel across town on the streets at sea level. Most are slightly aged but in full working order (like much of Lisbon, actually) and they are lifesavers for getting you up and down the steep hills in comfort. Tip: The Number 28 route has become the de facto tourist tram, as it circles the city center. You’ll see tourists seated on the wooden benches, hanging out of the open windows with their cameras, while the locals have tend to cram into the aisles to keep using the line.

yellow tram lisbon portugal

2. Lisbon is multicultural

Lisbon’s mighty maritime history in the 15th to 19th centuries means that Portugal gained several colonies throughout the centuries. The effects of this can be seen in the cultural make up of its capital city today, which, along with more recent immigrants from all over Europe and further afield, make Lisbon a culturally rich cosmopolitan city.

3. Vinho Verde

Despite its name, Vinho Verde or green wine, is not green at all. It is a light white wine, made of green grapes, and is one of Portugal’s specialties along with the more globally known Port wine. At €7 a bottle in the restaurant and much less in the store, there is no excuse not to try this delicious Portuguese wine.

Vinho Verde Portugal

4. The train ride to Cascais

Cascais is the biggest beach town just outside of Lisbon, and it could not be easier to get there. The train leaves from central Lisbon and glides along the coast, with several stops throughout the various beach villages on the way to Cascais. Easily my favorite way to get to the beach, this sunny ride got me right in the mood for a day of ultimate relaxation! Make sure to ride on the left side of the train when traveling from Lisbon to Cascais for the best beach views.

5. Santa Justa Elevator

Lisbon is built on seven hills, and climbing this multilevel city can get tiring, especially without car. Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, a Lisbon native born to French parents, Mesnier served as an apprentice to Gustav Eiffel, and brought the inspiration from the construction of the tower home and applied them with the Santa Justa lift. The lift was commissioned and created to facilitate the movement of people from down in the Baixa section up to Carmo Square. The design is intricate, beautiful, and the lift itself is free, but for just €1.50, you can climb the stairs to the top of the elevator for great views over Lisbon.

Lisbon fun facts6. Cheap bakery breakfasts

Within a one-minute walk from the door of our hotel, we had the choice of six pastelerias, or Portuguese bakeries. While we are sure that plenty of people in Lisbon eat breakfast at home, people are pouring out of these pastelerias, all of them, each morning. We ordered a double espresso and one of the many delicious pastries for around €2 to start our day sugar shocked and uber-caffeinated! You can take a look at some of our favorite breakfasts in Portugal here.

7. The views over Lisbon

In Lisbon, there are views just about everywhere, from hilltops to hotel rooftops, plus countless parks and even from the castle. My favorite place for a view was to climb the streets up to the Miradouro e jardim do Torel viewpoint which is a little park in a residential area just off the Avenida da Libertade. The benches were so comfortable, and the trees provide a breezy, cooling shade. Even on days of intense summer heat, this park is the perfect spot to have a coffee and read a book while the rest of Lisbon is baking below.

Lisbon fun facts

8. The Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Belem

The Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (short: Museo Berardo) has a great collection of the world’s biggest artists of the 20th century- Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp, Magritte, Miró,  Jackson Pollock and many more. And the best thing: the museum is always FREE.

9. The beaches

We just can’t get enough of the beaches in Lisbon. The city itself is lined with coastline, along the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean – which can be reached by car, train, bike, bus or GoCar within minutes. A second option for more beaches lies just across the 25 de Abril bridge (the Golden Gate Bridge’s twin). A ten minute ride once across leads to the Costa da Caparica and miles and miles of Atlantic Ocean beach access. Both areas have a laid-back beach culture, surfing, and plenty of great restaurants to keep everyone fed and happy.

Lisbon observations

10. Pasteis de Nata pastries

These pastries are a Portuguese institution, and one of Dani’s favorite sweets from our time in Europe this year. They are custard filled pastries, with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top.

