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Why have I never been? – Portugal – Country 41

As someone who likes to collect countries, I started to wonder why I was missing out Portugal. Why had I never been there? As one of the cheaper destinations in Europe with lots of culture, it should be right up my street. So why exactly had I never been?

From the heart

Truth be told, the country of Portugal has always hovered just under my top few picks of places to visit. I’ve always known rationally it would be a great place for me to visit. But we never do what is rational. At least I don’t. The heart also comes into it – somewhere that inspires and makes me feel alive. And despite the amount of travel porn I consume I hadn’t got those feelings from Portugal yet.

What changed?

But as I get closer to my goal of retiring early and going full-on nomadic, I have been getting more strategic. <geek alert> I have a spreadsheet of all the countries in the world and when I’ve visited them. For the countries I’ve not yet been to, dates are pencilled in.

And the last place in Western Europe to visit was Portugal. And so the rational me took over. The omission of a visit to Portugal stood out like a sore thumb, so I thought I’d better solve that. As it’s not too hard to grab myself a cheap flight out for a weekend to explore.

Selecting a Place

Being based in London I can get most places easily. Not to mention cheaply with budget airlines competing for business. The main airports are Faro, Porto and Lisbon. I fancied a cultural city and less beachy feeling – hence I chose the capital Lisbon for my visit.

The beauty of Lisbon

Visually Lisbon was just stunning. As someone who loves architecture and buildings, I was in heaven. Everywhere you looked there was something detailed and novel to look at. There is a lot of history to learn if that’s your thing and many museums to dig into topics.

One museum I adored was the tile museum. So much to my taste, displaying a large variety of the local tiles, or azulejos. Whereas in the UK we associate a tiled exterior with a certain type of takeaway, in Portugal a tiled exterior is something beautiful to be proud of.

Ms ZiYou Tiles Lisbon

Moreover, the scene was set with quaint trams rattling along the streets. And even up some of the rather steep hills. I found Lisbon a fun city to just wander in. Be amazed at the surroundings and watch the world go by.

The Hills

Visiting Lisbon was a great workout for my quads. I love walking everywhere if I can. And so I wasn’t going to be put off by the hills. But wow – there is a lot of gradient in some of those streets. The inclines made a great cityscape to explore and added that 3rd dimension to the views.

For running, I followed my usual city running trick and headed for the river. I was rewarded with a long flat path, surrounded by many other fellow runners. All faster than me, but (a) it was hot and (b) that is life.

Street Art

Ms ZiYou Street Art Portugal

Nowadays I love walking around cities and snapping the street art. Lisbon did not disappoint on this front. There was so much great and unexpected street art around, often where I least expected it.

And they even had a finance themed one. I’ve seen many photos of this “Until Debt Tear Us Apart” but the real one is in Lisbon. I love the infusion of life with art – it did make me think that debt is an everlasting issue in all Western countries.

Portuguese Food

As a committed vegetarian, I was not going to Portugal for the food. While it was not to hard to get vegetarian casual food, the formal restaurants were very meat-heavy. Luckily I’m much more a casual type diner, especially as I was travelling solo. On the other hand, the wine was good value and tasty.

Pickpockets

Warning, warning, warning – I’ve never seen such brazen pickpockets as I did in Lisbon. I live in London and have done all the touristy places on the continent and beyond. Yet Lisbon shocked me. Which is something as I’m not exactly the most observant.

There were thieves operating in the open, in organised gangs. I easily made the lookouts and saw a few attempts to go into tourists pockets. I’ve never seen it so obvious.

Obviously I took to holding my handbag very securely and becoming very aware of my surroundings and I was fine. On the tram, I was very keen on my personal space and watched my bag like a hawk. But it did really unsettle me and make the trip a bit more stressful.

It’s something to be aware of if you visit, and have a plan to deal with.

In summary

Personally, although I really liked visiting Portugal, I did not love it. There was a lot to recommend it. Great weather and interesting architecture. Plenty of historical interest all set within the bustle of a city.

However, Lisbon lost points on a few fronts: partly because I didn’t love the cuisine and seeing the visible petty crime did concern me.

It was a very pleasant place to spend the weekend but I’m not rushing to go back. And if I return I’d like to see more of the country, perhaps the countryside instead of the city.

Related Posts – Counting Countries Series

Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Do you like to travel to cities?
  • Have you been to Portugal?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

12 comments on “Why have I never been? – Portugal – Country 41

  1. Hi Ms ZiYou, I’m excited I can comment as I’ve just visited Lisbon too! 😄 I’m sorry you saw so many pickpockets and had trouble with the food. For some reason, I didn’t see any pickpockets myself, but then I can be really oblivious sometimes so… I’m glad you were ultimately ok!

    Re food, as a fellow veggie I completely agree Portugal cuisine isn’t very accommodating. That’s another reason I prefer Airbnb’s, as I usually just cook my own stuff. It’s more expensive than hostels, but I figure I recoup some of the costs by not eating out (some hostels do allow you to cook there too, of course). One thing I found in both Lisbon and Porto is that “fancy” coffee shops (I’m a coffee snob and love to treat myself to flat whites while traveling) often serve good veggie simple meals like salads and sandwiches, especially if you’re ok eating dairy. In Lisbon I found a coffee shop with the most incredible spinach empanadas, for instance. It wasn’t cheap, and of course it’s not local cuisine *at all*, though.

    I think it also depends on what your travel priorities are. I have friends who travel specifically to try other countries’ cuisine, for instance. For me, since I get sick if I eat too off-plan, I usually stay away from the local cuisine and cook my own stuff. Travel for me is really about learning the new country’s history and non-food culture. But of course, not everybody is like me, so I totally understand your misgivings. I hope Portugal, or at least its big cities, will offer more veggie options soon!

    1. Hi FF – oh yeah, I do love getting an appt as well – self-catering is the best! And similarly, I don’t usually travel for the food, well except for Italy where it’s awesome.

  2. Pick pockets seem to target tourists – I have always lived in Lisbon and this isn’t an issue for locals… so sorry to hear about your experience. I also love museu do azulejo, especially the tile panels by Querubim Lapa and the huge blue and white panel featuring Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake.

    1. Hi Sonia – yes, the pickpockets were most definitely in a tourist area targetting tourists – and can easily believe they don’t target locals. The azulejos panels were all so awesome, hard for me to pic a fave.

  3. The photo of the tram reminded me of where I live – Melbourne Australia!
    You photos were beautiful and I really envy you casually saying, “I’ll just pop over to Portugal for the weekend…”
    Australia’s too isolated to pop over to any country just for the weekend, except maybe New Zealand. Even then, the flight takes at least 3 hours.

    1. Hi Frogdancer – wow, I didn’t know Melbourne had trams – and it’s another place on my one day list.

      Since the UK is so small, popping over to Europe is easy and you can be most places in under 3 hours – so it’s much less of a big deal to us.

What do you think?