Two trips to Portugal

During my current contract with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Guinea, according to the policy for delegates working in the stressful context of the Ebola epidemic, I had to take two short R&R breaks.

For the first one, I chose to visit Portugal because the flight price and length were both low, and because I’d never been to Portugal before. As a bonus, it just so happens that Portugal starts with the letter P: I’d never been to any country starting with the letters O, P, Q or X, Y, Z. Now, only five remain (X is going to be a tough one…).

Before I’d even left Guinea, my Singaporean friend Angela (check out her design portfolio at Behance: Angela Soh) told me about her plans to travel Europe, and we agreed to meet up wherever she’d be during my second R&R. As it turned out, Angela planned to arrive in Portugal at the end of May, at the same time I would be starting my holiday, so I booked a second trip to Portugal two months after the first. Here are a few photos from the two trips:

Trip 1: Sintra and Lisbon

I landed at Lisbon Portela Airport in Portugal on 24 March, caught a bus into town and then a train west to the small town of Sintra. As soon as I’d dropped my bags in my rented apartment, I hit the cobblestone streets to explore. This is the town hall:

Sintra Town Hall, Portugal

On my ramble home through the side streets of Sintra, I stumbled upon this old Piaggio three-wheeler and wished I could take it for a joyride:

Old Piaggio three-wheeler in Sintra, Portugal

The next morning I visited Quinta da Regaleira, a fantastical estate built by a set designer for a very wealthy man. Looking out from a cave:

Looking out from a cave at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

Walking through an underground tunnel:

Tunnel at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

There are also two initiation wells on the estate: towers that make you feel like you’re descending underground as you enter through a secret revolving stone door at the top and spiral downwards.

The initiation well at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

Some flowers floating on water with little green somethings:

Flower petal on green aquatic plants at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

There are loads of fancy stonemasonry creations at Quinta da Regaleira. Here’s an example:

Tower at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

That afternoon, Ricardo picked me up and drove me down to the coast to see some of the natural beauty of the area. Looking toward Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe:

Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe

Views in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park:

Waves crashing on the rocks near Cabo da Roca, Portugal
Yellow building in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park

The next day, I walked through the fog and some rain to the Capuchos Convent (which was a monastery). Luckily I had a map in my phone, as I walked along forest paths through the hills not on any tourist maps.

Low clouds in the forest walking from Sintra town to the Capuchos Convent

Cross on a cairn at the Capuchos Convent:

Cross on a cairn at the Capuchos Convent

The monks used cork to protect against moisture, tacking it around windows, doorways, even entire ceilings.

Cork-insulated window at the Capuchos Convent

On this visit to Portugal, I finally got to see real Cork oak, the tree species from which we get genuine cork material. This is what it looks like when it hasn’t been harvested:

A Cork oak tree

On the walk home, I stopped in at the Park and Palace of Monserrate, formerly owned by Sir Francis Cook. The botanical gardens are amazing, but I didn’t take too many photos so you’ll have to visit to see for yourself. Tree roots overgrowing a mock ruin:

Tree roots overgrowing a mock ruin at the Park and Palace of Monserrate, Sintra

Young Aloe vera leaves growing out of an old plant:

Aloe vera growing at the Park and Palace of Monserrate, Sintra

Monserrate Palace:

Monserrate Palace, former estate of Sir Francis Cook

Parts of the palace were under renovation, as water had damaged the ornate alabaster designs. It was interesting to see what’s behind all the fancy moulding:

Alabaster restoration inside Monserrate Palace, Sintra in March 2015

On 27 March I walked up the steep path to visit the Castle of the Moors, a fortress overlooking Sintra:

Castelo dos Mouros, seen from below
The Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros), Sintra

For a brief moment while I was at the Castle of the Moors, the sun shone through the clouds and directed a spotlight right onto the National Palace of Sintra in the town below:

National Palace of Sintra, seen from the Castle of the Moors

After rambling over the ramparts, I headed over to Pena Palace, which appears to have come straight out of a fantasy fairytale:

Pena Palace, Sintra
Grandiose vaulted carriageway into Pena Palace
Poseidon at Pena Palace
Pena Palace, Sintra
Pena Palace, Sintra

The view from Pena Palace to the Atlantic Ocean:

View to the Atlantic from Pena Palace

I was highly impressed by this wood and velvet shelf inside the palace:

Ornate woodwork and velvet shelf at Pena Palace

Mandatory flag photo:

Flag of Portugal

Pena Palace from a nearby vantage point, with Sintra in the background:

Pena Palace, Sintra

On the grounds of Pena Palace are a number of other things to see, including the Chalet da Condessa d’Edla, a whimsical home with ornate cork woodwork framing the entire thing:

Chalet da Condessa d'Edla, Sintra

On 28 March, I caught the train to Lisbon. The 25 April bridge bears a striking resemblance to the Golden Gate Bridge, no?

25 de Abril Bridge, Lisbon, Portugal

On 29 March I wandered the streets of Lisbon, wrote postcards while a daytime drunk blasted tunes on his phone nearby, and wandered the streets some more. This is Rua Augusta Arch, built to commemorate Lisbon’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake:

Rua Augusta Arch in Lisbon, Portugal

If you’re familiar with the Brussels street art scene, you’re used to seeing pencil crayons all over town. If not, you can see a collection of over 600 photos of the pencil crayon street art here: flickr ancatphil. Well, one of the artists seems to have made a visit to Lisbon, where he or she got to a hard-to-reach spot to paint this pencil crayon figure, who appears to be sitting on a toilet taking a dump:

Pencil crayon street art in Lisbon

There are many old street trams in Lisbon, mostly packed full of tourists:

Electric tram in Lisbon, Portugal

Sunset over Lisbon:

Sunset in Lisbon, Portugal

My flight out of Lisbon was on 30 March, but before I went to the airport I caught a train to Cascais to take a walk by the sea. Cascais is too beach-touristy for me, but it was nice for a stroll.

