We pulled back the top on our ragtop FIAT 500 at the Lisbon Airport, a late arrival meant making a b-line for the hotel and bed. On on drive we noticed the warmer temperatures compared to Rome and felt good about making plans to surf (mostly swimming) in the ocean and touring the city by foot. It was good to be away on vacation and great to be in Portugal.
There were a few ideas floating around on how we'd spend this extended holiday weekend. I'm happy to say our final decision was also our best decision. A road trip up the western coastline of Portugal starting in Lisbon and finishing in Porto. We'd have four days to explore a country with two of the oldest cities in Europe and some of the biggest waves in the world.
Our philosophy for these trips to new European cities is that one must have a small whirl of activity planned to guide you toward the good times. We've experienced that with a bit of research you can avoid those moments when being a tourist in a foreign city is just too hard. By making a couple simple plans to guide your trip you will reduce those moments when uncertainty and hunger lead you astray.
With the help of our popular lodging website, we booked a couple of outings for our stay in Lisbon. Going with our hearts we chose a food tour through the historic area of Alfama and a surf lesson on the Atlantic Ocean. The food tour was a perfect opportunity to shut down the maps skills for a while and gape around the city sampling tasty food. Portugal has a nice variety of delicious local recipes that range from perfectly flaky pastries and fish prepared over 300 ways to a meat-staked sandwich covered with an egg and beanies and weenies sauce. If none of those choices suit your pallet don't worry, you can always rely on the Vinho Verde here in Portugal.
Our next adventure lead us out of Lisbon and up the coast for a surf lesson near Caxias. The weather stayed sunny and warm, and the water was a pleasant experience for late November. Working hard and getting worked through the difficult process of learning this new skill also helped to keep us warm. Wading in the ocean learning to surf opened up a new appreciation for the water and its potential for more exciting adventures. We had a blast, to say the least, and maybe developed a small itch for the sport. There's already a good chance we'll be taking more lessons for our trip to Madeira in April.
Ricardo (think dreamy Portuguese surfer) gave us an awesome lunch recommendation for a local Boteca where we could refuel before driving to Sintra. Our stop in Sintra was a foggy walk through a lush old growth forest where knights and dragons once lived. The National Palace is in a park surrounded by gardens, views, and color. The colors on the tiles that cover the National Palace are sure to be stunning on a clear, sunny day. But the mist and fog that had crept in over us set the perfect mood for our surroundings. Damp and creepy.
To split up the drive to Porto and take advantage of a long vacation we stopped in the beach town of Nazare' for a night. The loud crashing waves outside our apartment would be my first clue that we were in surfing territory. The views the next morning were proof. The North Beach of Nazare' was witness to the largest wave ever surfed and while the waves weren't over 70 feet this day, they were still impressive. A high point along the cliff walls offered the best view of surfers paddling and towing into the gnarliest waves I've ever seen. That doesn't say much but, I was wowed.
Side note: Renting a car in Portugal? Don't decline the electronic toll pass thingy and don't park in front of an old man's driveway on a Saturday morning. Just two simple things to save yourself a few euros next time your visiting. You're welcome.
Porto was our last stop for the trip but we badly needed lunch. Aveiro is a quaint town along the coast that would fulfill our need for sampling a widely popular Francesinha. Probably Portugal's most famous sandwich, but maybe not the most eaten, is a once in a lifetime meat experience. Like I said, once. After a lunch like that, a walk-off period is a must. Strolling through the town's colorful streets and canals with a stop for coffee would be what we needed to recover from lunch and make the drive to Porto.
After a small misunderstanding at our hotel, a glass of vinho verde was the new goal. Porto sits along the banks of the Douro River, at river level the views of the city's lights and bridges are amazing. Cafe's and wine bars line the river bank for a classic European setting. The wine wasn't keeping the cold away and the wind along the river was rapidly adding a bit more chill. We decided to hike back up the dark, meandering staircase to the city center and a new view. With nothing solid planned we hit a couple recommended sites and opted for an easy dinner choice before we called it a wrap. On the way home we noticed a vibrant city with restuarnts, bars, and cafes full to people. Porto has a very friendly vibewhile still feeling a little dark, giving the city a bit of edginess.
This trip really opened our eyes to not only how beautiful and friendly Portagul is, it also opened us up to new tastes for adventure. Portagul is the perfect place to enjoy the best of what the country has to offer without the bustle of crowds. After this trip it'll be hard to not count dow the days unitl we return in April.