Lisbon – Day 12

I am sad to say, I was originally going to skip Lisbon, as we’d been before (and had a wonderful time), however, Risa was really keen to wander around the beautiful streets again, eating a weeks worth of food – as we’ve being doing quite well so far in Portugal. It was nearly her birthday, so I couldn’t say no. To be honest, I’m glad she talked sense into me, as it’s such a fun city, it would have been a crime to have not stopped.

Risa managed to find that there was a place to park motorhomes by the water in Belem. It was interesting to turn up and see ‘pimps’ controlling areas of the public car parks, charging a (very) small fee to use them. I’m sure that we could have not paid, since I’m sure it’s not legal, however, for €2 for a day (and night), we could hardly complain – and didn’t want to run the risk the man being vindictive.

We walked across to see the monastery, however, there were truly huge crowds queued to do the same – we’d completely forgotten about it being Easter long weekend! I’m sad to say, the crowds put us of visiting. I’m sure that the queue would move quickly, however, it stretched far beyond the building, and around the corner out of site.

Instead, we grabbed some pastel de nata from the iconic shop in Belem – Pastels de Belem. This too had a rather large queue, and once we made it inside, it looked like chaos – though it was actually very carefully controlled, and could actually be considered orderly. They were very, very good, however, we had an amazing one yesterday in Coimbra, which was soft/gooey inside, and the surrounding pastry was light and crispy. Sadly, I didn’t pay much attention when I bought it, so I have no idea where it was from!

We boarded a bus from Belem towards central Lisbon, making a quick detour at a tea store that Risa was interested in – the owner visited Risa in her shop in London, so she wanted to reciprocate, though sadly he took the morning off.

As we’ve spent several days here before, there weren’t any things that we needed to see, so instead, we just enjoyed the small pleasure of wondering aimlessly through the city. As we walked along the streets, we passed by a café that looked really nice. We’re not usually much of a coffee drinker, especially while overseas, so this was quite unusual for us. We were pretty surprised when we heard the Australian accents in the staff – the coffee was pretty good, though I don’t know if I’m just biased towards the Australian-style of coffee!

In keeping with the plan for the day, we continued to walk aimlessly, in whichever direction took our fancy. We passed by the funicular, which we still didn’t bother riding.

And when we saw a small restaurant, Casa da India, that was packed with locals eating lunch, we thought ‘we could eat’, so we were squeezed into a small space on the counter. Partly due to fascination of different dishes, partly due to greed from the cheap prices, we slightly over ordered. We had some more suckling pig (very different from the one in Coimbra), roasted sardines (which were mind blowing), and some grilled octopus. The staff were laughing as they brought each plate out to us, as we attempted to find space on the table for all of this food – they didn’t know the internal struggles we were doing to find space for the food in our stomachs. The food wasn’t exceptional, but it was simple, and fresh, and very, very tasty. And, because we hadn’t been greedy enough, we opted for some desert and port.

As always after we’ve shamed ourselves with our gluttony, we had to struggle for the next few hours while our bodies attempted to break it down. The main street brought us back to the central shopping area, which then brought us back to the main plaza, with the fantastic views of the Jorge Castle.

Continuing the wandering, we ended up in Baixa, and again, Risa would take the smallest of the streets where possible, as we walked the twisted paths and staircases towards Igreja e Convento da Graça for fantastic views of the town – and a breeze that brought me back to regular body temperature.

Lisbon is often compared with San Francisco, and now having been to both a few times, I can see some of the comparisons. I can’t, however, put those similarities into words – other than the obvious giant suspension bridges, trams, sunshine and hills – it’s more of a feeling from our exploration. There is ‘talk’ about it being the new tech hub of Europe, with London being unaffordable – and now also officially leaving the EU.

As the sun dipped, so too did the temperatures. At first it was welcome, but by the time we’d returned to our van, it was a little uncomfortable (since I clearly didn’t check the weather and think to bring a jacket).

But, before we returned to sleep, we made one last stop, visiting the Time Out Markets again. It was just as busy as we remembered, but thankfully, with our stomachs still distended from gorging a late lunch, we weren’t quite so tempted by all the food on offer. Except for pastel de nata, there is always room for a couple of custard tarts.

Day 13

In the morning, we woke to yet another sunny day, and went to look at the nearby Belem Tower– which seemed more decorative than defensive – before heading south, which included a journey over the giant Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge. As you could guess, it felt more than a little bit like driving across the Golden Gate bridge.

The Algarve

After leaving Lisbon, we thought we’d get some sun and relaxation on the Algarve coast. Getting there wasn’t quite so relaxing, as we chose to avoid the motorways, which meant slow roads which were very, very rough in places! It became a game of avoiding potholes, and failure resulted in deafening rattles. Thankfully they weren’t particularly deep, so no damage was being done.

As we got further south, the roads got a little twistier, winding along the contours of the hills. It truly reminded me of driving in the Gold Coast hinterland back in Australia – but that was mostly due to the gumtrees, which were a really nice sight to be seeing.

It took several slow hours of driving, but we made it to the far south-west of Europe, Cape Saint Vincent, with a few hours to spare before sunset. The end of the peninsular has a monastery/lighthouse, which we didn’t bother entering. Instead, we walked around the cliffs, enjoying the scenery. It was more than just the dramatic ‘end of the world’ cliffs, but also some beautiful wild flowers. It was rugged, it was dramatic, it was beautiful, but mostly, it was windy!

We decided that it would be a nice place to spend the night, perched up near one of the cliffs on a rocky clearing. We barely finished parking before we noticed the van rocking from the gusting winds – not to mention the sound of it penetrating all the little gaps around the doors and other vents. But, the view and the feeling of a little piece of solitude made up for it.

Well, it was quiet until some guys decided to slack line across one of the gaps between cliffs just below where we were parked. To be fair, they were there first, it was the slow procession of crowds that came to watch them that was new. It was beautiful with the sunset, however, with the strong and gusty wind, they didn’t have much success, managing two-or-three steps at most before falling (to their safety harness).

The sun set, the slackers packed up, and the crowds dispersed, giving us our solitude back again. We were rocked to sleep by the wind, and I slept incredibly well.

Day 14

The next morning we finally made it to the Algarve Coast proper. As we entered Lagos, we could feel that things were different here to the rest of Portugal. It was more westernised, filled with modern apartments and restaurants/cafes that were there to cater to the foreign tourist.

We drove through town, not interested in stopping, and headed straight for Meia Praia beach, just a little east of town. It was a pretty stretch of sand, with exceptionally clear waters – with the winds from yesterday still gusting, it was just a little too cold to relax on the beach, and definitely too cold for us to swim!

We gave up on spending a day relaxing in the sun, and instead, made our way to Seville, opting to spend a little more time in southern Spain instead.