Cascais lighthouse

While standing near the underwhelming Boca do Inferno, I spotted a school of catfish having some sort of feeding frenzy at the surface of the water:

Catfish feeding frenzy at Boca do Inferno, Cascais

Walking farther along the coast, ice plants (an invasive species initially brought in from Africa on purpose) colour the shoreline:

Ice plant in the foreground, lighthouse in the background, at Cascais

That evening I flew back to Guinea, landing at 04:00 only to find no vehicle waiting for me. A fitting start to two very challenging months of work.

Trip 2: Porto and Lisbon

On 28 May I once again flew from Conakry to Casablanca, and then onwards to Lisbon. This time, I jogged a bit and mostly walked as fast as I could through the airport, caught the metro to the train station, bought a ticket, and boarded the train to Porto with 2 minutes to spare. The next one would have been an hour and a half later. I arrived in Porto in the late afternoon and met up with my friend Angela, who’d arrived a few hours before. The next morning we had breakfast with Callum and his girlfriend, who happened to be in town for a wedding.

Callum Benson and me in Porto, Portugal

Angela and I walked up and down the steep streets of Porto, got confused a few times, drank lots of coffee, and took photos. Looking across the River Douro to some ruins and the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar:

Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, Porto

There are only two tram lines remaining in Porto:

Electric tram in Porto, Portugal

We stopped in to look at all manner of old camera at the Portuguese Centre of Photography:

Old camera at the Portuguese Centre of Photography, Porto

Every day we passed by the Church of Saint Ildefonso as we walked to or from our rented apartment:

Church of Saint Ildefonso, Porto

The Lello & Irmão bookshop is said to have been the inspiration for the library at Hogwarts, in the Harry Potter series, although the best part of the bookshop – this fantastic staircase – isn’t found at Hogwarts:

Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto

On 30 May, we caught the tram to Foz do Douro. The old trams still have the cable to ring for the next stop; the cable causes a little striker to hit the bell mounted on the ceiling of the driver’s cab: full analog.

1920s tram in Porto, Portugal

Felgueiras Lighthouse:

Felgueiras Lighthouse at Foz do Douro, Porto

Queijo Castle:

Queijo Castle, Porto

On 31 May, we caught the train to Guimarães for a day visit. After a couple of coffees each, we visited the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, which has an interesting roof construction:

Roof structure at the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, Guimarães, Portugal

Two of the rooms in the palace have ornate paintings on the ceilings, causing much neck strain:

Ceiling detail, Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, Guimarães
Ceiling detail, Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, Guimarães

After the palace, we bought some chips then caught the cable car up to Pena Mountain:

Angela and me in the teleférico (cable car) de Guimarães
Teleférico de Guimarães

Pena Mountain has some neat paths through, over, and under boulders although on this quiet Sunday in Guimarães, the mountain was a gong-show of families and groups who’d driven up with gear for Sunday picnics and merriment.

Steps through stones on Penha Mountain, Guimarães

There was a Cork oak up on Mount Pena which was missing most of its cork bark. So, here you can see the before/after of cork harvesting:

Cork oak, with the cork bark partially stripped

Back down in Guimarães town, the Church of São Guálter is a neat sight:

Church of São Guálter, Guimarães, Portugal

On our last day in Porto, we walked across the bridge to Gaia and took a short tour of the Taylor’s port wine cellars. They age different types of port in different sized barrels, such as these enormous 24,000+ litre wooden barrels…

Enormous barrels of Taylor's port ageing in the cellars at Porto

…and these 600+ litre barrels:

Hundreds of barrels of Taylor's port ageing in the cellars at Porto

After the tour, we were given small taster glasses and encouraged to sit in the sun and enjoy. Here, Angela and I are enjoying port wine in the sun:

Enjoying a tasting sample of Taylor's port with Angela

Back in the day, port wine was transported down the river on boats like these:

Dom Luís I bridge, Porto

On 2 June, Angela and I caught the train down the coast to Lisbon, where we drank coffee then wandered the streets, eventually stopping in to see the Design and Fashion Museum right before they closed. This colourful chair caught my eye:

Colourful chair at the Design and Fashion Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

That evening, my last in Portugal, we went to a small bar to enjoy some fado,a traditional form of Portuguese singing accompanied by two guitars. We had a great time listening to music and making friends with strangers from Italy and Germany at our table during the breaks.

Twelve-string Portuguese guitar during a fado performance in Lisbon, Portugal

It just so happened that Mike and his brother Sebastian were in town as well, so they came down to watch fado and then dragged me around town for late night adventures. Here, we each make a serious face:

Post-fado adventures with Mike and Sebastian in Lisbon

Although I was five minutes late to the airport, the check-in lady was kind enough to sit back down and print my boarding pass. Not long after, I found myself in Casablanca, on an airport shuttle to a nearby hotel to have a nap and dinner, before flying onward to Conakry. I landed at 04:00 and, once again, they had forgotten to send a car to pick me up. Hopefully not a sign of things to come, this time.

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