After 4 years of travelling across 15 countries in Europe, this summer we finally decided to explore and experience ‘The Land of Discoveries’ – Portugal. However being the 16th European country in our list doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t have much to offer to the visitors. In fact it has a lot, so much so that we decided to go for a complete 10 day trip in a single country to explore it in its entirety. Located at the south-western tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal marks the ‘End of Europe’. This is from where the explorers began their journeys in the quest for unknown, an era bookmarked as ‘The Age of Discoveries’ in the history of Europe. Once a global superpower with its vast empire spreading from Brazil to Africa all the way to the far-east, Portugal has centuries of history and culture chiselled into its grand buildings and ground between its salty cobbles. Fascinating chronicles, picturesque medieval cobblestone towns, captivating countryside, saliva dripping grilled seafood and most importantly the best beaches in the world with awe inspiring rock formations rising from the cobalt blue crystal clear waters of the Atlantic – that fairly summarizes though doesn’t quite describe the unsurpassed beauty of Portugal.
Our journey began from the city of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, where we flew in from Amsterdam. Nicknamed as ‘San Francisco of Europe’ for its similarity in terms the seven hill terrain, history of earthquakes, yellow cable cars, graffities and its own version of the Golden Gate bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril bridge) designed by the same company that did the San Francisco’s version, this great city of Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco Da Gama situated on the yawning mouth of the Tejo river with its huge port welcoming ships from around the globe
still feels like Europe’s Gateway to the World. However the part of the city that I loved and we also lived in is Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon and is a delightful maze of narrow streets, which lead from the estuary of the Tejo (Tegus in English) river uphill to the castle of São Jorge. Contained within this ancient district are some historic monuments like the Lisbon Cathedral and Saint Anthony’s Church some of which bear uncanny resemblances to the churches in Goa, India which was also a Portuguese colony in the colonial era. When at Lisbon, an experience one shouldn’t miss is a dinner at a restaurant that offers live Fado (meaning ‘Fate’) shows – A melancholy music genre traditional to Portugal that includes instruments like guitars and mandolins with one Fadista (female Fado singer) singing poetic lyrics related to darker elements of love, death and sadness mostly from the perspective of a long gone sailor’s wife awaiting her husband’s homecoming.
After staying in Lisbon for 4 days, we took a 4 hour train ride further south to the resort city of Lagos in the coastal district of Algarve, the darling of tour brochures all around the world. When it comes to describing the life in Lagos, I must say that with a jet-ski marina and a beach party old town, Lagos is as enjoyable as a big city resort can be. The old town is a jumble of pedestrian streets laid with designer cobblestones, funky craft shops, seafood restaurants and sun burnt tourists. The beaches with the exotic rock formations of the postcard fame are more dramatic than one can ever imagine. It is this part of the world that arguably houses the most beautiful beaches in the world. We stayed in Lagos for another 4 days after which we took a 2 hour train ride towards the east to arrive at Faro, the capital of the Algarve district where we stayed for a couple of days before flying back to Amsterdam.
So before I wind up, overall three things I noticed that are worthy of a mention here – One, as an Indian it surprised me to see the tremendous influence of Indian food and culture everywhere. Every street you have one or two Indian restaurants with pictures of Bollywood stars outside the restaurants to greet you and in many places you can find Vedic retreat centers or yoga institutes. Second, unlike most of the European countries I found very less shops in the market or on the street side (irrespective of whether they’re food stalls or accessories/curio shops) are run by non-Portuguese non-local people like Bangladeshis, Pakistanis or Middle Eastern nationals (apart from restaurants dedicated to the cuisines of those countries). And third, though Portugal is not an exotic destination in terms of expense, it is not a very cheap destination as well if you compare with Eastern European nations. So you cannot have a glass of local tap beer and roasted duck with dumplings within 8 Euros like in Prague, Dubrovnik, Kotor or Mostar. Every dish whether it’s a grilled salmon with potatoes in a local tapas shop or a lamb biryani in an Indian multi-cuisine restaurant is priced at a standard rate of between 9-11 Euros. And similar logic applies for artifacts other than food. So it’s ok ok cheap not super cheap. So I would suggest everyone to take this into consideration before planning your trip in case you are up for a budget vacation.
So all in all our 10 day exploration went in the blink of an eye as we tried experiencing as much as we could and allowed our camera to capture all that it can. With a whopping 7666 photos, our Portugal album beholds all the moments of promise that this great land had offered to us. After all in this ever-changing life every moment, memories are the only constant. So go create some on this amazing strip of earth on this planet. Wish you a happy journey like the Portuguese – “Jornada Feliz”
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