Lisbon – a panty frenzy

For all the lazy-daisies that don’t like to read, there’s a podcast here: Lisbon – a panty frenzy.

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Old Map of Libon, source: internet

It was AD 2004. I decided to spend New Year in Amsterdam (the only better New Year’s Eve open air parties happen in Kraków). I know, the subject addresses the south of Europe, I know. But this is where the whole thing started.

I was only in my early 20s and together with some old girlfriends we got a supply of champagne and with these in hands, headed for the Dam Square. Music played wild, people from all over the world stoned, locked and barely standing, were trying to hold on to the last bits of dignity. Some American dude took out a tiny flat metal flask of whiskey (or whisky – can’t tell at this stage), like those seen in old western movies, and offered me a sip. We then danced and sang for a while until he most likely fell and people stepped him into the cobblestones, although I hope not.

At that time though, midninght was nearing and some good looking strangers popped around to offer their best wishes. They spoke funny I thought but then everybody spoke funny at midnight on the New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam. Especially that the main drug supply is literally one street away and is biiiig.

And that’s how I met Pedro and Milton, whom I then met a few times yet in Kraków as they totally fell in love with this city and I totally can’t blame them!

So these two were from Portugal. I think that was all we managed to learn about each other that night 🙂 But we took the time to exchange the phone numbers. It was the pre-smart phone era, imagine that!

And from here to there and through a few catchups, we discussed the beauty of their mother land. I’d studied plenty about the architecture and fell in love with plateresco and azulejos a long while before that. Hence one day the time has finally come to go and visit that land of the cliffs, ocean, amazing food, the best hand made shoes and that fab architecture!

The first spot on the list was Lisbon, Pedro and Milton’s headquarters I heard so many beautiful stories about and dared to believe they were true.

The first thing you see from the aircraft window on approach to LIS (IATA code for Lisbon airport) is the Tagus River. Huuuuge, the largest on the Iberic Peninsula in fact, and cutting the city into halves. Thankfully there once lived Mr Vasco Da Gama, who as we know dropped the beliefs of the world being a turtle and the waters ending once you travel to the edge of its shell and dared to risk his own and the lives of his crew to travel around Africa to reach India. And so in his name, we now have a wonderful bridge built, as well as the shopping centre, in the Parque das Nacoes district. Vasco da Gama bridge is the longest bridge in Europe, a great ride but there is a small toll fee to be paid.

Parque das Nacoes is the newest district of Lisbon where also the most beautiful Oceanarium, I personally have ever visited so far, is located. Other than that, the cable car ride is a must.

Another famous bridge is the Bridge of the 25th of April, just by the Belem Tower on the other side of the old town. It is looked after by Jesus himself (Sanctuary of Christ the King). Yep, one that looks just like the one in Rio. It’s a San Francisco and Rio mix 🙂

The city is huge. Administrationally it is divided into bairros (quarters) and each of these is like a different world altogether. The prettiest are obviously the oldest ones and every centimeter is a great spot for a photo. See some below from around Rua Augusta (main street with Arch of Triumph leading to the port) Baixa, Alfama, Alto, Chiado.

The apartment we rented for 3 days is situated on Rua dos Funceiros hence literally in the most historical part of town. As such, walking was the best way to get around and I totally reccommend it as there is an incredible number of places one can reach on foot. If not a fan of walking, especially that Lisbon is a rather hilly city, there are the old beautiful trams to catch there. How could anyone miss a ride! But this way, you are sure to miss all these fabulously colorful shops with hand made shoes and clothes that would be so passe if worn here in Ireland. Ah the fashion mentality in sunny places is set on colors and cottons and craft. Ah ah ah….

Lisbon 12th century Cathedral – Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Mary Major

Situated on a little hill, on the way to the Sao Jorge Castelo hence you may want to visit both places in one day, although the latter requires a bit of stamina so not for the faint hearted! Well… the tram will take you there.

As for the cathedral, it is the oldest church in town, survived many earthquakes hence is now an architectural mix however do not miss out and visit inside. You will step into the underworld of this building. Literally! Layers of excavated ruins are uncovered and open for the visitors.

Apart from that, the church is majestic, feels heavy but its darkness gives out warmth and calmness. The beautifully designed in shapes and colors stained glass windows are a must to absorb.

The Castle of San Jorge – the walk up this hill may be a tough one, but the views on the way are priceless. You walk through Alfama, the oldest part of the city. Azulejos (colorful painted tiles specific to Portugal, not always blue despite of their name, azul – blue) cover everything; houses, sheds, windows, doors, pavements even, thresholds. Azulejo Madness.

Clothes hanging on the ropes outside the windows, higher, lower, in between tangled with each other and spread between the walls of various houses. Loundry seems to be a Cosa Nostra in here it looks like 🙂 Wonder if they confuse their underpants on occasion 😀

Anyways, once you leave the ascent behind you, you enter a courtyard. Kinda like a small orange tree garden. Ha! only that this garden gives you a vew on the entire city pretty much. Everything was within the sight of the kings here and no wonder that for centuries Portugal was among the richest and most powerful countries.