11. The Coffee

They love their coffee in Lisbon, and while walking the city streets, an espresso is available just about every 50ft. Known locally as ‘bicas’ these super strong espressos kept us buzzing all day long.

Lisbon fun facts

12. Sagres and Superbock beers

We kept that buzz going at night as well, with these two popular Portuguese brews. Both are light, crisp, and delicious cold – which after a day in that sizzling Lisbon sun feels gooooood.

13. Sculptures everywhere!

One Lisbon observation that filled us with joy: The City is filled with sculptures – the biggest one being the Cristo Rei statue in the Almada neighborhood on the left-bank of the Tagus River, a giant stone Jesus Christ figure, which is overlooking Lisbon and was inspired by the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue in Rio de Janeiro, but you will come across bronze and stone sculptures everywhere in the city, including the magnificent Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) in Belem, and a gigantic Fernando Botero sculpture on the north end of the Eduardo VII Park.

botero sculpture lisbon portugal14. Tiled houses

The tiles of Lisbon are what help to maintain that intensely old school charm of this capital city. The buildings and sidewalks are both covered in tiles, and form designs or patterns, or even larger murals.

Lisbon observations

15. Bairro Alto & Chiado

This area of Lisbon is a combination of bohemian creativity and classic luxury. A place where art museums and fusion restaurants meet live music and old-world wine and whiskey bars. If we lived in Lisbon, this is where we would go out for all occasions.

16. Indian Restaurants

Goa, India was a Portuguese territory until the mid 20th century, and one culinary result is that Lisbon has over 50 Indian restaurants in the city and counting! We couldn’t have been happier with the Indian food as it was both vegetarian and delicious. In fact…we managed to eat at a different Indian restaurant almost every single night, and no, it wasn’t healthy. But it was good!

Indian sauces Lisbon Portugal

17. The subway system

You may be charmed by the trolleys, the sleek super quiet trams, the buses which provide a great tour for the price of bus fare, or the fun ferries which cross the Tagus river – but don’t forget about the fully functional, easy, clean subway system. Our hotel entrance was at the top of the Almirante Reis exit, so we took the subway often and found it to be very convenient.

18. Ponte 25 de April

We’ve mentioned it before, but we just love how this twin of the Golden Gate – only one of many similarities to San Francisco – adds an extra touch to the classic beauty of the skyline.

Lisbon fun facts

19. Lisbon is affordable

From food and transport to clothing and tourist attractions, Lisbon is a fabulously affordable city. The capital is home to some of the finest theater and hotels, but the luxury here seems present, but muted – Lisbon is also the most no-fuss capital we have visited and can easily be done on a budget.

20. The Alleys of the Alfama quarter

The Alfama quarter of Lisbon is the most romantic area of the city. Built upon dense bedrock, the Alfama survived the 1755 earthquake, which makes a visit to this area like a trip back in time. Stepping through the narrow medieval cobblestone areas brought us to tiny squares, inside mystic churches, and past whitewashed houses decorated with colorful flowers and laundry hanging out to dry.

lisbon fun facts21. Survival of the mom-n-pop restaurants

If we ate seafood, then it would surely be on this list of thirty three things we love, since Lisbon and all of Portugal is known for its fresh, delicious seafood. And although don’t eat seafood (or meat), we can appreciate the way it is sold and eaten here in Lisbon. Even in expensive downtown real estate, streets are lined with family-owned shops and restaurants open for generations. Shops specialize in specific products – fabric, yarn, bags, antique books, florists, tools and, of course, seafood. It’s a great feeling to pay someone for an item and know that the cash is going right to them, not to an (inter)national chain.

22. Wine and whisk(e)y in wooden boxes

Continuing along our love of the old school style of Lisbon and the survival of the mom-n-pop, we love peeking in to the dimly lit downtown booze shops which still sell dusty bottles of wine and whiskey packed individual in wooden boxes.

23. The stunning Santo Domingo church

Its nondescript facade hides one of the most beautiful churches we came across in Europe during this trip, and believe us, we have seen a ton of churches! The salmon-colored walls are so unusual, the detail on the many statues and columns incredible. We don’t actually attend church, but we’d go back to this one again any time!

santo domingo church lisbon

24. Docas – The Santo Amaro Docks

Under the 25 de Abril Bridge in the Alcantara area of Lisbon between Baixa and Belem, former warehouses now house a string of bars and restaurants which now overlook a trendy yacht marina. You can eat everything from Tapas and Mexican to traditional Portuguese, but the best part is enjoying a drink and a view of the lights twinkling on the water at night.

25. The bike path to Belem

The 7km cycle path along the coast leads from the downtown train station to the area of Belem, and is a flat, easy ride under the 25 de Abril Bridge, past countless trendy bars and restaurants and toward some of Lisbon’s most popular and significant tourist attractions.

Lisbon observations26. Baixa

This area is the heart of downtown Lisbon. It’s beautiful, wide squares and great shopping streets were re-built after the earthquake of 1755 leveled the city. The neo-classical architecture today houses some modern shops, but several of these downtown store fronts are still run by sole retailers selling hand-crafted goods and services. Baixa is the main area for public gatherings in Lisbon as well.

27. Street Art

Cities with great street art always win our hearts, and parts of Lisbon are like outdoor art museums, with eye-catching, intellectual street art.

Lisbon observations

28. Avenida da Libertade

This central, tree-lined boulevard across town from the Rossio Square to Parque Eduardo VII, and is the main shopping street and thoroughfare for parades in the city. The Libertade is known as Portugal’s equivalent of the Champs Elysees in France, and with its luxury shops, it sure feels that way.

29. Queijo mestiço de Tolosa

As we do in any European country, we grabbed a bottle of red wine, a freshly-baked baguette and this delicious soft white mestiço de Tolosa cheese and had a picnic in the Jardim do Ultramar. At some point, we ran out of bread, and then out of wine, but we kept right on nibbling at this excellent cheese anyway – so good!

portuguese wine & cheese

30. Campo Mártires da Pátria

The statue that sits on this space, Sousa Martins Statue, is dedicated to Dr José Tomás de Sousa Martins, who, in the 20th century, worked with the poor treating tuberculosis. Today, there are thousands of engraved plaques and stones still thanking the doctor for his help. The attached park, Jardim da Cordoaria, has peacocks, pheasants, ducks and geese paddling around a pond, plus a cafe called O Coreto, which is popular with locals who like the solitude of this peaceful park right in the center of the city.

31. Lisbon GoCar Tours are fun

Exploring the town from the view of a little yellow GoCar is a great way to see Lisbon. Read what we thought about our Lisbon GoCar Tour, and if you are on your way to Lisbon, you can book a Gocar tour here.

Lisbon fun facts32. Portuguese style

Lisbon residents are a handsome bunch. Golden brown from the summer sun and thin thanks to climbing the city’s many hills, people here have the bodies to pull off tight, short and barely-there attire – but no one does. Instead, the style is much more natural and comfortable. Men wear button-down shirts and linen trousers, while women wear long, flowing dresses/skirts and loose-fitting linen shirts. Overall this brings such a relaxed fashion sense to match the laid-back attitude and a lack of pretentiousness that we could really get along with.

33. A Ginjinha

Ginjinha is the name of a liqueur which infuses sour cherries in alcohol with sugar. This super sour shot burns its way down and doesn’t taste all that pleasant at all – the pleasant part is that it shots are available all day long from A Ginjinha, essentially a gritty, singular market stall, right on Rossio Square. The wrinkly old Portuguese vendor slaps shot after shot on the counter for the continuous stream of locals and tourists who gather to spend five minutes with their cherry shot throughout the day.

Lisbon fun facts

If you enjoyed these 33 things – check out the things we love about some of our other favorite destinations:

1. 33 Things We Love about Costa Rica
2. 33 Things We Love About Nicaragua
3. 33 Things We Love About Guatemala

For highlights in Central America, Mexico and Europe, we’d love you to have a look round all our Things We Love articles!

