Lisbon, Portugal

The last stop of our two week Spain & Portugal trip was in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese).

Transportation: We drove from our resort in the Algarve in our rental car. We stopped along the way in the town of Évora then continued on to Lisbon, so total driving time was around 3.5 hours. It was great to get to see the inland countryside, which was full of wide open plains of olive groves, vineyards and cork trees and yellowed, grassy hills.

Yellow fields as far as the eye can see with some vineyards off in the distance. It was super hot here. It hovered around 100°F all day.
Groves of cork trees during a good portion of our drive through central Portugal. I hadn’t known the details before but cork is harvested by scraping the bark off. These trees can live as long as 150 years and the bark can be harvested approximately every 9 years. Pretty neat! The yellow grassy hills also reminded us a lot of Northern California.


Residencial Florescente on the “eating lane” near the Rossio. It was not fancy and our room was the stereotypical European shoe box hotel room but its location was very central and convenient.


Our first night we ate at a seafood spot recommended by the Rick Steve’s travel guide, Restaurante Leão d’Ouro and it did not disappoint. Maybe this is common in many restaurants and I have just not experienced it before, but a cool thing about restaurants in Portugal is that they will list the seafood price per weight on the menu (i.e. shrimp are EUR 79 per kg and you order by the gram). They will then help you determine how much you want and even show you the fish or shrimp before they cook it! They did this in our resort back in the Algarve and I found it really helpful to see what we’re ordering to visualize portion size and because sometimes the translation of the name of the fish to English wasn’t possible and seeing it helped us know if we wanted it.

Andrew’s favorite meal in his life! Grilled Tiger Prawns
There are little shops in Lisbon that sell a sour cherry liquor called Ginjinha. People would crowd around the teeny bar front sipping on a shot of the stuff, which could come with or without liquor soaked berries at the bottom. I was not a big fan but for a non-fruit eater Andrew really liked it so we stopped a few times.
Salted cod, which when soaked in water is apparently perfectly good to eat. We were not adventurous enough to try this one 😛

Wednesday afternoon we did a Portuguese wine, cheese and sausage tasting at the Lisbon Winery. The tasting experience was not as great as the online reviews indicated they would be, but we were able to learn a little about the wine regions and which reds we liked, which had been our goal. It was also a nice break during the heat of the day to sit inside and sip on wine.

Top is the cheese plate, which was a mix of primarily goat and sheep cheese, only one cow’s milk cheese from the Azores islands. The cheeses were light in flavor in comparison to the Swiss cheese we’re used to but still very good. The left is the meat platter, which was mostly pork sausage from the neck and leg meat. Also, a leg of jamon iberico, which is also popular in Portugal (we had this in Spain, too).
At the Pastéis de Belém for coffee and pastries. The little tart on the left is what this cafe is most famous for. They are called pastel de nata and are a lightly sweet custard pastry. I don’t know what my cake on the right was called but it was heavenly. It reminded us of icebox cake made with chocolate wafers and dusted with cocoa powder.

Thursday night dinner we went to a small Fado restaurant, Canto do Camoes, in the Bairro Alto, which is an old hilly part of Lisbon and a big hub of bars and restaurants. Fado is a traditional form of singing and is typically very mournful and sad sounding. They are accompanied by guitar. It was nice to have them sing during dinner and to listen to the old Portuguese music form.  Unfortunately, it sounds like it is somewhat of a slowly dying form of entertainment because there were not many people there for the dinner.

After the Fado dinner we went out to a couple of bars in the Bairro Alto for drinks. We went to The Old Pharmacy, which was a cool wine bar, and then the Artis Bar across the street where we listened to jazz.

The Artis Bar jazz band playing Thursday night


As I mentioned, on our drive north on Tuesday August 2 we made a side trip to the city of Évora. We did a short self-guided walking tour of the city, which was small but had some interesting history to learn about as it used to be a center of trade and religion for the region. It was also incredibly hot so this was about all we could handle 🙂

Evora has ruins of an ancient Roman temple right in the center of town, pictured above.
White washed buildings in Evora. Apparently the yellow is used to ward off bad spirits!
The remains of a Roman Aquaduct leading into the city of Evora.

Site seeing in Lisbon: We followed some walking tours from the Rick Steve’s book to get to see the various neighborhoods and learn a little history at the same time.

