This week’s Portugal travel tale comes from Lauren David. She’s managed to explore a fair portion of Portugal via public transport and has fallen for Portuguese food.
Note: This interview is part of a series that I conducted with other people who had recently travelled to Portugal, back in 2012-2013)
Welcome, Lauren. Please tell us a little about yourself.
Hi my name is Lauren and I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area, California. I’m currently living in Vitoria- Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain working as a cultural and language assistant through the Spanish Ministry of Education (aka, assistant English teacher).
When did you last visit / travel in Portugal and how long did you stay?
I traveled to Portugal for the first time January 2012 and fell in love with Lisbon practically the moment I stepped off the plane. After 3 days of sightseeing, eating the food and meeting locals, I was hooked. I was already planning when I could return. I returned with my brother for 2 weeks traveling to Porto, Coimbra, Lisbon and the Algarve in the summer of 2012.
Did you come for business, pleasure or something else?
How did you get here?
I flew from Madrid to Lisbon on my first visit with Air Europa and was surprised that it was cheaper than the bargain airlines. My second visit I took an overnight Alsa bus from Salamanca to Porto. The bus was fine but my hopes to sleep and gain a full day, didn’t happen.
Whereabouts did you stay? And what sort of accommodation did you have? How was it?
I stayed in hostels in every city I visited. There are many options and I was lucky that all the hostels I stayed in were great!
How did you get around while you were here?
When we weren’t walking everywhere in Lisbon, we’d hop on a bus, cable car, tram or metro depending on where we were going. Public transportation is very convenient and easy to use, except buying tickets was frustrating. It cost quite a bit more to buy on board vs. buying at the metro station to use the trams and cable cars. Since we didn’t have a car, we took public transportation everywhere.
What research, if any, did you do before your trip?
The first time I went to Lisbon, I knew next to nothing. The second time around, I was more familiar with Portugal but also did a bit of research. My brother bought a guidebook, which was helpful for background info and possible things to do in each city we visited.
Where did you find the most useful information?
Talking to locals and occasionally asking hostel staff for their recommendations.
What were you most looking forward to doing or seeing in Portugal?
Eating the food and exploring. Seeing a new country and visiting new cities and towns.
Of the places you visited, which would you recommend to other travellers and why?
Lisbon- hearing a live Fado show because it gives insight to Portugal’s history and culture. Take a walk through the Alfama district and you’ll feel like you’re walking through another era.
Is there anywhere you think people should avoid?
I was really excited to visit the Algarve despite not having a rental car to freely explore. My brother and I initially had plans to visit Faro but when hostel reviews weren’t favorable we changed plan and went to Lagos. Lagos is a pretty place, with beautiful picturesque beaches but it’s the Australian “spring break” and summer break destination. What is Mexico to party-going Americans is Lagos, Portugal for party-crazy Australians. Needless to say, since I wasn’t in the mood to drink myself silly nor with a young crowd, I felt out of place. However, I enjoyed relaxing on the beach, kayaking through the caves and celebrating my brother’s birthday.
Did you pick up any practical or money-saving tips for travelling in Portugal that you could share with us?
Buy public transport tickets at the metro ticket stations because buying onboard costs a lot more.
Is there anywhere or anything that was a letdown? Why?
The town of Lagos because I was surprised it has become over touristed with party-goers. I wondered where all the Portuguese had gone. It’s a city that only thrives in the summer.
What about the food – did you try any local dishes? Any you’d recommend?
There are so many delicious foods to try!
I was in foodie heaven sampling pastries and cookies at almost every pasteleria I walked past as well as every stand and eat café I walked by where you could sample a variety of little pastries. So delicious.
Some of my favorites:
- Port wine
- Fresh prawns
- bacalhau– cod seems to be the mascot to Portuguese cooking, as well as Sardines. There is a big sardine festival in the summer!
- Eat a pastel de nata, little custard desserts, at the famous bakery: Pastaís de Belém little custard desserts
- Chocolate pudding- seems to be on almost all the menus and with good reason!
- Samosas- triangles stuffed with spicy meat and vegetables,
- pao com chouriço– bread stuffed with chouriço – pepper flavoured sausage
Did you buy any souvenirs? What / Why not?
Magnets, postcards, a journal with the ubiquitous cable car
Could sum up your experience of Portugal in a sentence, please?
Portugal is full of life and magic- a place where buildings are more colorful, people are cheerful and friendly and the food delicious yet cheap with a varied and incredible landscape.
What would you do differently if you could do this trip over?
I’d rent a car to explore the Algarve.
Next time I’m in Porto , I’d go on a Douro tour. I tend not to do the typical touristy routes but after hearing of other’s traveler’s experiences taking a Douro tour, it seems worth it, plus you get great views of the city from the river!
Would you like to come back to Portugal? If the answer’s yes, where in particular?
I’d love to come back and see some of the surf spots North of Lisbon.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re in Lisbon, I highly recommend a day trip to Sintra, a magical fairytale-esque town full of palaces, gardens and castles to visit and a day trip to Cascais, a beach town 40 minutes on the train from Lisbon.