Have you been to Portugal? More specifically to Lisbon – Did you love it as much as we did? What were some of the things you love the most about Lisbon?

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Polaroid of the week: The Golden Gate Bridge’s Twin Sister

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..polaroid of the week portugal lisbon ponte 25 Abril

Look Lisbon has a Golden Gate Bridge, who knew?! Actually, it is the Ponte de 25 Abril (named after a famous battle), the longest central span bridge in Europe and, with a total length of 2,277 m, it is the 20th largest suspension bridge in the world. It also holds the world record for the world’s deepest bridge foundation by going 80m (262ft) below the riverbed to stand on basalt rock.

The bridge, which bears such a striking resemblance to its San Franciscan twin, was in fact built by the American Bridge Company, the company who constructed San Francisco’s Bay Bridge (the other one, not the Golden Gate Bridge). Completed in 1966, the upper platform carries six car lanes (it was widened twice), and a lower platform with two train tracks was added in 1999.

The bridge is crossed by more than 150,000 cars and 160 trains every day, carrying a total of 380,000 people across it each day. Unlike the Golden Gate Bridge, there is no pedestrian crossing allowed.

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Six Offbeat things to do in Porto, Portugal

Porto Portugal

When it comes down to discussing tourist destinations, Porto is one of the most popular places to visit in right now, and since it’s less hours from Lisbon on the train, why not add a stop in Porto to your trip to Portugal? And while Porto may not be as popular as Lisbon just yet, don’t think you’ll get away from tourists – Porto is still a touristy spot, however, if you want to do something ‘off the beaten path’, I recommend to find private tours in Porto with locals.PortoIn this article, I am sharing a few of the less talked about things to do while visiting Porto – once you’ve seen the main tourist attractions, check out these cool things:

Book a film show at an independent theater

Independent films and watching them around in Porto is quite the tradition. If you wish to experience something similar, the best way to go about with it is by visiting Cinema Trindale. It does offer some of the most amazing set of choices and that too at an amazing price as well. You don’t need to worry about the language barrier because there are subtitles for the movies you watch.

Visit Casa da Musica

Apart from the breathtaking beauty of the white and glass in the swerving walls of Casa, the Casa da Musica is one of those offbeat spots to visit around which offers an immaculate experience. The building itself is a must-see for architecture lovers, while the performances inside will wow not just lovers of classical music. The orchestral shows in there are nothing short of amazing and are one of the best things to do while in Porto. If you miss out on getting tickets to a concert, the cafe in the basement is worth a visit too. It is also an amazing spot to witness the skaters swerve through the slopes.Casa da Música, Porto - Portugal

Visit the Cat cafe

Cafes are everywhere to be found around Porto but the one that stands out is the cat cafe. It is not just one of a kind but quite a fun place to hang around in. It is called O Porto dos Gatos (The Port Of Cats) and is one of the only cat cafes in all of in Europe. The interior of the place is quite serene and has cats everywhere you turn. The cafe serves 100% vegan food which is fantastic for vegans – but also non-vegans will love the food here – the cakes and brownies are to die for!

Explore Ribeira

Something you shouldn’t miss while you are in Porto is exploring Ribeira, which is one of Porto’s liveliest neighborhoods and UNESCO World Heritage site. It is known for its architectural grandeur and the beauty it bestows. The name of this place translates to Riverside which is literally where it is located, hence the name. It is one of the most beautiful and charming areas of Porto, so take an afternoon and go for a wander around Ribeira. Use this excellent guide to Ribeira as your starting point to explore the neighborhood.Ribeira

Sign up for an art class

Irrespective of whether or not you are good at art, you can take an art class while you are in Porto. There are several local artists who offer amazing art classes that you can take. Not just the brush strokes, they often explain everything about the equipment too. You don’t need to have any kind of prior experience. All you need is to be enthusiastic about art.