Something to keep in mind as you read, is to note that the 1755 “Great Earthquake” had a HUGE impact on the city of Lisbon. It toppled their churches and buildings and sparked fires that ruined the city. The majority of their historical sites were destroyed. Subsequent to the devastation, with limited funds and the need to rebuild quickly and earthquake resistant, their prime minister and king at the time made a hard decision. They did not allow the city to rebuild their cathedrals to their previous size or glory. They kept the churches modest (and therefore lower cost). Also, the buildings were all re-built in a uniform manner. You will see a lot of this reflected in the photos. It is really sad that they lost so much, and it is very apparent today when you walk around the city.

We started by walking up to the top of the hill where the Castelo de São Jorge sits, which is an 11th-century, hilltop Moorish castle & royal residence with palace ruins overseeing the city. This is one of the few structures that partly survived the earthquake.

View from the castle. This was a typical day for us in Lisbon with clear sunny skies and 85-90 degree days.

If you look at the above photo, you’ll notice a couple things that make people compare the city to San Francisco. First of all it is a bit hilly. The hills even have some cable cars, though they were not nearly as nice as those in SF (ok there’s my SF pride coming through!). Also, that bridge off in the distance looks verrrry similar to the Golden Gate, doesn’t it? Well, it was built by the same company that built the San Francisco Golden Gate!. It was originally named the Salazar Bridge after the Portuguese dictator Salazar, but was subsequently changed to the 25th of April Bridge after the revolution of April 25, 1974.

Gates to the castle. All that remains today are the walls, which are formidable! There were peacocks roaming around the castle gardens, a reminder of the exotic animals that  were often kept in castles and palaces in the past.
Largo Santa Luzia, which had a beautiful little park overseeing the city and these amazing old tiles with a painting depicting the crusaders taking back the city from the Moors.
Walking through the little windy streets of the Alfama. I love it because you can see the  older woman hanging out on the balcony, just watching the day go by. This was so typical as we walked around! Same with the laundry hanging out the window and the old, tired looking buildings.
This is not necessarily a beautiful building, but I posted it because it shows how aged many of the buildings in Lisbon looked. Also, it shows the tilework on the front of the building, which is really beautiful. Apparently, back in the day before the 1755 earthquake, most buildings in Lisbon were covered in such tiles because a) it is decorative and b) they discovered that the tiles helped to keep the building insulated from the sun and cooler inside. There were some buildings in the city that still have their tiles, but not many unfortunately.
A more well kept example of the tilework on buildings. I love it!

Below is the Praça do Comércio, which is a big square in the city ringed in government buildings and the Arco da Rua Augusta triumphal arch. Here you can also see the uniform style of buildings attributable to the post earthquake reconstruction. It is very similar to the colonial style buildings seen in the Caribbean, parts of the US east coast, and other lands claimed by European explorers during the Age of Discovery.

Inside the Igreja de São Domingoes church. This one is unique as it still stood after the earthquake but is singed in smoke, which you can see in the black on the walls.
A view of the city from the park Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and the Castelo de São Jorge up on the hill
The Carmo Convent, which features this Gothic church ruined by the earthquake. It is so eery as it looms above the buildings with the skeleton of its structure still remaining. Unfortunately it was already closed by the time we passed by but it was still beautiful from the outside.

On Thursday we spent the day in the Lisbon district of Belém, which is about a 15 minute taxi ride from the old town. After the big earthquake, most of the wealthy and royalty moved out of the city to this district, and even today most of the more affluent and young people do not even live in the old city we were touring but in the suburbs and the outskirts of town called the “New City.” Given the higher population after the earthquake, there is a high concentration of many historical sites.

 The beautiful Mosteiro de Jerónimos of Belem. Pictured here are the cloisters and the cathedral.
We toured the Belem Marine Museum, which had a collection of boats like this used by royalty and also a well detailed section (with English!) that walked us through the history of Portugal on the seas through exploration, trade and colonization. It was a really nice museum!
The Torre de Belém, which is on the mouth of the river as it meets the Atlantic and is said to have greeted sailors as they returned from their journeys on the sea.
The National Coach Museum, which had a really fascinating collection of original coaches used by the Portuguese royalty for purposes ranging from wedding celebrations to children’s play coaches that could be lead by sheep.

So, that’s it! Our first two weeks of our summer trip to Spain and Portugal are sadly done. We loved the cities, the flavorful food, the red wines and getting to learn about the rich history and culture of the Spanish and Portuguese people. We had a short one night stay back in Switzerland at our apartment (less than 24 hours!) to rush to get our laundry done at the laundromat , re-pack and have an awesome home-cooked meal made by our friends Sarah and Kevin who are staying in our apartment for a bit while we’re out of town. Now, we’re meeting up with our families and cannot wait to see what Amsterdam and Norway have in store for us!!