The curent size and shape comes from the Christian rulers however the original building had been erected here in the 12th century by the Moorish. And it is not the first or the last one of those in Portugal. The country is sprinkled with the ruins but also fully standing proofs of the Moorish power. It is thanks to them that we can now enjoy the fascinating architecture of the alcazars and decorative palaces.

The Moorish is the name given by the Christians to the Berberic tribes, later also Muslims that came from the african region of Mauretania (parts of current Algier, Morocco, Namibia) and occupied Italy, Malta, Spain, Portugal, even parts of France for some eight centuries.

Bairro Alto and Fado in Chiado for the exhausted, hungry and thirsty…

Alto means high and high it is. But the cheeky Lisbonians knew how to deal with that problem. Bairro Alto and Chiado, are situated higher than Baixa, and the two former ones are the main hosts of the city nightlife.

Once occupied by the sailors and merchants back in 15th century. If you recall Jaques Brell’s “Amsterdam” (eh my Amsterdam again :), you know how the sailors party! So if you do, you will know that walking up tired and then down drunk is not the safest of things to undertake, especially in the late hours of the night.

Here comes Elevador de Santa Justa, the only vertical elevator linking the mentioned quarters. There are others in the city: Elevador da Glória and Elevador do Lavra, but they are parallel (diagonal in fact) rope trains more so.

It was the 1980s that marked the beginning of the era of nightlife in this part of the city. You can traverse the steep cobbled streets, take a ride on the da Bica funicular, visit the magnificent Church of St. Rocha and enjoy the views from the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara garden. The area is packed with various types of bars, cafes, pubs, clubs, fado houses, restaurants, snack bars, bars with rock, latino and electro music, places for dancing and for enjoying a drink in peace. Anyone will find something for themselves. We for instance, found plenty of cool looking and extremely photogenic hydrants 🙂 but other than that, a wonderful micro bar which enchanted us for almost entire length of the night. You would literally squeeze max 10 people standing into it hence many simply drink outside, but the best thing here is the cheese… OMG it is just lying there next to a bread loalf, a roll of that soft sheep milk cheese. And so you just drink, eat and talk and that’s about it but it feels like literally nowhere else in the world.

And as for the fado… hmmm I call it portuguese jazz 🙂 Something you get to enjoy during your dinner here:

Dear Lisboa…

So long for now… but I will be back!

Anna

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The Beaches of Lota – Portugal

Listen to a podcast: The Beaches of Lota – Portugal

I woke up this morning with a memory of a Beautiful Dream. Yea, I know, but I do dream a lot. And this word ‘lot’ happens to magically repeat throughout my life. This time, it brought me back to the Beaches of Lota in Portugal.

It was April 2016 and I was getting super tired from going through the same daily routines; working and being a mother of a back then 2 year old and trying to live some life was never easy. So I decided to run away for a while, only us Girls.

Portugal was always the right place to go to, so Portugal is what I chose. It had to be as far away from humanity though as possible and close to the beach so that we could warm our little white bones somewhere nice.

Few days later, I knew my hotel location, reserved a car and needed nothing more, travelling on my stand by tickets from work. That’s always fun. There’s this thrill accompanying it that you may not board in the end if the flight is too full. But I have my ways so usually got this covered before getting to the airport. Except this time 🙂 Was so excited to be going away that I totally forgot to ring the office and check how many people are actually on this flight to Faro. Faro! That’s like destination number 1+ in Ireland, especially during summertime. So we went to the airport only to rebook onto the next available one – late at night – and sadly went back home to wait on our turn 🙂

Arrival after midnight in Faro is not such a bad thing at all. You simply avoid what you want to avoid – masses of humanity everywhere. But there was a little problem, Chloe was completely exhausted and our rental car company promised to have a rep awaiting us. I do not have to say more, right? So after some half an hour of trying to locate the guy, he finally showed up. From there, he took us and some other folks from our flight onto a van and into their office. That was all good. Chloe puked only once after we arrived there but the staff was amazing. Super professional and real fast so that they would not have to clean any more of that 😀 Yes, truly recommend Centauro Car Rentals. Amazing People and service.

I am a bit of a Formula 1 driver but! there is a but… yep, I am not so good driving on the right side of the road. That’s why it’s always a good idea to rent a car and pay full insurance (some mare 50 Eur) and this way you can happily hit every possible pavement you wish to hit. So I did too. Both, paid 48 Eur and happily hit every piece of pavement with my right front tire 😀 And all that driving this insanely huge Fiat 500 🙂

Anyway from the Car Rental place it was only a matter of turning right onto the motorway towards Spain. Yes, that’s where the waters are warmer and there are no people walking on top of you.

C fell asleep within seconds and I only hoped that in the darkness of the night my internet running on roaming would not fail me… But it did. I took a right turn from the motorway but then ended up in some middle of nowhere. In the darkness all I could see were some scary looking buildings and big fences around any hotel I drove to. Lost my way in a tiny place called Manta Rota and pretty upset returned to the first roundabout I saw on my way. Went straight through and what? Nothing! Turned left, nothing, so turned right… and there it was… Parked, grabbed my 3 bags: biiig, smaller and the smallest, pushchair, sleeping Baby and finally myself and dragged it all into the lobby where the guy told me I would be on the first floor and there was no lift 😀 Fine. After all am I not the one who lifts heavy weights and really needed the sun?