Visit the Tram Museum

The Tram Museum in Porto is one of a kind and makes you travel back in time. Not only do you learn about the history of each train, but you can also find out why each one has a different surname. This museum is often named as a kids’ favorite.Tram 163, Porto Tram Museum

If you want to venture beyond Porto, I recommend taking a trip to Douro Valley. It takes only about an hour and a half to get there and the beauty of the Douro River is worth this road trip. If you have time for a day trip in Douro valley while you’re in Porto, don’t miss this breathtakingly beautiful part of Portugal.

Douro Valley
 

Photo Credit: Lead image of Porto by Nathsegato via Pixabay. All other images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Porto by Simplethrill; (2) Casa de Musica by Paolo Margari; (3) Ribeira by Miquel Bohigas Costabella; (4) Porto Tram Museum by Nigel Menzies; (5) Douro Valley by Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau
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Summer in the Algarve – Top Tips on Avoiding the Crowds

costa caparica beach portugal

Portugal has it all. Warm sunny weather, beautiful scenery, gorgeous coast and bags of culture. The only problem is – everyone else knows this too! Meaning that come summer, places like the Algarve can be extremely overpopulated with tourists. Something that can be extremely off-putting to other travellers.

However, you shouldn’t let a few tourists keep you from experiencing one of Europe’s most treasured holiday destinations. With just a few clever tricks, I promise that you’ll be able to get the most out of your Algarve holiday without getting trampled on by stampedes of holiday-goers.

The Algarve itself is popular due to two main reasons – every year it experiences over 300 days of sunshine and yet it’s still an incredibly affordable destination with numerous budget flights. Then there’s the fact the region is famed for its long, clean beaches that are considered some of the safest in the world. It’s little wonder that couples and families flock to the Algarve every year.

To avoid the crowds, I recommend avoiding the big hotels that occupy the central Algarve. Yes, the amazing hospitality, swimming pools and affordable hotel bills are very tempting. But that means everyone else will book too! For more privacy, I suggest booking your own villa or apartment. Many of these private holiday homes have their own swimming pools meaning you won’t have to share with other tourists, plus you can avoid the hectic morning buffets in favour of exploring the local food markets and attempting to make some Portuguese dishes yourself.

When it comes to beaches, both the south and central Algarve with beaches like Praia da Falesia are particularly busy due to all the facilities they provide. This beach resort has water sports, golf and even tennis for all ages, making it very popular with families.

For a quiet day on the beach opt for an area that has been less developed for tourists such as Praia Verde in the Eastern Algarve. Without a golf course or water park in sight, this lovely beach is surrounded by a dense pine forest and is home to an array of local birds and other wildlife to spot. There’s even a small boutique hotel hidden away in the forest called the Praia Verde Boutique Hotel. With just 40 suites, modern design and a delicious restaurant that offers seasonal dishes, there’s no doubt that this area will give you a taste of authentic Algarve life.

When it comes to eating out, the most popular restaurants are the western ones. Simply because they’ve been built to suit the tastes of the thousands of tourists who visit each year. Instead, beat the crowds and experience some of the delicious Portuguese cuisine. After-all, you can’t visit a country without trying its famous dishes.

For a taste of the best, the Michelin-starred São Gabriel is a must-visit. The chef, accomplished local-born Leonel Pereira, undoubtedly creates some of the Algarve’s greatest dishes. Of course, being Michelin-starred the restaurant can be on the pricey side, however, there’s likely to be a tasting menu that will give the most for your money and offers a great experience.

If you’ve got a sweeter tooth, Restaurant L14, which is tucked away in the Salgados Dunas Suites hotel in Albufeira, won the Best Dessert 2015 award for its almond and fig dish. The restaurant offers a fusion of local and international foods, so it’s a great choice if you’re new to the cuisine.

All-in-all, it’s very possible to avoid the tourists in the Algarve, you just need to venture further afield from the popular resorts. If you do, you’ll quite possibly regard the Algarve as one of your top holiday destinations.

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