The Algarve, Portugal

It was time to take a vacation from our vacation. We wanted to stay near a beach so we chose the Algarve, which is in southern Portugal on the Atlantic Ocean.

Transportation: We took a 2 hour bus ride from Seville to Faro Airport, which is a short distance across the border in Portugal. From the airport we rented a little VW Polo and drove the remaining 45 minutes west to arrive at our resort.

The bus station in Seville


We wanted to treat ourselves to something nice, so after quite a bit of research and with a focus on a 5 star, ocean front resort we settled on 4 nights at the Blue & Green Vilalara Thalassa in the Algarve. We got a junior suite, which has a king size bed, a desk, a couch seating area and a nicely sized garden level balcony. We lucked into the end unit so no one walked past, we were far from the pool area and it had a very quiet and private atmosphere. The resort has 2 restaurants, 2 bar cafes, 6 pools and has sun beds and beach access below to Praia da Cova Redonda. Overall we were very happy with our little Algarve oasis.

Our patio with a table and a built-in couch. We sat out here often, enjoying the breeze and a glass (or two) of wine
View of the garden from our patio. We bought some wine at the grocery store to have during our stay and benefited from the verrrry low priced but darn good Portuguese wine. We’re talking 2-3 euro for a good red from the Duoro valley!
Andrew and I at dinner our second night at the Terrace Grill restaurant at the resort.
We ate at the Terrace Grill for the first three nights. Our first night was a theme night, which was a BBQ buffet. The other two nights it was off a menu and we got grilled fresh fish and vegetables.Overall the food at the resort was quite good and fresh.
The cliffside pool and the restaurants above the beach where we ate dinner and breakfast every day. Behind us is an ocean view!
View of the beach below the resort pool pictured above.
View of the beach from the pool.
The beach access path from our resort. That little shack on the left is a bar and cafe that is slow as molasses and we gave up on it despite its prime location!
View of our beach


There truly isn’t much to do in this region besides sit on the beach, go to the resort gym, catch up on reading and relax. Which was fiiiiine for us 🙂

Interesting side note: Not much to see of historic significance because a lot was destroyed in the big 1755 earthquake off the coast of Portugal  (see link to learn more) that caused a massive tsunami and ruined a lot of their historical buildings 😦

On our second day we drove to the town of Lagos, about 35 minutes west, and scheduled to take a 4 hour cruise on a catamaran of the coastline past the cliffs and sea caves. We anchored at a remote beach for a while and then went farther out into the ocean to see dolphins, which swam right along with the boat for a bit. It was a nice way to get to see the cliffs and sea caves while relaxing on the boat.

A shot of the catamaran from our cruise trip
The famous Algarve cliffs and sea caves. Since our boat is so big we stayed farther out, but many people on little motorboats, SUP and kayaks were going into the caves. 

Andrew and I on the catamaran tour

Monday August 1 was Andrew’s 27th birthday. We woke up early at sunrise (that crazy birthday boy’s choice) to have coffee on the beach.

Birthday boy on the beach
Sunrise on the beach
Before dinner on Andrew’s birthday. We couldn’t find someone to take our picture so had to take one ourselves!
I managed to surprise Andrew by arranging ahead of time to get him a birthday cake and to have them bring it out with candles. There was a singer that night and the servers got them to sing Happy Birthday in Portuguese!

1st Impressions of Portugal:

Upon driving into the South of Portugal, the terrain was still very arid. There were plenty of olive groves and that is about the only thing we saw growing. The weather when we drove into the resort was cloudy and cooler (in comparison to 100 in Spain!) but for the other days it was 100% sunny. It was very nice and comfortable in the 80s our first two full days with a nice breeze off the coast and on Andrew’s birthday it heated up into the 90s. Couldn’t ask for better! Most of the people we encountered were from the UK, Spain or Portugal. I don’t think we heard any Americans.

The roads were okay but not that well-kept especially when off the freeways. It was also notably poorer with lots of unfinished construction, some ramshackle looking housing and several stores had some very serious fencing that were clearly to prevent theft. Of course once we got on the resort it was fine but interesting to see what the surrounding area is like. So far I cannot say we know too much about the Portuguese people or food since we were on a resort, but but we’ll get more into the culture and history with the rest of our trip once we head north to Lisbon.

Overall, we had an awesome time hanging on the beaches in Portugal and I totally understand why it is so popular to visit the Algarve. The beach, the weather, the relaxed approach that everyone is taking to their time there made it a memorable stop on our 4 week trip. Next up: LISBON!