In 2012 I invited readers who have travelled in Portugal to share their stories in an interview. The first of these weekly travel tales features the lovely Cat Gaa.
Who are you? Name, age, nationality, where you’re based, what you do…
I’m Cat, a Chicagoan by birth but a sevillana at heart. I moved to the capital of Southern Spain over five years ago, where I teach English and blog about life as a guiri in Seville.
When did you last visit / travel in Portugal and how long did you stay?
I’ve been fortunate to travel to Portugal four times, given its proximity to Spain and the ease of getting there. Two trips to Lisbon, one to the Algarve and one to Porto have been logged in the last few years.
Did you come for business, pleasure or something else?
One of the best things about teaching is the ability I have to travel on the weekends and during our multitude of holidays. This has allowed me to see Portugal in September, March and even December! I typically travel for pleasure, but my last occasion was for business, to attend the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Porto in 2012.
How did you get here?
Seville connects with Faro and Lisbon by bus easily, but I’ve also flown into Porto.
And what sort of accommodation did you have? How was it?
I’ve had both the best of both worlds – a cheap, gorgeous hostel in central Lisbon, as well as a bedbug-infested hostel in Porto. Read the reviews carefully, as there are beautiful properties all around the country!
How did you get around while you were here?
What research, if any, did you do before your trip? Where did you find the most useful information?
I’m completely Type A when it comes to travel, so I tend to love the planning and prepping stage. I use the national tourism site for inspiration, as well as blogs, to plan. I also tear out relevant pages of an old Let’s Go Spain and Portugal that I have for a general reference and their maps. The last time I went to Lisbon, however, heavy rain delayed my bus back down to Seville, so I missed my connection in Faro. I had to use broken Spanish to try and find a way to get back across the border on a national holiday so that I could get to work the next day!
What were you most looking forward to doing or seeing in Portugal?
I fully admit to being a wannabe foodie, so culinary treats are always high on my list anywhere! Apart from that, I think I most looked forward to the coves in Sagres and Lagos. We got a rainy weekend, which made the colours of the crags stand out.
Of the places you visited, which would you recommend to other travellers and why?
I think that Portugal offers so many facets, that travellers can find something that suits them. Portugal can be extremely cheap or extremely extravagant!
Did you pick up any practical or money-saving tips for travelling in Portugal that you could share with us?
We found some long-term rentals in the Algarve to be reasonable for a larger group of us traveling for several days. We also went off-season, so we were treated to cheaper accommodation and less people. I’d also recommend the fixed-priced menus which give heaps of food for the price.
Is there anywhere or anything that was a letdown? Why?
I expected Lisbon to be a bit more cultural. The rundown parts and the tiles clash with the bright new buildings, which is a lovely and unexpected contrast. I also found it hard to find a good quality meal for a good price in central Lisbon. We resorted to making food at our hostel!
What about the food – did you try any local dishes? Any you’d recommend?
I tried a Francheshina in Porto. As a Chicagoan, I love beef and pork, but the sandwich was way overdone. I’d take a port and a fish dish over it on my next trip!
Did you buy any souvenirs? What / Why not?
Postcards and lapel pins are typically the only things I buy on a trip. The more I cut down on those expenses, the longer I can travel!
What would you do differently if you could do this trip over?
I was disappointed with my last trip to Porto because we arrived the day the conference had begun to save on costs. I loved the street art, and the gritty feeling of the neighbourhoods and the port, but I didn’t get to see much of the city. I’m itching to get back!
Would you like to come back to Portugal? If the answer’s yes, where in particular?
I’d love to see more of the countryside – Alentejo, the Douro Valley…and the Azores! I’m fortunate to be so close to a place that’s a lighter version of Spain with a more humble people.
More about Cat:
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago and traded them in for the olive groves of Southern Spain five years ago. A full believer in olive oil as a substitute for butter, she blogs about life as a guiri in Seville at Sunshine and Siestas when she’s not teaching. Catch up with her on twitter and instagram at @sunshinesiestas.