So… I already held the Baby, grabbed the pushchair, hanged the smallest, the bigger and the biggest bags on me and went up. Only that up was not the end of the journey. The room was some good 50 metres walk around the corner.

Made it. Slept until that freaking aircon box screaming from the wall woke me up. Chloe slept like a stone.

Our room was very pretty, overlooking the cafe, pool area and with the view of the sea. Hungry as hell, super hot but with a mission ‘beach’ in my head, I gathered myself, little C, pushchair, creams, hats, towels, water bottles, toys and finally our amazing beach tent which I had never unwrapped yet since I got it, loaded all onto me and happily walked downstairs to the restaurant. Never travel other than on B&B deals! Eat a lot and sneak some more for later…

So we did. Later we found a little gate in the fence by the pool that led to the beach. Hmmmm… who would have thought that the path would be made of tiny concrete squares too small for the pushchair wheels and besides they were all covered in sand… The struggle was real, but what? Mommy is a strong woman, she carried us all in some 40°C across this beautiful dune onto the beach (eh! mare 15 minutes!) C was already moaning 🙂

Step 2, tent. Oh dear. The wind blew as hell. I took out the instructions but with the whole thing flying around me and the baby looking to play my brain suddenly became so so small that I truly struggled with putting this thing together. Luckily some amazing Dutch couple who apparently had ‘been there and done that many o’times’ came to the rescue and in a few minutes we were all set and ready for the proper type of ‘beaching’.

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Our hotel was in the Lota area, within a walking distance to a small village called Manta Rota. Quiet enough although already pretty touristy so if you want peace and an almost empty enormous beach, stay in Lota or further towards the Spanish border.

For only 7 Eur a day you can get a bike at your hotel reception and if travelling with kids this is an optimal way of spending a few cool days. So we did too.

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As much as Manta Rota offered food, beach and souvenirs, that’s not were we wanted to be. On one of the days we cycled to this magical place I never heard of before, because I simply never study the places I go to. These must always be spontaneous trips, only then you can truly get the real feel.

Casela Velha welcomes cyclists with a rather steep hill, but sure, we did not come here to whine. But Oh My God the views from this village are absolutely unreal. It is a fairly small place situated on the coast and not overly popular but why? is the question I will leave unanswered because I want it to stay just this way.

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A beautiful white washed church stands at the top of the square. There’s one tiny cafe run by a super kind lady there too. But we went to the graveyard.

Have you ever seen a Portuguese graveyard? No? Well, next time you are there, do. It is a total must. This one does not really have graves. There are walls with tiny square windows everywhere. And these windows are beautifully decorated; some with photographs or memorabilia, some have proper miniature net curtains and look like real tiny houses for the deceased.

C found a little cat and run after it like crazy. I strolled around peeking into these amazing, unusual ‘houses’ and thinking of these people; were they happy living their lives here in this tiny paradise? Is Casela were they were born? Is this were their families spent centuries before them? Well the usual you’d ask yourself, only here, it felt somehow magical. But the cat hopped on top of one of the walls leaving my daughter pretty desperate so to save the world from Her tears I had to act quickly and by offering a challenge of something new and yet unknown.

The challenge it was indeed but for my poor already sore body. Just by the gate to the cemetery there are stairs… maaaaaaany stairs… leading down to the beach. As Casela Velha is closer to Tavira, one of the largest towns in the area, the beach is already split into two by the waters of the sea, however in the Tavira region it is completely divided off by the river. That’s one of the reasons I in the end decided to go a bit further towards Spain as the access to the beach in that part is direct whereas around Tavira you must take a boat which can be a bit of a hassle when travelling on your own with a small baby.

And so we left our vehicle together with our food supplies completely unsecured by the church, but in fairness who would dare stealing a bike with a baby seat from beside the church, right? 🙂 I took that baby of mine into my arms and off we went down not even daring to count. And at the bottom awaited us this little tiny beachlet with a little tiny boat house and golden yellow sand.

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The bike was happily awaiting us exactly where we left it. And the way back to the hotel seemed even more wonderful, even tough the very same. Beautiful houses with pretty orchards were luring us with the visible sweetness of their heavy branches pregnant with perfectly round oranges.

Lady at reception smiled at us and at the same time looked at the cleaner to be on guard. Well, we did stain one of their lovely lobby cushions that morning and they seemed completely freaked out that we might do it again. In fact the stain was the size of a nail from the sausage C dropped on it at breakfast but the cushion was nicely washed and looked like new now 🙂

We decided they knew not what life was all about, laughed from the bottom of our hearts and moved on to grab a dinner in a restaurant and have it up on the balcony of our pretty room.

… that very same balcony I would spend nights on, staring at the starry sky and listening to the swooshing of the sea…

This journey does have it’s end…

… but not just yet 🙂

So long for now,

Anna & Chloe

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This post can also be viewed in Polish here: